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Old 29-05-2018, 05:17   #1
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Tidal Currents Can Be Strong in Bays and Inlets and Rivers

I am starting this thread so CF Members can post anecdotes about the strong currents they have experienced while voyaging or cruising. Please post your own experiences, including your observations or memories, from anywhere.

__________

I just returned from a 1200nm 21 day voyage from Florida to Maine. I was aboard a 53 foot sailboat. We sailed and motorsailed offshore the entire way (no ICW) and during that time I had a chance to observe tidal currents in several locations, as we pulled into a few ports for fuel or provisions or parts or final destination. We motor-sailed through some tidal currents that were strong and impressive.

A few times I could see our boat speed (through the water) was 7 knots while our SOG was 2-3 knots! (More throttle needed.)

The boat I was on had a reliable 120hp Diesel engine, and swung a big fixed prop. So we had the ability to power through when we wanted.

Of course we timed our entrances and exits to use the wind and currents when possible. Even so, when on a voyage like this I had the opportunity to see significant currents.

What made this aspect of this voyage memorable for me was the variety of locations seen in such a short period, allowing my observations to be fresh in mind.
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Ponce Inlet Florida. (which flowed fast like a river)

Chesapeake Bay Entrance. (which flowed fast like a river)

"The Race" in Long Island Sound. (which flowed fast with rip)

Montauk Point (entrance to Long Island Sound). (which flowed fast like a river)

Cape Cod Canal (which flowed fast like a river, with eddies and some serious back-flows along the shore). I had heard about the Cape Cod Canal flow from a previous captain last year, so was prepared to see it. I was impressed by the Canal.

Penobscot Bay in Maine (which flowed fast like a river between Islands)
____________

Even when transiting these areas at favorable times and in good weather, the currents can be fast and strong. Large ATON Buoys were leaning on the currents. Crab and lobster pot buoys were submerged.

If one had an underpowered sail or power boat and low or no wind or unfavorable wind, it could be very challenging.

It made me think of the challenges of the old days of sail when large ships had no engines.

I watched the tide turn on two tidal rivers on which we were moored. It was interesting to see the surface of the fast flowing water go one direction for hours, then as the tide changed go the opposite direction for hours.
____________

Those are my observations. What are yours? Post your anecdotes below.
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Old 29-05-2018, 05:37   #2
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Re: Tidal Currents Can Be Strong in Bays and Inlets and Rivers

Nice idea Steady. One of my worst experiences was in the Point Pleasant Canal in New Jersey - Nothing like strong tidal currents and multiple short drawbridges.

This canal must be transited close to slack in a sailboat. I didn't heed this warning about 4 years ago in a C&C 30 and went in with the current on our nose.

The current grew and grew as we progressed in, and our speed slowed from 4 knots to 3, then 2. We were about a 1/2 mile in when I had it floored and we were making zero progress. Then we started actually going slightly backwards. It was time to bail out.

The trouble is, the canal is very skinny and full of weekender powerboat traffic creating huge wakes. I finally got myself all the way to the right side of the canal, waited for an opening between extremely tan drunk people in Bayliners (Jersey) and initiated a U-turn.

When we turned broadside to the current, the boat heeled over from the pressure on the keel, but we finally spun it around without hitting the opposite bulkhead. We shot out of the canal at nearly 10 kts.

You live and learn.
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Old 29-05-2018, 05:58   #3
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Re: Tidal Currents Can Be Strong in Bays and Inlets and Rivers

We recently tied to a mooring off of Hog Cay in the Exumas (at Wardrick Wells Park) and the current was strong enough that I could steer our boat to either side of the mooring. Iím guessing that it was in excess of 4 knots. Uncomfortable.
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Old 29-05-2018, 06:40   #4
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Re: Tidal Currents Can Be Strong in Bays and Inlets and Rivers

Chesapeake Bay Entrance. (which flowed fast like a river)

Trying to return South on Sunday, I sailed until the wind dropped off then motored which at first was tough due to the large waves.

After a while, they smoothed out a bit and I was coming across the remaining 15 miles with my 5 HP outboard

I knew the moon had been near full so I expected strong tides. Plus I'd been dealing with them for the last few days

I was tired so was sort of resting a bit on the lazarette. I'd check things every few minutes.

The motor was stopping here and there due to trouble drawing gas from the external tank's position

After an hour or two or this, I notice how weird the waves were due to the tide. I was also trying to use this strong outgoing tide to my advantage which took me over near the bridge that spans the bay

You get passed the bridge under the high span on the North Side or over one of the two tunnels

After a while longer and another engine stoppage, I noticed I was getting waaay to close to the bridge and I was between the tunnels

I started getting worried that if my motor did turn off and I couldn't get it started would I have enough wind to sail off from the bridge. At this point, I was maybe 200-300 yards from the bridge

I didn't want my boat up against the bridge slamming into it until the mast got knocked off.

When I finally made it to the First Island on the Southside which is about 5 miles from shore the wind cranked back up which was quite a relief.

Another lesson learned...…….

