January 28, 2017


“A ship in port is safe, but that’s not what ships are built for.”  Admiral Grace Hopper

Carol writes:  Three years ago we spent a month near Jacksonville at Naval Station Mayport while we waited for our Pleasure-Way RV to arrive from Europe on a vehicle transport ship.  After we were reunited with our RV, we spent several days back in January 2014 camped at Pelican Roost RV Park along Mayport’s ship channel to the Atlantic Ocean.  This time, we coveted a front row spot for a premium view of all the civilian and military ship traffic… and that made all the difference.

Warm breezes and sunny skies were the norm for our entire two-week stay, although when we arrived it was a bit cold and very windy, so a double red flag warning was posted at the beach.  After the cold air moved out, lazy strolls along the beach provided incredible photographic opportunities.

Day and night, we observed an endless variety of civilian and military ship traffic up and down the canal.  On arrival, Navy ships entered a barrier-controlled harbor to the left, and civilian ships went right.  Container ships, like this one,

stretched my imagination for how they managed to stay afloat during ocean voyages that at times were sure to include all kinds of stormy weather.

Vehicle transport ships, similar to the one that transported our RV back to the States after our 2014 European RV adventure, frequently caught our eye.

Even local restaurants along the ship channel were great venues for watching ship traffic along the waters of global commerce.

Coast Guard ships, easy to spot due to their iconic Racing Stripe emblem that was adopted 40 years ago, were a frequent sight heading out every morning for duty on the seas.

What excitement must have been building for the passengers of this giant cruise ship as they departed for fun on the seas in the Caribbean...

But it was the Navy ships that would send a flurry of campers scampering from their campsites with cameras in hand.

The raw beauty and awesome sea power of a U.S. Navy ship evoked a fierce sense of patriotism.  On our very first day in camp, we were in awe of the USS New York as she headed out for several days of sea maneuvers, gently protected by a tugboat in the narrow waters of the ship channel.

Ship’s crew manning the rails on the guided-missile cruiser USS HuĂ© City brought back deployment memories for Al.

We saw the USS Zephyr arrive home after a 45-day mission of drug interdiction in the Caribbean.

It was interesting to see the nearly brand new, somewhat controversial, littoral combat ship USS Detroit.


St. Augustine has the distinction of being the oldest continuously occupied European-established settlement in the continental United States.  However, in 1564, a year earlier, French Huguenots in search of religious freedom founded a settlement near Mayport called Fort Caroline. 

Although the precise location of Fort Caroline has yet to be scientifically determined, a small-scale reproduction of the fort has been constructed along the banks of the St. Johns River at the Timucuan Historic Preserve.  This was a great spot to dive into our nation’s earliest history when European explorers met the local Timucuan civilization for the very first time.

Timucuan was also an ecologically protected preserve with some interesting hiking trails

that showcased a salt marsh habitat,

with a fascinating variety of bird life—like this watchful wood stork and magnificent blue heron.

On a section of the Timucuan Preserve’s 46,000 acres was the site of a former estate named the Kingsley Plantation.  Harkening back to a very dark time in Florida’s past, for over 100 years Kingsley Plantation was run off of the backs of slaves from Africa.  Made out of tabby concrete composed of oyster shells, a curved row of original slave quarters was haunting…

The plantation house was very well preserved and conveniently located on the bank of the river, an essential location for bringing crops to market.


We seldom do any of our outings after dark; however, when Al read that Trip Advisor’s #1 attraction in the Jacksonville area was the night feeding of the big cats at the Catty Shack Ranch, we made an exception.

Feeding time was precisely at 7:30 p.m., and every cat knew that.  Each cat was pacing in its enclosure and seemed happy to see visitors, for in their eyes visitors were associated with food.

Much to our surprise, feeding time was organized and calm!  None of the cats seemed overly anxious or aggressive.  Each animal knew exactly which hole in the fencing was assigned to them; obediently, each big cat waited its turn to be fed on the appropriate platform.

Huge chunks of raw chicken and red meat were hand-fed to each animal.

Nighttime pictures were a huge challenge, but a few pics came out better than expected, especially those of this white beauty.

What an extraordinary group of volunteers show up faithfully each night to feed the large rescue cats at the Catty Shack Ranch.


Our stay along the front row of the ship channel at Mayport was just about perfect in every way, including reunions with friends from years long ago.  We had a marvelous lunch date in St. Augustine with Greg and Linda.  Greg was one of Al’s classmates whom he hadn’t seen since graduation day in June 1969.  Over lunch, it was fun bringing each other up to date on the decades of our lives since graduation day.

