In planning our first stop after departing our second home, we were hoping for something that would be fresh and exciting—something that would christen the earnest beginning of our journey north by creating a memorable positive experience. And bingo! We got that in Marineland, located just south of St. Augustine.
This destination was not on our radar on our southern route, nor had any of our cruising friends mentioned it in their lists of preferred anchorages, marinas, or side trips. We discovered it because I took a moment to study the ICW bible, aka On the Water Chartguides, written by Captains Mark and Diana Doyle, who listed the marina as a Frugal Favorite ™ and offered some basic information about Marineland Dolphin Adventure, located literally across the street from the marina. That sounded convenient enough. And we love dolphins, so why not?
First though, we had to get into the marina. That seemed simple enough until I called the marina to make the reservation and they warned that with the full moon, we would have to arrive 1-2 hours earlier than I had calculated because the tides would be exaggerated by a foot or more. Okay then. Perhaps we can leave NSB earlier? But no! The George Musson Bridge in NSB wouldn’t raise until 7 am, and sunrise wouldn’t occur until 7:24 am. As it turned out, we had enough daylight to make the scheduled 7:20 am bridge opening, and the current pushed us along so swiftly that we arrived the marina by 1:45 pm, beating the suggested 2-3 pm arrival. There was 0.1’ under our keel as we approached our slip. No kidding.
The following day, we arrived the dolphin center, and purchased two “events” in addition to the normal admission, in hopes that we would get up close and personal with the dolphins. Marineland no longer offers performances, but rather provides a few educational programs from which guests can select. The Immersion Experience, at $250 each, where guests get in the water with the dolphins (note: they don’t swim with the dolphins) was too steep for our cruising kitty. But the “Touch and Feed” and the “Behind the Seas Tour” seemed doable.
So we were among a few folks who had opted for the 9:55 am Touch and Feed. They nicely divided us into three groups according to family or couples. Dudley and I met Christy, a trainer, who then introduced us to Coquina, a young 2-year old dolphin. Coquina was quite playful, yet obedient, and we immediately became friends. Well, perhaps the many fish we fed her between Christy’s commands helped to advance our budding friendship, but alas, we felt true love when our eyes met Coquina’s.
We held her strong tail. We stroked her smooth back. We rubbed her pink belly, and even tickled her, at Christy’s urging. Coquina laughed and chuckled audibly, and we enjoyed every second of our 5-minute meeting. As the three groups for the Touch and Feed waved goodbye to our respective dolphins, the mammals rewarded us with waves and big jumps, caught on camera by the staff photographer. Yay!
After leaving Coquina, we observed others who had paid the big bucks for the Immersion Experience, and then went on the Behind the Seas Tour, which was quite educational about other marine life beyond the popular dolphins.
It was there we became more familiar with the history of Marineland, which opened in June of 1938 as Marine Studios, an oceanarium originally designed for Hollywood filmmakers to create underwater scenes for their movies. At the turn of this century however, when hurricanes and harsh conditions led to compromised structural integrity, the facility underwent a complete renovation/new construction, and reopened in 2006 as a “modern 1.3 million gallon facility, designed with the behavioral needs of the animal, the viewing capabilities of the scientist, the logistical needs of the trainer, and the “edutainment” needs of our guests in mind” (source: http://www.marineland.net). We had a wonderful time at Marineland, and are quite pleased that we found that fresh and exciting experience we were seeking.
But completely unexpected was our second memorable experience in Marineland, FL. Next to the dolphin center and across from the marina is a beach. Naturally, we took a walk. And what a surprise to see that the beach was two-toned, with bands of orange and “natural” colors of sand.
As we walked south of the dolphin center, we encountered large natural boulders of rock. Upon closer observation, we identified the massive boulders as coquina. So this must be what the fort in St. Augustine is made of! When we toured that fort in December, we learned that coquina is a sedimentary rock composed of shell fragments (coquina means shellfish and cockle in Spanish).
It is hard to describe how beautiful and peaceful this coquina-strewn beach is. The tide rushes in and out, leaving pools ebbing and flowing in the natural edifices of the rock. The surfaces of some rocks are softened by a green hairy grass-like blanket, while the undersides of other coquina look like stalactites from Luray Caverns.
The natural erosion and smoothing of the coquina creates gentle shapes that are reminiscent of sculptures by Henry Moore.
They invite you to just sit and breathe deeply, while the ocean waves crash rhythmically on the shore.
Being there reminded me of my spiritual awakening on Driftwood Beach on Jekyll Island, on Day 46 (http://sailingbelle.com/2015/12/03/seeking-peace-and-hope-in-times-of-sadness-day-46/).
We were only in Marineland for two nights and one long day, with the remaining partial days spent arriving and leaving. The morning we were to depart, we had to wait for the tide to rise so we could leave the marina. Knowing that, I rose very early, and walked to the beach alone. I just had to go back one more time, to feed my soul. It was a cloudy sunrise, with storms threatening and an occasional spit of rain. And yet that beach, with its orange layers of sand, seemed to create its own colorful sunrise in spite of overcast skies.
As I returned to the boat, I felt grateful for the two memorable experiences we enjoyed by stopping in Marineland. Not only did we get to meet and play with Coquina the Dolphin, but we met her namesake* too. What an auspicious beginning for our northbound journey.
* According to Wikipedia: A namesake is a person named after another. Namesake may also refer to a thing, such as a company, place, ship, building, or concept, named after a person. In general, the second recipient of a name, named for the first, is said to be the namesake of the first. The attribution can, however, go in the opposite direction, with namesake referring to the original holder of the name.