The tide was not as strong as pictured below, but still rippin.

https://www.google.com/search?biw=12...=1527602080950
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Old 29-05-2018, 06:44   #5
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Re: Tidal Currents Can Be Strong in Bays and Inlets and Rivers

My life is nothing but tides and currents here in the Salish Sea (Puget Sound and areas north).

A couple of times remembered -
I've been 10 minutes late for slack tide at Deception Pass and had the current already 1.5 knots against me.

The flood current coming in the Straits of Juan de Fuca split to go north to the San Juan islands and south to Puget Sound. I timed a return to Seattle from the San Juans where I never got below 8 knots until I was south of Admiralty Inlet.

I was trying to go through Hole in the Wall from Okisollo channel and I bailed out when it looked like I was going sideways nearly as fast as forward. The overfalls over the rocks in Okisollo are impressive.

Tacking upwind through Seymour narrows with the current with me watching the trees in front of us slide to leeward.



Even in open waters the current can be 1/4 - 1/2 knot against you and you head for back eddies in bays to significantly help your passage time.

Tacoma Narrows max about 5 knots
Deception Pass 7
Dodd narrows 7
Lots of places in Puget Sound hit 2 to 3 knots.
All through the Desolation Sound area in Canada has narrows
Seymour narrows 14
Okisollo
Hole in the Wall
Surge Narrows

Too many to remember what I've been through.

Just found this fun tool -

DeepZoom Nautical Charts Tides and Currents
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Old 29-05-2018, 06:54   #6
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Re: Tidal Currents Can Be Strong in Bays and Inlets and Rivers

I’ve been a Great Lakes sailor most of my cruising life, but last season we finally made it to the great briny seas. While sailing from Lake Ontario to Newfoundland I encountered the biggest tides I’ve ever had to deal with.

This pic shows boat speed (right) vs SOG via GPS (left). Over six knots of current here. This wasn’t even the peak. We hit over seven knots shortly thereafter.

This was in the stretch around Quebec City. My boat has never moves so fast!
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Old 29-05-2018, 07:01   #7
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Re: Tidal Currents Can Be Strong in Bays and Inlets and Rivers

Play the tides right and you can have a huge boost to your speed over the ground. Get it wrong in light winds and yachties have been known to anchor rather than be pushed back in a race.

Couple of things about tide tables and their times. In the UK we have noticed that the time of high tide can easy vary 20 minutes either way. The weather; both the air pressure and wind direction can alter the time and height of high water. Finally high water from the nearest secondary port isn't necessarily slack water nearby, local geography plays a mean trick.

We plan most of our voyages around the tides and a 4am start to cross the English Channel is quite normal.
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Old 29-05-2018, 07:26   #8
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Re: Tidal Currents Can Be Strong in Bays and Inlets and Rivers

Quote:
Originally Posted by Peregrine1983 View Post
Nice idea Steady. One of my worst experiences was in the Point Pleasant Canal in New Jersey - Nothing like strong tidal currents and multiple short drawbridges.

This canal must be transited close to slack in a sailboat. I didn't heed this warning about 4 years ago in a C&C 30 and went in with the current on our nose.

The current grew and grew as we progressed in, and our speed slowed from 4 knots to 3, then 2. We were about a 1/2 mile in when I had it floored and we were making zero progress. Then we started actually going slightly backwards. It was time to bail out.

The trouble is, the canal is very skinny and full of weekender powerboat traffic creating huge wakes. I finally got myself all the way to the right side of the canal, waited for an opening between extremely tan drunk people in Bayliners (Jersey) and initiated a U-turn.

When we turned broadside to the current, the boat heeled over from the pressure on the keel, but we finally spun it around without hitting the opposite bulkhead. We shot out of the canal at nearly 10 kts.

You live and learn.
Good description (and post)!

I think your anecdote is exactly what I was hoping to see in this thread, as it may help new sailors appreciate how the tidal currents can affect one in confined areas like that canal. Good lesson for anyone to heed. Thanks for sharing your story here.
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Old 29-05-2018, 07:29   #9
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Re: Tidal Currents Can Be Strong in Bays and Inlets and Rivers

Quote:
Originally Posted by nhschneider View Post
We recently tied to a mooring off of Hog Cay in the Exumas (at Wardrick Wells Park) and the current was strong enough that I could steer our boat to either side of the mooring. Iím guessing that it was in excess of 4 knots. Uncomfortable.
Interesting.

Your example made me think of how a boat would react to strong current and opposing wind when moored or anchored.

Thanks for adding your anecdote to the mix!
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Old 29-05-2018, 07:31   #10
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Re: Tidal Currents Can Be Strong in Bays and Inlets and Rivers

Quote:
Originally Posted by thomm225 View Post
Chesapeake Bay Entrance. (which flowed fast like a river)

Trying to return South on Sunday, I sailed until the wind dropped off then motored which at first was tough due to the large waves.

After a while, they smoothed out a bit and I was coming across the remaining 15 miles with my 5 HP outboard

I knew the moon had been near full so I expected strong tides. Plus I'd been dealing with them for the last few days

I was tired so was sort of resting a bit on the lazarette. I'd check things every few minutes.

