William Cook Advertising Agency struck gold three decades ago when they
came up with the "First Coast" designation to promote tourism and
business development in northeastern Florida, capitalizing on the region's
history as the first European settlement in what is now the United
States -- possibly as early as 1513 (Ponce de Leon) but most
certainly by 1563, when a French colony was founded at Fort Caroline in
what is now the city of Jacksonville.
We didn't take the time this trip to go down to St. Augustine, which
was founded in 1565 by the Spanish, but I'll show photos from Fort
Caroline in the next entry.
One of the attractions of camping at the Pelican Roost RV Park at
Mayport Naval Station is its close proximity to a beautiful sandy beach.
It takes just a few minutes to walk the one-third mile distance from
our campsite to the first of seven piers on base with access to the beach.
You can also drive and park near several of the piers. Boardwalks to each of the
sets of steps down to the beach preserve the dunes and vegetation:
At that point there are some tall poles extending out into the ocean
to mark the boundary:
This is a popular place for surfers because the waves are higher than
they are closer to the jetty. The biggest waves I've seen at that end of
the beach are about 5-6 feet high. They are more like 2-4 feet high
where I walk the dogs on base property.
Sometimes I have the beach pretty much to myself and I can focus on
incoming waves, ever-changing clouds, birds hunting for food that just
washed up, cavorting dolphins, the officers' nice beachfront houses, and
ghost ships on the horizon.
Several times we've seen Marine reserves training on the beach or in
the water near Pier 1 with their
One thing I haven't seen at this beach are very many interesting shells. When the
surf is out there are some places full of small crunchy shells but they
aren't of the collectible variety.
I've heard that shelling is much
better at other places along the Atlantic coast, such as Cumberland
Island about 20 miles north of here.
LIFE THROUGH THE EYES OF A CURIOUS LAB PUP
I go down to the beach with the dogs once or twice a day. Casey's
such a bundle of furry energy that I take them separately. The only times they are both
there at the same time are when Jim goes with me. For the last 9+ years Cody's been with us to beaches on the east and
west coasts and the Gulf of Mexico. He still likes to get wet in any
kind of water but doesn't race back and forth any more.
All this is
new to five-month-old Casey-pup, however:
"I like to dig in the sand and
stick my nose in the wet holes!"
This is Casey's first experience with waves and tides.
It was a hoot the first time she went out in the surf with Jim. She
hasn't had much practice swimming yet but she quickly got caught up in
the excitement of racing back and forth through the waves to and from
The series of four pictures below show Casey going into the ocean
for the very first time. Even though the waves are small you can see her
hesitancy in the first photo:
There are four amphibs on the horizon.
Casey's just focused on the next wave.
"That was fun! Let's do it
"Oh, boy. Here's comes another
"Where did it go??" Casey had some initial
confusion about where the waves went.
She has a similar reaction to her water bucket when
it is near empty.
Life through the eyes of a young Labrador retriever is so much fun.
Casey is initially fearful of many new things but quickly embraces most
new adventures once she realizes how much fun they can be. Then it's
hard to get her to stop when we want to quit.
The ocean waves are one example.
All the neat stuff she finds along
the beach is another -- dead sea birds and fish in various stages
of decomposition, beached gelatinous jellyfish and sea anemones, clams
that are still intact in their shells, old frayed ropes and seaweed that
have washed up on shore . . .
Casey sees something new ahead of her and stops in her tracks. The
hair on her neck and back rise like a Mohawk cut. She sniffs and peers
for a few seconds, then suddenly drags me to the newfound object so she
can smell it up close -- or try to eat it.
The more disgusting something is, the more she wants to eat it.
Cody's the same way but he'll "leave it" when I tell him to.
Curiosity always trumps Casey's fears, even when something looks as
strange as some of these sea anemones and jellyfish we found
washed up on the beach:
I don't let the dogs pick those up.
