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Old 20-11-2009, 13:38   #1
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What About Bridges?

Some people are afraid to go over bridges. Apparently, we are afraid to go under them!

We are new to sailing (read: inexperienced) and are currently on the Gulf Coast of Florida. We've motored down to Sarasota Bay a half-dozen times so far to practice grounding technique, anchoring, sailing, heaving-to, etc. but if we'd wanted to motor all the time we'd have bought a power boat. We need to SAIL and aren't terribly thrilled with the stress-inducing depths (or lack thereof) found in the ICW. What we'd like to do is go out under Longboat Pass Bridge into the Gulf and start making our way down the coast, but we have reached an impasse born of lack of experience/ confidence.

What about the funky wind conditions found under bridges? What if there's a bunch of traffic lined up behind us and the bridge isn't ready to open? How do we maintain a holding pattern? What if there's no ROOM for a holding pattern? What if there's traffic coming the other way and we run aground trying to stay on our side of the channel and get stuck under the bridge? What if strong currents prevent us from heaving-to? What if the bridge tender won't answer?

Is it really this complicated, or are we blowing this out of proportion in our minds?
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Old 20-11-2009, 13:51   #2
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First Do not be pressured by traffic in back of you . If there is 10 min till the opeaning travel 5 mins in the other direction and 5 min back Always give yourself plenty of room, no need to be right at the bridge Let other traffic pass if they need to. Relax! No big deal! These are just a few tips I am sure there will be others
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Old 20-11-2009, 14:10   #3
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I certainly hope so!! I never realized there was so much to be worried about. Here I thought the major issue was making sure the bridge was high enough to get the mast under it.

Having said that, I have had experience in dropping an anchor in the middle of the intra coastal waiting for a bridge to hope (the ahmmm operator wouldn't open it because I was there at 10:05 and it only opened on the hour)

We alway drop the sails for a bridge that has to open for us. We always have the engine on when we are going under a bridge. We communicate with traffic coming from the other side to make certain we are passing port to port or if one is to go before the other. We always (unless there is a long line of boats waiting to go through) communicate with the bridge operator to tell them when we are going through, or request the opening. We make sure we tell them we are clear of the bridge and thanks for the opening. We have two engines, so we are less concerned with having an anchor ready, but our anchor is always ready to drop when we are under weigh.

There will be some slight wind condition differences around a bridge, but if they are that significant, it might be best to stay at anchor until they are better. If they are that bad, the bridge won't open anyway. There used to be a bridge right before the Sheraton Marina in New Bern NC. They would not open it when the winds were over 45 or 50 (don't remember which) This was important cause the marina could kick you out if a hurricane was coming. They had to do it while the wind was below 50 else, you could stay!

Most folks just make slow circles before the bridge to maintain steerage. Most will call ahead to ask when the next opening so they can time there arrival at the bridge to correspond to the opening, or slightly before.

Almost everyone finds they use the iron genny far more than the expect! Get the sailing in, but the engine can be your friend, definitely lowers stress in many instances.
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Old 20-11-2009, 14:13   #4
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I don't think you want to sail through Longboat Pass Bridge unless you have an east wind and an out going tide and the bridge tender knows you are not under power and have limited options.

Also not sure if that was what you were thinking either.

Motor is really the way to go.
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Old 20-11-2009, 14:33   #5
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At he Spit...

We've been through the Spit Bridge in Sydney Harbour a few times, and yes, it can be a bit nerve wracking.



First, don't even think about doing it under sail.

I'll second the comment about doing a timed trip. If it is going to open in 10 min. we'd go 4 min. one way so we get there with a couple of minutes to spare (I'm an on-time type).

A few other comments:-
* We observe the other boats to get some idea of who got there first, second and so on. In the melee as the bridge opens it's nice to be as courteous as possible.
* Sometimes we circle round a few hundred metres from the bridge. As we do this we try to have the other boats on our port (left) side. If someone's a little aggressive we smile and let them go.
* If there is a custom about which side goes through first it's nice to know. Helps with the timing.
* Being one of the last boats through is the least stressful way to do it. They're not (hopefully) going to close the bridge on top of us.
* We haven't experienced any problem with tides/current but they do need to be kept in mind.
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Old 20-11-2009, 15:27   #6
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Andy and Mara, Go out on a crappy day so there will be no traffic or get a friend with experience to go along the first time. I've only been through in my Sea Pearl( no motor) but I only need 18.5 ft to clear. That's a great cruising ground, enjoy. Dave
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Old 20-11-2009, 15:48   #7
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Theoretically the vessel(s) with the current behind them have the right of way. I say theoretically because half the people out there don't know that and a lot of the rest don't care.
You can also use a strong current while waiting by putting your bow into the current and idling just enough to maintain your position. Even if you have to back and fill a bit I think it's better than circling, uses up a lot less channel space.
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Old 20-11-2009, 17:13   #8
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Thank you all so much for your responses - we feel much better now and have a far clearer understanding of how we will plan our first bridge transit.

