Friday, January 18, 2013

Port Orange to Palm Coast

We had planned to be in Jacksonville by now but a large and very windy front has delayed us in Palm Coast for a couple of days, and it is not a bad place to be delayed!  More on Palm Coast later.

We departed Port Orange on Wednesday for a 32-mile run to Palm Coast.  We spotted another pelican rookery early on the south side of Daytona Beach.

You may ask why we do not stop at some of the cities like Daytona Beach?  Well, it's just like making a road trip, you can't stop at them all, just not enough time.  We research our options each day, consider the weather, marina and anchorage options, mileage, etc., and sometimes just stop on a hunch that we may like the town.  Daytona Beach was a pretty city to view from the water "just passing through," lots of bridges, and it looked like they had a nice waterfront city park.

On one of the bridges, at the base of the bridge pilings, they had these decorative tiled mosaics of manatees and dolphin (yes, tiled, not painted).  And they were on all of the pilings of this lengthy 64'-tall bridge, not just a couple of them. Imagine the planning, execution, and cost of these!

Daytona Beach is famous for its annual motorcycle gathering so I thought a shot of the Harley Davidson shop was appropriate.

After Daytona, we were cruising along expecting to be in Palm Coast in a couple of hours.  I looked around the bend at our next bridge which should not have been a factor at 24 feet or so, but it looked like it was completely blocked with construction crews.  We were not aware of any scheduled closings, but a radio call to the bridge tender confirmed it would be closed until noon, about an hour away.  So, we did what all good cruisers do, didn't worry about it, dropped anchor, had lunch, and watched them work.

Sure enough, a few minutes before noon, the crews moved the barge on the left over to the right side and I was expecting the second one to then move also.  No word from the bridge tender either and about that time the workers were waving us through???????  I called the bridge tender and she said "they are taking an hour for lunch, if you think you can get through there, go ahead."  Well, that wasn't exactly what I thought "it will be closed until noon" meant.  I wish I had gotten a pic of the opening but things happened pretty fast.  Not only was it a very narrow opening, but there was a floating dock on the port side with a very jagged edge sticking out.  My concern was the tidal flow that usually causes a lot of swirling in the water under bridges, especially at very slow speeds when you have less control of the boat. Anyhow, we decided to go for it with a little more speed than normal.  Rhonda says we had about 3 feet to spare - that's tight!

That was our excitement for the day - just glad we were able to get through because they were actually working until 5 PM.  The entire day was very nice, with beautiful homes and landscaping along the way at towns like Ormond-By-The-Sea and Flagler Beach.  It seemed like there were more palm trees and definitely lots of Spanish moss.

This house and the setting in particular struck me as especially nice for some reason.  Probably because it is pretty nice, huh?

More of Florida's dense vegetation in the area when left unspoiled - beautiful.

We docked at Palm Coast Harbor, which used to be a Sheraton Inn Resort, now called Palm Coast Resort.  I just happen to know a good bit about Palm Coast since the FAA had its management training center here for about 25 years, and I attended many events and classes at the facility.  That was a factor in stopping here - lots of memories. So, before I take you on a tour of the FAA Center for Management and Executive Leadership, let me clarify a couple of things.  I had a wonderful and exciting career with the FAA in a field that I loved - aviation and, in particular, air traffic control.  The FAA paid a good salary, offered us the chance to move around a lot, and provided the option for an early retirement - I took it at age 53 and have enjoyed it tremendously.  I will forever be grateful to the agency for all of the above.  Having said that, I WAS NOT A FAN OF THE TRAINING FACILITY HERE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  I know a couple of my FAA buddies are reading this blog, so they will understand.

In the time frame that I was in management, the FAA was in the touchy-feely, warm-and-fuzzy, politically correct mode like the rest of the world.  It was all about how we felt about our jobs and each other.  I'm certainly a respecter of persons and make a strong effort to be kind, considerate, and friendly to others.  However, when it comes to getting a job done, especially moving airplanes around with live people in them, I'm more of a technical, factual, reality-based person, so let's just say I was a bit of a pain-in-the-butt for the instructors here. 

I could tell you a hundred stories of the absurdity of some of the classes and the methods used to make them more absurd.  Here's a good example.  I got a priority message from the front desk one day that we had had a plane crash at my facility in Fort Myers, FL.  I approached the instructor and explained to her that I would need to miss some of the class to get on the phone and assist the facility in working through the accident.  Her response - "Well, you will not be able to leave the class until we discuss the impact of your not being here and get consensus from the rest of the class that it's OK for you to leave."  With all the "sensitivity and understanding for others" that I could muster, I tried to explain to her the priority in this case a couple of more times, but she never got it.  So, I finally said, "I'm leaving the class now and when I get back you can tell me what the impact was on the rest of the class!"

In another "how-do-we-feel" session, the methodology of the discussion was to use an old Indian tradition where we would pass a stick around as we sat in a circle, and the only person who could speak was the person holding the stick.  We were encouraged to share our true feelings, so when the stick got to me, I said, "this has got to be one of the dumbest things I have ever heard of."

