At Disney’s Magic Kingdom in Orlando Florida there is a boat trip through a make-believe jungle but the real thing is barely an hour away and I explored it on a houseboat.
The St Johns River is navigable river for 160 miles and opens up in some places as wide as half a mile. There are tributaries or lakes to anchor in, or cruise along. When I took over the 46 foot houseboat I felt as though I was in command of a floating double-decker bus. It was big, at 14 foot wide it could sleep up to 10 people. The main cabin was much like the sitting room of the small house. On hand were all the conveniences of home. Fortunately it was easy to handle and you could steer from inside in air-conditioned comfort or from upstairs on the sun deck. We spent most of the time up there spotting the wildlife or as we passed through little towns admiring the beautiful riverside homes each with its attendant boathouse. The month was February so there was the sheer joy of the warm Florida sunshine, that and the ice cool beer waiting in the full size fridge.
We scanned the River’s edge for alligators lazing in the sun and returned friendly waves of folk enjoying the fishing. The St Johns River was certainly varied and in one anchorage when the time came to sleep there was moonlight bright enough for us to watch the fish in the clear water. By contrast the next evening a haze rose from the river and sounds of the night drifted in. It was decidedly creepy and examining the chart I found bizarre place names. We had passed Mosquito Grove, Rat Island, Horse Lake and Buzzards Point. We were anchored in Hontoon Dead River where Spanish moss hung from the cypress trees that hung over the swamp. It seemed quite appropriate name for the rather spooky spot that could easily play tricks with the mind. As I turned over the steak on the barbecue on the front deck of the boat, in a fanciful mood, I listened for pterodactyls. I don’t think we heard any but we were certainly not alone. The sound of frogs, insects and occasionally other larger wildlife filled the air. My wife raised a smile when she closed the little gate on the rear deck “to keep the crocs out!”
We thought about catching fish and the next day the chart help me to find a riverside shop at Astor where they sold bait, groceries and ice so after bringing the 46 boat alongside I popped ashore and obtained a couple of things, a Mickey Mouse ice cream with chocolate years and an entry form for the Crappie Masters Tournament. The Crappie is a kind of speckled Perch and if you catch one that is labelled with a little rubber tag you win a prize. It can be anything from $25-$100,000. The tournament and it usually runs for 60 days from the third week in January.
My explorations led me up the River and across a Lake George to Silverglen Springs which was magical and sheltered. It is a good place to swim and alligators tend stay away because they don’t like what it is for them cold water. They usually they live near the lake or in the river close to the muddy water where they can lie up on the bank.
Capturing them on film of course can make for a few exciting moments.
It is important to take your binoculars with you as you will be scanning every root and log that glistens in the sun There, of course, are plenty of other things to watch out for including bald headed eagles and ospreys.
It is a totally different boating experience to pottering along the canals of rural England. On one side there is the forest with the national park, on the other, it seems hard to believe it but, you are just a short drive away the bustle and entertainment of Central Florida. You can take your pick, both will generate vivid memories.