I probably should have made it clear that we would NEVER consider sailing under a bridge with our experience level! As a matter of fact, the last time we were out we heard the bridge tender chide someone for having their sails up (told him he'd be fined next time) so we just assumed it wasn't allowed anyway.

We're anxious to get into the Gulf and get some sea room. Kind of like learning to drive in a big parking lot instead of on a narrow road - less likely to hit anyone or anything, including the ground!

Thanks again - it is very, very much appreciated!
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Old 20-11-2009, 17:45   #9
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Quote:
We need to SAIL and aren't terribly thrilled with the stress-inducing depths (or lack thereof) found in the ICW
Guess what? You figured it out. Nothing is wrong. Waiting for bridges means having to find a way to go no place slow. It's not easy! Bridges are about cars and trucks and they out number you 10,000 to 1.

Best bet is to have the schedule and when within striking distance slow early and don't bunch up at the bridge. Bridge tenders fight to get all the boats bunched up for a quick opening and closing. You need to be at the back and make it through just in time. It's a serious game and being stuck at the front may not always be a great time.

We were stuck waiting at a bridge up on the far north end of the ICW in VA (2nd bridge). 33 boats waited for an opening on the hour going no place only to have a mad dash for the only lock that only holds 22 boats (give or take) followed by another bridge. Making your boat go no place for an hour is no easy bit of navigation. If you don't feel comfortable about it just consider most people don't either.

Only advice is learn - not to be early. Alternative is to go outside where there is never a wait. Monitor CH 13 and keep tabs with the bridge tender. They always will discuss delays and other factors. Remember they work for the road people and answer to local political people not sail boat owners or the USCG. The USCG approves the rules about any bridge on the ICW but after that they have nothing more to say.
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Old 20-11-2009, 18:18   #10
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I find the bridge tenders in fl to be professional and courteous, just contact them on channel 9 as soon as you are in their sight tell your vessel name and type maybe description and the way your approaching from conversation for us usually goes something like this

Longboat pass bridge this is the sailing vessel magic a green on white sloop approaching from the north.

This gives them a pinpoint of which boat is hailing them. They appreciate it. After they reply request an opening and they will give instruction from there.

I've found bridge tenders in SC to be terrible. Often will get told to approach bridge with a tide rushing you toward bridge then a long delay as you struggle to hold position. My experience in florida is they time the openings so you just keep up speed and its open when you get there. (Bridges not on opening schedule)
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Old 20-11-2009, 21:29   #11
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In many areas it is illegal to sail under a draw span.

The key is...SLOW IS PRO!!!!!!!

Keep your head on a swivel!!!!!!

And be careful of large wake producers......i.e. stay away from the bulkheads, piers, fenderboards......check your tides in advance of your passing thru......that way you have a better idea of what the water will be doing.

And use you VHF to talk to boats around you.....

Ley the BIG BOYS know your intentions.....they are as nervous as you
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Old 21-11-2009, 12:01   #12
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Which is the preferred channel to contact bridge tenders, 9 or 13?

Thanks!
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Old 21-11-2009, 12:20   #13
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Elf -

In FL the bridge tenders monitor channel 9. (This is what I heard the Cortez Bridge tender inform someone who hailed them on channel 16; if I'm wrong I'm sure someone will correct me.)
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Old 21-11-2009, 12:57   #14
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Originally Posted by Andy and Mara View Post
Elf -

In FL the bridge tenders monitor channel 9. (This is what I heard the Cortez Bridge tender inform someone who hailed them on channel 16; if I'm wrong I'm sure someone will correct me.)
They started using channel 9 to reduce traffic on channels 16 and 13 some years ago. Most bridges still monitor both 9 and 16 but prefer that traffic be limited to #9 (at least in FL)

Fair winds!

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Old 21-11-2009, 12:59   #15
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Originally Posted by Andy and Mara View Post
Some people are afraid to go over bridges ... we are afraid to go under them ... Is it really this complicated, or are we blowing this out of proportion in our minds?
First, relax a bit. This is not a competitive event and the majority of bridge tenders will go out of their way to help. Second, as long as you have a reasonable idea of the RULES and are demonstrating courteous technique, the majority of other boat handlers will go along and help out. Don't be shy about using the VHF, because if you are talking to the bridge on a particular channel, it's likely that everyone else is also on that channel. If "My Beautiful Yacht" behind you is coming up too close, let him (and the bridge) know that YOU know. Politely, of course. Remember that if folks really wanted to make time, they probably would not be going under a restricted bridge in the first place. Take your time, maintain a safe distance and a safe speed, and enjoy.

There is no prize given for approaching a bridge, a dock, or another vessel at the highest possible speed. In most cases style points are actually deducted.
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