One day we had just finished completing psychological profiles of everyone (which was actually a pretty good exercise in that everyone ended up in one of 16 groups and I found myself standing with the group that I had naturally leaned toward in developing friendships during the week).  Finally an exercise that seemed to have some merit!  Then one of the class members suggested that we should discuss how our astrological signs influenced these profiles??????  What????  You are kidding of course.  Nope. You guessed it, we went there.

Anyhow, I always tried to make the best of it and enjoyed the visits to Palm Coast.  The facility was very nice.  The grounds were beautiful.

It was a stand-alone campus with everything you needed - private rooms, classrooms, the latest technology, and a cafeteria with great food and an ice-cream machine that was available 24 hours a day.  Oh, and there were some "extras" like a swimming pool, racquetball courts, volleyball, bikes, etc.

There were only a few cars at the facility, so we checked in at the front desk to see what was up - just a few security folks there and they confirmed that the facility has been shut down and will officially be no more in a couple of weeks. I was actually distressed a little and Rhonda suggested I might want a picture of me at the facility.  I had to wipe away some tears.  Right.

Actually, for those of you that know me well, it must have been a good facility, just look at me now!  In all seriousness, even though I bucked the system a lot, air traffic controllers are a great group of folks and take their job very seriously - you can rest assured that you are in good hands when you fly.  Now more about Palm Coast.

I had forgotten what a nice town this is.  It is clean, very organized, the landscape is beautiful, and there is not a street in the town that does not have a walking/bike trail.  And they don't just tack them along the side of the road all the time either.  Frequently they start and stop at the intersections but wind through the woods in-between.  They also ensure everyone has access to all the beautiful scenery - for the homeowners and developments along the ICW, there is a public sidewalk/trail between the homes and the ICW.  Great idea.

A highly-publicized attraction is the European Village.  I do not remember this from years ago.  It is a triangular shaped, fully enclosed residential/commercial shopping village.  Here's one of the entrances.

The shops (excuse me, "shoppes") are on the bottom floor with the condos occupying the top three.

OK, that's enough culture for one blog post, so let's go to the beach.  I had never made the trip out there in all my visits here with the FAA, not sure why.  It's about a 4-mile ride out there but the nice trails make it easy, including the ride over the ICW.

Once you are across the ICW, you are on Hammock Island/Dunes/Beach/Marina/Golf Course/Plantation, Hammock "Everything."  We had google-earthed a route out to the beach, a spot called Jungle Hut - no idea about the significance of that name, but they have nice facilities there for guests to the beach.

We were pleasantly surprised by this beach.  It has a coarse sand, sort of an orange/salmon color, that is quite beautiful.  We thought it would be difficult to walk on but it was not.

I asked around about this sand - turns out it is somewhat unique to certain areas, generally NC to south FL, some also in New Zealand, only about a 12-mile stretch of it here.  It comes from coquina rock. It is a soft rock, historically used in the building of forts.  Its soft structure absorbed cannon balls rather than shatter and crumble.  It has also been used to build castles because the softness allows it to easily be shaped and formed.  A common use today is for paving roads. Cool.  There are some high dunes here with beautiful homes on the other side.  There were only a couple of condominium developments as far as we could see, adding to the beauty of this location.

Looking south.

We asked around for lunch recommendations and headed off to JT's Seafood Shack.  Now this was a clever little stop, great food also!  Notice the fish hook and anchor symbols for the name.  The restaurant is between the ICW and the beach, also depicted.  And surely you didn't miss the ever-present "Hammock" reference.

Their overhead lighting at the tables was very original - fish bait buckets converted into lights.  Look closely and you can see the light bulb inside.

An assortment of creatures were on display.  I assume this is a Florida fox of some sort.

Before we leave the beach, here's my bird picture of the day.  Not sure what it is.

In consideration of all the above, Palm Coast is now at the top of our "I Could Live Here" list.

1. Palm Coast, FL
2. Port St. Joe, FL
3. Fort Pierce, FL
4. Anna Maria Island (Bradenton Beach), FL
5. Panama City, FL
6. Ft. Walton Beach, FL
7. Morgan City, LA

But the highlight of the day was meeting Pat and S.A. Smith.  S.A. is his nickname and stands for Shirley Augustus.  

They were trying to move an old desktop hard drive onto their boat and S.A was struggling with it so I offered to help.  Turns out he has quite a remarkable lifetime history in aviation, and we naturally hit it off.  What a sweet couple.   He shared the story of the first airplane he bought, a P-38.  I commented that the P-51 is my all-time favorite.  He said, "I owned one of those also."  He paid $1500.00 dollars for it and sold it later for $3000.00.  Laughing, he said he thought he had really made a profit - they are worth about a half-million today.  He has owned several others, flew in WWII, has flown in many airshows, recently earned the FAA's Charles Taylor award for 50 years of incident-free flying, and spent his last five flying years in USA spy-planes (no more details on that one!).  We started swapping Oshkosh fly-in stories and Pat shared that S.A. was recognized one year by Sean Tucker (one of the all-time great airshow performers) as one of the best pilots he had ever known - that's quite a recognition.  

It's amazing how much we have in common when we take the time to meet those around us. We are committed to taking advantage of more of those opportunities and we hope you will too.

See you in Jacksonville. 

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