Friday, February 22, 2008

An event that almost ended our trip

We left Palm Harbor Marina in Palm Beach on Wednesday and headed south again. The most significant factor in this part of the Intracoastal Waterway is the large number of drawbridges.

We encountered five of them between the marina and our Wednesday night anchorage in Lantana, Florida. Four of the five did not open on request, but were restricted to every 30 minutes. Sometimes, that meant "treading water" for a while until it was time for the bridge to open. That was good practice for both of us.

Thursday's trip to Ft. Lauderdale required that we pass under 15 more bridges. Thirteen of them were restricted. Number four, the Atlantic Avenue Bridge, was the one that nearly ended our trip.

I was at the helm. When we were in sight of the bridge, I hailed the bridge tender on our VHF radio to let him know we were nearing the bridge. There was a three-decker tour boat in front of us, who also hailed the bridge tender. The tender acknowledged both of our calls.

As we approached the bridge, I notified the tender again that Sunshine was right behind the tour boat. Again, the tender acknowledged my call.

The tour boat started under the bridge. The tour boat captain and the bridge tender were in conversation on the VHF. As the tour boat cleared the open bridge and we started through, I saw the spans begin to come down.

I grabbed the VHF and yelled, "Hold the bridge, hold the bridge. We are coming through." At the same time, I jammed the engines into reverse, although in reality it was too late for us to stop in time.

As we looked up in terror, waiting for the bridge to begin crumpling our mast, the spans stopped coming down. Our mast slid through the opening...with barely enough room.

As soon as we cleared the bridge, I hailed the tender again and asked, "Did you forget we were there?" He said, "I guess I did. I was talking to the other captain."

I said, "Atlantic Avenue Bridge, you just took about five years off my life." An unidentified voice on the VHF added, "Yes, he took about five years off my life yesterday."

I am trying to do something every day that scares me, as Eleanor Roosevelt suggested. I think I'm covered for the next six months!

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