Sunday, January 27, 2008

A New Lesson Learned

We ended up staying at Palm Cove Marina for three nights. That was more than we planned, but the weather was nasty and cold and, as we've said before, we're not on any schedule.

We watched IU get whipped by Connecticut on Saturday, walked to WalMart, West Marine (the boaters' favorite store) and the grocery, and took more wonderful hot showers while we waited out the bad weather.

This morning (Sunday) dawned clear, sunny and perfect for motoring. We made our preparations to leave, topping off the water tank, stowing items that might fall, unhooking the electrical connection, and checking and re-checking the tide tables to make sure we wouldn't go aground again as we left the marina and returned to the Intracoastal Waterway.

We also called the bridge located immediately south of the marina, a bridge that we had to pass through on our way south. The McCormick Bridge is a "bascule" bridge (drawbridge) that stops traffic to open and allow yachts with tall masts (ours is 56 feet) to pass through. A new, high-rise bridge is under construction next to the old bascule bridge, and the contractors are behind schedule and are working on weekends to make up time.

When we checked on Saturday, the contractors had moved two old, rusty barges into the passage under the bridge to hold their cranes. The bridge was closed to traffic on Saturday and might be impassable on Sunday also.

As we prepared to leave on Sunday morning, this was the conversation with the bridge tender on the VHF radio:

Us: "McCormick Bridge, this is Catamaran Sunshine, requesting information on bridge openings this morning."

Bridge Tender: "Catamaran Sunshine, this is McCormick Bridge. Our bridge will open upon request, but there are construction barges in the channel and you only have 30-foot horizontal clearance."

Unidentified Voice: "Doesn't look like 30 feet to me."

Bridge Tender: "It may only be 25 feet. What is your beam (width), Sunshine?"

Us: "Our beam is about 20 feet."

Bridge Tender: "You should be fine."

Unidentified Sailboat: "McCormick Bridge, we're approaching from the south. Our beam is 16 feet. Can we make it?"

Bridge Tender: "Sure, we have had tugboats wider than you go through this morning."

Unidentified Sailboat: "I'm approaching the bridge. It looks a lot narrower than 25 feet. I don't think I can make it. We are turning around."

Phil and I wonder what we should do. I call the bridge tender and ask if the situation will improve tomorrow. He says no. Phil and I talk it over. We try to figure the worst that can happen. We can put fenders (rubber cushions) on each side of the boat so we don't scrape. But the worst that can happen is that we'll become wedged in the passage as we go under the bridge. If that happens, we will have to call TowBoatUS to come and extract our boat. That could take a long time and our boat could be damaged in the process.

After much discussion, we decide to try it. We motor out of the marina channel and enter the IntraCoastal. The bridge looms immediately to our right. I call the bridge tender to announce our arrival and request that he raise the drawbridge. The opening looks plenty wide to me.

Us: "McCormick Bridge, this is Catamaran Sunshine requesting an opening."

Tender: "Catamaran Sunshine, since we last talked, the barges have been removed and you have wide open clearance."

We'll never know why the contractors moved the barges. All we know is that an anticipated dangerous situation had not materialized. The worst that could happen didn't happen.

We chugged under the bridge at 6.5 knots and never looked back. It was a beautiful afternoon of motoring. Our clean bottom made a huge difference in our speed and we traveled farther in three hours than we had in an entire day before the bottom cleaning.

Lesson learned: Prepare as best you can, make an informed decision, then go for it.

We are anchored for the night at Mile Marker 769.5 on the Tolomato River, about six miles north of St. Augustine. Latitude 20*59.988'N Longitude 081*20.127'W. We enjoyed a beautiful sunset and a phone call from our son, Andy, in Seattle.

Nothing broke today. Life is good.


chip said...

Landlubber's lesson learned: A clean bottom reduces friction and increases velocity.

Anonymous said...

Are those red and pink things behind Phil the girls' swimsuits?

TerryW said...

It's kind of impressive to see the bridge open to allow your boat through, isn't it?
Glad things went smoothly for you!
I think there is a nice anchorage near the fort in St. Augustine.

TerryB said...

Hi, I work with your son Matt. Myself and another guy in the office Mike are following your adventure. Mike is very much into sailing and has gotten me bitten by the bug. I plan to buy a 30 ft this summer to spend winters in Fl
We look forward each day to reading about whats going on with you.

Matt said...

I say everyone should have a clean bottom....but that's just me.