The Midwinters and Cruising the St. John River
by Tom Erickson (W275) * Feb. 1-6, 2013

At last, being newly retired, I was able to go to the Wayfarer Midwinters February 1-3, 2013 at the Lake Eustis Sailing Club in north-central Florida.  Since I was going to haul W275, Possum, all the way from Massachusetts, I figured I'd spend some time cruising on the St. John River after the regatta. While I have sailed all my life and consider myself a competent sailor, I've never been in a race. 

Everything was new to me.  I'd  studied Uncle Al's Rules, read all I could, watched the Laser and Star Class Olympics on YouTube but nothing teaches you how to race quicker than, well, racing.   While I came in last, I felt like I sailed my boat as well as most.  Where I lost places was in the in and outs of racing.  I was hopelessly behind at starts, would either cut a mark too close and get in trouble or go so wide to avoid traffic jams that I got behind.  It was a huge learning curve and everyone was extremely helpful.

The folks at LESC were wonderfully hospitable.  I was awed by the camaraderie, vast amounts of food, and the beautiful grounds.  Seeing old friends (Uncle Al, Jim and Linda Heffernan, Tony and Mary Krauss, Andy) from rallies was also a highlight.

My plan for after the regatta was to spend three days cruising the St. John River between Palatka and Green Cove Springs.  I had hoped to make the distance of about 15 nm on the first day and spend the night at the Outback Crab Shack, a long dock where you can spend the night if you eat at the restaurant.  The St. John River at this point is slow moving, about a ½ to 1 mile wide, and very pleasant.

However, the wind gods were not in my favor.  After slowly drifting down river in very light air, I finally called it a night around 6 and pulled over to the side, anchored and set up the tent. After I watched the stunning sunset, supper was cooked, coffee made, books read until bedtime.  A very quiet peaceful night.

Next morning I waited for some wind and set sail north again in very light air in the vain hope of reaching the Outback Crab Shack. However, after 2-3 hours I knew I wasn't going to make it and even if I did I would never get back to my car and trailer the next day.  So, discretion being the better part of valor, I turned south.  The wind occasionally picked up for some very pleasant tiller-tied runs, steady enough to relax a read a book while the boat sailed itself.

By mid-afternoon the wind died altogether, forcing me to row (not an unpleasant task in a W) a couple miles to my haul-out site.  In hindsight, it was a good thing I stuck to my planned schedule because if I hadn't gotten home to Massachusetts by Thursday night, I would have been stranded in the northeast's third-biggest blizzard ever. I'll definitely be back next year.  Maybe this time, we can get a few boats together for the St. John River cruise.