Every day I walk one or both dogs on the beach between the jetty at
the St. Johns River down to the poles that mark the southern boundary of
the Navy base. Pier #7 is located just inside the base at this location:
There's another boardwalk with a ramp to the ocean a few feet south.
It comes from Hanna
Park, a Jacksonville city park that borders the southeast boundary of
the Navy base. You can see it in the background in the
Surfers and other folks can easily access the
beach from the park. Several large signs warn them to stay on their side
of the beach and not enter the Navy base.
This perspective is from the ramp on the park side of the posts:
A couple times I've gone over to the boardwalk in the park from the
beach on the Navy side -- and back. I assume I
can do that but I make sure I've got my military ID in my pocket each
time I go to the beach so I can get back on "my" side of the posts
if a security person confronts me.
It's mighty inconvenient to find yourself on the wrong side of the
gate at a military installation without proper ID!
This beach boundary looks to me like a very weak link in the base's
security system. There is no chain link fence like the rest of the
boundaries around the base. There's an old guard tower
(photo above) near Pier 7 that doesn't look manned. Maybe that's old
I assume there is some type of camera surveillance in this area to
keep unauthorized folks out but I saw repeatedly how
easy it is for folks to just walk through the posts and onto base
property, like this surfer just did:
Some folks just keep on going to one of the boardwalks with
access to the base.
One night while we were here a young man came into the campground,
looking for an easy target while everyone was asleep. He took our
neighbor's truck for a joy ride. The owner thought it was safe to leave
his keys in the unlocked truck overnight. It wasn't. (We never do that,
even on a military base that is more secure than this one.)
When the thief was apprehended base cops told the owner that the
thief got on base via the beach at Pier 7.
GOING, GOING, GONE??
I've learned to consult the local tide chart before taking the dogs
to the beach. I love seeing the beach and river at all stages of the
tide but it's easier to walk on the beach when the tide is low and there
is more hard-packed sand.
Sea water swirls at the base of most of the piers at high tide . .
. . . and in some places the beach has eroded nearly up to the
sandy wall in front of the dunes:
It's more difficult to walk the dogs when the tide is
that high because there isn't much packed sand to walk on.
Above and below: high-tide
views up and down the beach from the first pier
The first time Casey saw the water at the bottom of the steps she was
afraid to go down to the beach.
For a pup that doesn't understand about tides, it is a little intimidating
when the water looks like this:
Once I coaxed her down, she had a blast racing through the water.
The dredging operation I mentioned in the previous entry is supposed
to address the issue of beach erosion.
Weeks Marine has just begun pumping a slurry of sand and water
through pipes to the beach between Pier 1 and the jetty containing the
St. Johns River. We were able to walk on that section of beach when we
first arrived but now that area is roped off. There is a danger from the
high-pressure discharge as the slurry is forced into piles on the beach:
It's fun to watch the heavy equipment start to spread out the sand
and pack it down. Once it's in place the beach will extend further from the
dunes and protect them for at least a while -- tides are
relentless and more erosion will gradually occur.
I don't know how far out the sand will extend or how long it will
take the crew to fill in over a mile of beach. We'll be gone for the
month of February, then come back here on March 1. It will be interesting
to see how much progress has been made while we're gone.
FUN ON THE BIKES
My main sport now is walking/hiking. Jim's is cycling.
He's gone out on several moderately long bike rides of 20-30 miles
both here on base and also off-base to Fort Caroline, Timucuan Preserve,
the town of Mayport, and on various bike paths in other parts of northeastern
From a pier, Jim watches the Marines training
in their amphibs. Bikes aren't allowed on the beach.
He's been on every road on the base. He especially likes to ride around the airfield
and ship yard to see all the activity going on as the aircraft and ships come and go.
I've ridden my bike on base only a couple times, checking out the
nice residential area, Osprey Cove RV Park, and ship yard.
Next entry: touring historic Fort Caroline at the
Timacuan Ecological & Historical Preserve
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
Cody the ultra Lab, and Casey-pup
© 2013 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil