Thursday, June 2, 2016

Bridges, Bridges And More Bridges

Blackburn Swing Bridge

After releasing our mooring ball at Marina Jack in Sarasota we turned Wrinkles south into the Gulf Intercoastal Waterway. The dolphins waved goodbye to us and then just one mile later we were waiting for the Siesta Key bridge to open for our passage. Bridges would be the theme for the next two days. This stretch of the GIWW has bridges galore.

Bridges make traveling by boat interesting to say the least. In many areas the low mechanical bridges have been replaced by 65 foot high fixed bridges. Wrinkles' mast is only 44 feet high, so we can just cruise right under them. The swing and bascule bridges are a different story. The night before we travel we spend time working with our charts and books to find possible anchorages or marinas. We also note the information for each bridge along the route. The proper name to hail the bridge tender on VHF. How much vertical clearance? Opening times on demand or on a time schedule? Any current construction or maintenance going on that might alter the opening schedule? How many miles from bridge to bridge?

Bascule Bridge

It seems like a lot of information, but believe us it is all necessary. Some bridge tenders won't respond if you don't hail the proper bridge name. Been there, done that. Sail ten miles up the waterway to find a bridge closed for repairs. Done that too.

The opening schedule is the most important item. Our sailboat only goes about 5 mph, so rushing to catch an opening isn't really possible. Arriving 15 minutes before an opening can be an unnerving event. Sailboats don't have parking brakes, so sitting in a skinny channel with other boats for any length of time is a real struggle especially when the current is strong. Sailboats don't steer unless they are moving. The solution is to know exactly how far away the next bridge is and to sail at just the right speed to cover that distance and arrive a couple minutes before the bridge opens.


If you have done your math right and you arrive on time, then it is time to hail the bridge tender on the VHF and request a bridge opening. Most of the bridge tenders are awesome and make the process fairly easy. Occasionally you get "Mr./Mrs./Ms McGrumpy", but not too often.

A 2 1/2 minute video of Wrinkles raising a bridge.

Sweet, through another bridge. "How far to the next one dear?"


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