Negotiating Bridges on the Inter-coastal Waterway

January 15, 2012 in SEA

Navigating on the inter-coastal waterway brought new challenges – the multitude of bridges competing for the limited space above our mast – and the panic every time wondering if there was any.

We left from Tampa where Seanee had spent the summer under José’ close watch, it had been a year since her successful if tumultuous crossing from the Mediterranean. With our destination an undefined waypoint on the Atlantic coast we set out to explore the Gulf waters with a coastal hopscotch through Naples and Venice, then finally a stopover in Key West.

Our destination for this year was the Eastern Seaboard, ideally the lower Chesapeake but the loss of Queen Mum (my mother in law) and our subsequent flight back to Holland had forced a change in sail plan. Now we are battling a Nor’Easter as we work our way up through the keys cutter rigged, pushed with five knots of Gulf Stream into 35 knots close on the nose.  At last Miami is in sight at two in the morning.

Venice in the background of Seanee tied up with her winter coat on

Making our way through the channel with merchant vessels fore and aft was as tricky as crossing the strait at Gibraltar with full tide running against cross winds. We were “crabbing” our way in this never-ending channel watching the traffic fore and aft, the only surprise would be the countercurrent running south on final approach. I was navigating from the chart table where I had data, radar and helm control, Mayke is providing visual readings and bearings from the cockpit. Our chatter relating to traffic and visual positions was normal until I would hear her scream “what are you doing”! All of a sudden we were thrown off course by the current running counter to the Gulf Stream, I had to swing Seanee from crabbing in on her starboard to her portside to bring us back on course. Surprised and threatened with ejection from the channel I had had no time to forewarn her of my maneuver. Before long we would be tied up in a quiet berth and marveling at the clarity of the water, the clearest if not cleanest harbor I had ever seen.

We would give Miami Beach a day of tourism, admiring the Art Deco, walking the strip back and forth discovering new perspectives, enjoying a few meals. The urge of the journey beckoned and by the next morning we were ready to move on.

As the nor’easter relentlessly continued blowing we decided to enter the Inter-coastal Waterway in Miami and work our way up. Our thinking on the future had matured as we considered settling back in the States once the Auberge would be sold. After years of expansion and rehabilitation we felt that would happen soon, the inn now has sixteen guest rooms with a second dining room plus our adjacent house Maison La Fontaine, once the village wart now rehabilitated and classified a historic building dating back to the 11th century. It was time to move on and are curious to discover close-up the east coast on up through to the Chesapeake, home for me many years back.

For a blue water sailor whose nerves become raw as the depth sounder stops blinking in quest of a sounding, navigating the intercoastal waterway is a whole new experience. Add to constant preoccupation with keel clearance the fright of negotiating the bridge passages. Sean Seamour’s mast towered well over fifty feet plus her VHF antennae and ion disperser crowning the mast. To make matters worse I had read that there were a few bridges that did not quite meet their 56′ clearance requirement. As we would approach one of these, often with opposing wind and or current we would approach to check the often barely readable water level scale at the center pylon, then double back to inch our way under.

Inter-coastal Waterway hurdles – will we fit under? the first of so many and each time the same anxiety.

Upon the first bridge Mayke stood on the stern ready to jump overboard should the mast come crashing down, after that she would go below and wait until the panic attack passed. I was not much better except that I had to helm through; many a time I would scream to myself we’re not gonna make it this time! But in the end we cleared all of them and their passage, while always full of apprehension, became easier.

I came to wonder how a taller vessel could make it through without stepping the mast, for years the recurrent question would come back to cloud my mind until my future crewman Ben posted the solution to his Facebook page. The following short video named Boat Balls 2 is both enlightening as well as daring. Enjoy watching an 80′ tall rig (just under 25 meter) under a maybe 65′ bridge clearance (19.8 meter) Boat Balls 2 – YouTube (p.s. there is no malice to the name, it’s a good descriptive of the technique).

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