Once again, the bonds of friendship formed over four years of challenges at the Naval Academy seemed as intact as ever…

And finally, we had a great reunion with Dick and Gayle.  Gayle and I went to high school together, and we had kept in touch ever since we had incredibly reconnected 3 years ago at this very same campground at Naval Station Mayport.  We were delighted to do lunch together as Dick and Gayle headed in their motorhome down the Florida Atlantic coast to this year’s winter home.

Hey, that looks just like our motorhome!
Usually, I am ready to move on to the next stop along the trail in our full-time RV lifestyle.  However, I was a little sad when our time at Mayport had come to an end.  As our country once again went through the rituals of Inauguration Day, I was struck by the selfless sacrifice of the men and women who serve in the United States Navy.  Along the banks of Mayport’s ship channel, we had experienced an extraordinary close-up look into the daily activities of the ships and their crew.

On our day of departure…

as we slowly eased our big “bus” out of the naval facility at 8 a.m….

it was touching to pause respectfully one last time as morning colors were observed with the stirring notes of the Star Spangled Banner at the start of another Navy day.

“I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,

And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;”

—from the poem “Sea Fever” by John Masefield

January 20, 2017


“Even if you are on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.”  Will Rogers

Carol writes:  As we were slowly working our way south, we were happy to know that we were missing the worst of winter’s storms.  We had heard very glowing reports about the Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay campground near St. Marys, Georgia,

so that is where we decided to bring in a quiet Christmas and New Year.  At the entrance gate we were greeted with the sail of an actual submarine submerged in a grassy knoll..

With plenty of sun and space all around for great satellite reception, we were delighted with our pull-through spot smack in the middle of the campground.  It was the perfect spot for peaceful walks and holiday down time.

Our campground was just beyond a barbed wire fence that marked the high-security area where all the submarine activity was located.  Almost everything on base had closed or had limited hours for the holidays, so we found our holiday home to be a very tranquil setting…except for the discordant note of nearly hourly loudspeaker announcements declaring in the distance, “This is a restricted area. Use of deadly force is authorized.” 

Fortunately, in short time, we were able to tune this out…

We rarely pass up the chance to visit a fort.  For us, one more fort is never one too many!  Fort Clinch, 

at the tip of Amelia Island, 

has a diverse history with service in the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, and final service in the Second World War.

Even the approach to its thick brick walls was impressive!

Powerful cannons sat poised with their aim out into the waters off the shore of this northernmost barrier island.

In the interior central grounds, there were several well-preserved buildings that gave a good representation of what Civil War-era life was like on a typical day in 1864.

Before leaving Amelia Island for the day, we took a short walk on nearby Fernandina Beach,


followed by lunch at the Salty Pelican, where the open-air second floor bar served up great seafood and a mean summery drink called… what else… the “salty pelican.”

By now we had a pretty good understanding why so many U.S. northerners (and Canadians) come south for the winter.  I guess you could say we have proudly joined the ranks of the so-called “snowbirds.”

On New Year’s Day we celebrated the start of 2017 with a trip to the Okefenokee Swamp.  The history of human habitation at Okefenokee was best appreciated at the historic Chesser family home and outbuildings that dated back to the late 1920s.  The explanation for the neatly kept sandy landscape was that the sand made it easier to spot snakes...or their slithery tracks.  Farm life for the Chesser family in the Okefenokee certainly demonstrated a genuine pioneer spirit. 

However, at Okefenokee, it was the swamp itself that was the star attraction.  We hoped that a guided tour into the waters of this incredibly significant wildlife refuge would provide us a good opportunity to see some alligators in their natural habitat.  No disappointments there!  On this swamp boat we saw alligators at every turn!

We got amazingly close to this big boy, but he seemed totally unfazed!  As for me—not so comfortable.

The gators along this canal seemed to be saying, “In our playground, it’s a gator’s life.”  We were fortunate it was a sunny day because there were numerous gators lounging in the grass along the muddy banks,

and on top of grassy knolls.

Likewise, the birds at Chesser Prairie were in their element.

Even the humans were relaxed…

The Spanish moss draped in the trees along the canal was exceptional.

We were so glad we jumped at the chance for a swamp boat tour.  Unless you can find some way to get out into the waters of this unique wildlife refuge, you have missed the best part of the solitude, beauty and complexity of the Okefenokee.

“The trouble with doing nothing is it’s too hard to tell when you’re finished.”  Suzanne Woods Fisher