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Old 17-01-2016, 15:32   #1
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Bridge Clearance on the FL Panhandle

My boat specs indicate a 49.5' air draft and I have several 50' bridges in my new-to-me sailing area, Brooks, Navarra Causeway, Destin Pass, and Tyndall Dupont, that I'd like to pass under on an GICW trip from Port St. Joe to Pensacola, especially when sailing in Gulf gets a little too spirited. So far I have not had the guts to pass under them and I stay in the Gulf. Am I being too cautious? I'd guess my VHF antenna extends at least a foot above the top of the mast.

After getting inspiration from this video, I was thinking that I could use two 5 gal buckets filled with water (with one also holding the 20' of chain of my spare rode) attached to a halyard to list the boat enough to get a couple of feet lower:

I have an inmost furling main and a radar dome half way up so I already have more weight aloft than I'd like. Would the 70 or 80 pounds hung from the masthead make a difference?

And am I crazy or a scaredy-cat?
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Old 17-01-2016, 15:50   #2
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Re: Bridge Clearance on the FL Panhandle

I sailed up and down this coast with a 49 ft measured mast height for a lot of years. VHF was extra. I hit/ scraped trying to ease under the Destin Pass bridge but clear all the others (Brooks, Navarre, Dupont.) VHF catches hell and I avoid the bridge nav lights. Your real test will be Navarre. If you move over two spans to the south and snuggle up to the north pier you have at least a foot (probably more like 18") more clearance than the center span.

I had the windex on the front of the mast (fractional rig) and always proceeded slowly and watched boat wakes.

Your VHF will tell the real tale. Used to keep a log of fender board exposure and how much the VHF suffered. Finally bought a shorter stick yacht.
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Old 17-01-2016, 16:24   #3
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Re: Bridge Clearance on the FL Panhandle

No, not a scaredy cat, you're being cautious.

Frankly used an important term, measured air draft. You should measure it yourself. The boat specs could be in error for a variety of reasons. May even have less than you think.

Measure, trust the marker boards, proceed slowly with the current and wind against you if possible. Make it through and build your confidence.

I've been through all those bridges but at 46.5 feet. Still a little sceery, but only the first time. Never looks like enough clearance looking up from below. And power lines.... oh man.
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Old 17-01-2016, 16:49   #4
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Re: Bridge Clearance on the FL Panhandle

You probably have more than a foot of antenna, lights, wind instruments, etc above your mast. I just had to get under a bridge on Lake Barkley during some high water. I have a Hunter 356 and I am 58.4 feet above waterline - measured to the tip of my VHF antenna. I needed 10 degrees of heel to get under the bridge. I bought 10, 5 gallon buckets from Lowes and hung them off the end of the boom, filled with water with my deck wash pump, and then swing the boom out as far as it would go and got my 10 degrees. I cleared the bridge. That gave me 2-1/2 feet less above the water. Here are some photos.Click image for larger version

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Old 17-01-2016, 17:08   #5
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Re: Bridge Clearance on the FL Panhandle

Probably should clarify when I said scraped trying Destin I was talking about mast tip not the VHF.

Under calm conditions with opposing current and a helper up on the bow you can creep up to a bridge with little danger to the rig.

On heeling over using external ballast, take a look at the geometry. A lot of heel for a small reduction at near vertical angles. I was talking to a sailmaker years ago that had built a bag similar to that video. The FMP saw him slipping under Brooks Bridge all heeled over and told him they would ticket him for dangerous operation of a boat if they ever saw him try it again.

One time with a unusually high tide at Brooks I lashed my buddy's 27' sail boat along side and hooked my main halyard to his far side Spring Line Cleat. Winched until I was afraid something was going to let go and under we went. FMP would have loved that stunt.

Based on my memory, Dupont would be a good start as I think we often cleared with the VHF not touching, Brooks would be second, and I don't think you will clear the center at Navarre but the increased clearance to the side is real. I tore off my windex proving that point trying the center of Navarre after we had easily cleared the side path.

Winter low tides will also give you some more margin for getting a feel of things.

As I said before the VHF will be your gauge, and keep some notes on the water level against the fender boards. It took me some anxious trips before I finally worked it all out and we had two more 50 ft (nominal) bridges back then. We found the posted clearances usually are a little lower than actual.
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Old 18-01-2016, 13:23   #6
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Re: Bridge Clearance on the FL Panhandle

Our last boat was a Hunter 30 with a mast cut down to 43'6" because it was kept on the St John's River which has several 45' bridges.
When we picked it up, the river was running a foot high, so we came very close.
Fortunately, most of the bridges were arched, and the center of the arch was almost 2' about the rated height which is measured at the outside edges of the channel. We just needed to wait until there was no other traffic (or wakes).

That said, we bought a diver lift bag which we could fill with water and heel.
Nothing like the one in NH, but we did not need a lot.
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Old 25-09-2016, 18:09   #7
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Re: Bridge Clearance on the FL Panhandle

Did you ever get under Brooks Bridge? We are also trying to figure out if we can get under it. It is listed on the charts as 50' but the tidal markers show 47 - 48 ish. Locals tell us this is not a 50' bridge, but everybody has different opinions, no facts. We climbed the mast and measured and are at 49'6" to the top of the expensive stuff. We'd rather not heel it to get under.


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Old 26-09-2016, 03:00   #8
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Re: Bridge Clearance on the FL Panhandle

Greetings and welcome aboard the CF, CayoHueso.
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Old 28-09-2016, 08:08   #9
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Re: Bridge Clearance on the FL Panhandle

I have passed under the Dupont Tindall bridge yet. I have close to it but never under. Someone who seemed local and knowledgable told me it was a full 50' but as you say, everyone has opinions. Next time I am near it I will look for the tide markers. I haven't noticed them before but never really looked. I'll let you know if I ever get the courage to do it.
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Old 28-09-2016, 08:09   #10
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Re: Bridge Clearance on the FL Panhandle

I have not passed under the Dupont Tindall bridge yet. I have close to it but never under. Someone who seemed local and knowledgable told me it was a full 50' but as you say, everyone has opinions. Next time I am near it I will look for the tide markers. I haven't noticed them before but never really looked. I'll let you know if I ever get the courage to do it.
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