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Old 26-12-2007, 09:50   #1
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Sailing under bridges?

Hi Guys,

I'm wondering what you all have to sail about keeping the sails up while under a bridge.

I've always been under the impression that bridges make a lot of strange wind, and pretty much die down directly under them. But, I keep seeing pictures of boats sailing under the Golden Gate and a few other beauties around the world.

How ugly can ugly get if one keeps a sail luffing on the way under? How would an engineless boat maneuver under them... or is a tow the only way?

Thanks
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Old 26-12-2007, 10:07   #2
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engineless boats can sail under bridges if they're careful about it. My neighbor and I sailed his 16 foot catamaran under the Lillian bridge over Perdido Bay here. It was a bit of a tight fit and we had to make a couple of approaches to come in at the right angle cause the wind was coming from almost directly under the bridge. We just got some speed up heading towards the bridge, coasted under, sails luffing for about 15-20 seconds, and then when we were clear, turned and caught the wind again. Going back through was easier with the wind behind us. Just had to watch the clearance on both sides. Granted, this was a relatively low and small bridge, but just an example that an engineless boat can make it.

I've kayaked under the same bridge a few times and other than a bit of choppiness and the eerie noise from cars passing over I've not had any problems. The choppiness I doubt is from the bridge though, since the entire bay on the other side of the bridge tends to be more choppy that on my side of it.
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Old 26-12-2007, 13:28   #3
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I don't enjoy going under bridges, no matter how tall they are or how confident I am about mast vs bridge height, it always looks like you are going to whack the mast. and the only thing more painful than having to fix it, would be listening to the Admiral reviewing the collision from now until forever.
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Old 26-12-2007, 13:45   #4
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Quote:
I've always been under the impression that bridges make a lot of strange wind, and pretty much die down directly under them.
Bridges always look a lot shorter than they really are and hitting one is always a bad idea. Violates the #1 rule of boating: "Don't hit anything!" Rule #2 states: "Especially bridges".

I sail under them when I know I can and motor when I can't sail. Just like any other time on the water. I've never felt unusual winds or a strange attraction to crash into the supports. Charts always indicate clearance at MLW.

I saw a picture of an 80 ft masted sloop going down the ICW. They hoist two bags of water off a spare main halyard and heel the boat under all the bridges (none clear 80 ft). This is several tons of water. It's do able. If you set the halyard height with the bags empty to the clearence desired and pump water in them. You just heel until just before the bags touch and you now have the clearance. It would be easy (in a Newtonian physics kind of way easy).
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Old 26-12-2007, 14:07   #5
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Talking Sailing under bridges?

No sweat!!! Providing the wind is in your favor for a straight shot!

It's the clearence you have to watch out for, and the power lines too!
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Old 26-12-2007, 14:31   #6
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I sail under bridges on the ICW all the time. You're right in that both wind direction and wind speed gets squirrely as you get under them. Keep your speed up on the approach and you'll be fine.
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Old 26-12-2007, 15:27   #7
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I have only one bridge nearby. It's between Marrowstone Island and the Washington Peninsula near Port Townsend. I've sailed under it lots of times. It depends on wind direction, but it's usually either on the nose or straight behind. Whether I motor or sail usually has to do with what the tidal current is doing.


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Old 26-12-2007, 16:51   #8
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Originally Posted by Pblais View Post
Bridges always look a lot shorter than they really are and hitting one is always a bad idea. Violates the #1 rule of boating: "Don't hit anything!" Rule #2 states: "Especially bridges".

I sail under them when I know I can and motor when I can't sail. Just like any other time on the water. I've never felt unusual winds or a strange attraction to crash into the supports. Charts always indicate clearance at MLW.
Is MLW a typo? NOAA charts on the left coast are MHW. Except for at least Lake Washington which is mean water.

The bridges I sail under are mostly close to bluffs which I believe are more likely to cause the wind shifts than the bridge, which make tacking through them a process that you have to keep on top of the shifts.


Many moons ago, when I was fairly new to sailing, I was taking a sailing dinghy test at our club. The examiner wanted to go to the other side of the bridge. I lined up on the 43' tall main opening. As I got closer I got headed, which I didn't worry about as there were several more spans to go under. They each were lower, but I was in a 14' dinghy, with less than a 20' mast. I kept getting headed. Finally a big gust came through and I heeled way over and shot under the bridge. The gust dies and the boat came upright and I heard a big clang and the boat stopped. I was trapped with my mast between the ribs on the underside of the highway. We heeled the boat way over and got towed through. I could have alternatively capsized and floated back to the leeward side. It was a bit embarrassing, especially as it was a test.

John
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Old 26-12-2007, 17:55   #9
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Sydney Harbour Bridge is fine. The wind drops off a bit under there, but the real problem is the tide at each end of the bridge, particularly Luna Park, can be a bit swift.

Its the most wonderful bridge to go under. You can hear the cars, of course, and its all echoie and weird, and a little bit dark if youve come in from the sunshine. Its the coolest bridge in the world and if you come here you must sail under it a few times!


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Old 26-12-2007, 22:08   #10
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No problem, you just have to anticipate if and where the wind shadow might be and what the currents are doing before you get there. Its probably not a bad idea to have the engine fired up in case there is a delay in the opening or in case you need a little extra help from the engine..depending on the bridge.

I have sailed under the Golden Gate and other bridges around the SF Bay and Delta hundreds of times...never with an incident.
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Old 27-12-2007, 09:15   #11
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Is there a minimum size you guys would consider sailing under?

Most of the ICW bridges are 60+ feet, but some feel a lot narrower than others!
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Old 27-12-2007, 10:30   #12
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Is there a minimum size you guys would consider sailing under?
Never less than the mast and I always check. Once it gets within a few feet I would think a lot more before I went ahead and double checked the tide. Depends on what going around the other way would entail. I'm not sure there is a minimum width. I've never seen a bridge too narrow that was also high enough.

I always notice that bridges that are even close to the mast height look like they have far too little clearance from the water. That is sort of a good thing. Power lines visually don't always look as low as they really are. That would be a bad thing. Power lines are far more dangerous than bridges.

When around bridges you need to watch for traffic that may be constrained. That is when a bridge may not be wide enough. Bridges that open are also usually narrow. As noted currents can change. The strongest current on the entire Mississippi River is under a bridge in downtown St Paul, MN. Bridges on rivers are always built in narrows when possible so current changes would be common. Rivers have a lot of odd things in addition to bridges.
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Old 31-12-2007, 01:53   #13
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Keep watch on the currents and your progress to leeward. The last position you want to be in is close hauled with one of the pylons to your lee. You can be making a lot of progress towards that thing, and if your wind cuts out, you're gonna be in trouble when it kicks back in again.
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