The motor was stopping here and there due to trouble drawing gas from the external tank's position

After an hour or two or this, I notice how weird the waves were due to the tide. I was also trying to use this strong outgoing tide to my advantage which took me over near the bridge that spans the bay

You get passed the bridge under the high span on the North Side or over one of the two tunnels

After a while longer and another engine stoppage, I noticed I was getting waaay to close to the bridge and I was between the tunnels

I started getting worried that if my motor did turn off and I couldn't get it started would I have enough wind to sail off from the bridge. At this point, I was maybe 200-300 yards from the bridge

I didn't want my boat up against the bridge slamming into it until the mast got knocked off.

When I finally made it to the First Island on the Southside which is about 5 miles from shore the wind cranked back up which was quite a relief.

Another lesson learned...ÖÖ.

The tide was not as strong as pictured below, but still rippin.

https://www.google.com/search?biw=12...=1527602080950
Good anecdote!

Made me think about a boat I saw piled up on the rocks (reason unknown) on the Chesapeake entrance rocks (near the tunnel entrance), and another observation in San Francisco I will add later.

Thanks for adding your good detailed description to this mix.
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Old 29-05-2018, 07:43   #11
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Re: Tidal Currents Can Be Strong in Bays and Inlets and Rivers

A little north of the San Juans on the Canadian side we have Sechelt Rapids also known locally as Skookumchuk we regularly get 15 knots. It is reported to be the fastest tidal flow in the world. As you head west and north the current tables are a popular navigational reference
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Old 29-05-2018, 07:45   #12
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Re: Tidal Currents Can Be Strong in Bays and Inlets and Rivers

Quote:
Originally Posted by cal40john View Post
My life is nothing but tides and currents here in the Salish Sea (Puget Sound and areas north).

A couple of times remembered -
I've been 10 minutes late for slack tide at Deception Pass and had the current already 1.5 knots against me.

The flood current coming in the Straits of Juan de Fuca split to go north to the San Juan islands and south to Puget Sound. I timed a return to Seattle from the San Juans where I never got below 8 knots until I was south of Admiralty Inlet.

I was trying to go through Hole in the Wall from Okisollo channel and I bailed out when it looked like I was going sideways nearly as fast as forward. The overfalls over the rocks in Okisollo are impressive.

Tacking upwind through Seymour narrows with the current with me watching the trees in front of us slide to leeward.



Even in open waters the current can be 1/4 - 1/2 knot against you and you head for back eddies in bays to significantly help your passage time.

Tacoma Narrows max about 5 knots
Deception Pass 7
Dodd narrows 7
Lots of places in Puget Sound hit 2 to 3 knots.
All through the Desolation Sound area in Canada has narrows
Seymour narrows 14
Okisollo
Hole in the Wall
Surge Narrows

Too many to remember what I've been through.

Just found this fun tool -

DeepZoom Nautical Charts Tides and Currents
Good anecdote!
Thanks for the details and the link (I will followup on that).

I have watched some videos of very impressive tidal currents in the PNW and navigating them sure looks and sounds exciting.
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Old 29-05-2018, 07:48   #13
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Re: Tidal Currents Can Be Strong in Bays and Inlets and Rivers

Quote:
Originally Posted by Mike OReilly View Post
Iíve been a Great Lakes sailor most of my cruising life, but last season we finally made it to the great briny seas. While sailing from Lake Ontario to Newfoundland I encountered the biggest tides Iíve ever had to deal with.

This pic shows boat speed (right) vs SOG via GPS (left). Over six knots of current here. This wasnít even the peak. We hit over seven knots shortly thereafter.

This was in the stretch around Quebec City. My boat has never moves so fast!
Interesting!
Wow! seven knots.
Thanks for adding the photo and your memory to the mix!
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Old 29-05-2018, 07:50   #14
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Re: Tidal Currents Can Be Strong in Bays and Inlets and Rivers

Beware that in Nassau Harbor the Bahamas current runs quite fast at times. Especially problematic if you are trying to enter a marina for the night!
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Old 29-05-2018, 07:56   #15
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Re: Tidal Currents Can Be Strong in Bays and Inlets and Rivers

Quote:
Originally Posted by Pete7 View Post
Play the tides right and you can have a huge boost to your speed over the ground. Get it wrong in light winds and yachties have been known to anchor rather than be pushed back in a race.

Couple of things about tide tables and their times. In the UK we have noticed that the time of high tide can easy vary 20 minutes either way. The weather; both the air pressure and wind direction can alter the time and height of high water. Finally high water from the nearest secondary port isn't necessarily slack water nearby, local geography plays a mean trick.

We plan most of our voyages around the tides and a 4am start to cross the English Channel is quite normal.
Good points.
Thanks for adding your experience and local knowledge to the mix on this thread.

Your point about current differences from nearby or not so near local tide reporting stations is a good one.
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For sailors visiting the American East Coast:

When on the voyage I just finished, we used a book that has been published for 144 years to help mariners navigate the tides and currents on the American East Coast (from Maine to Key West).

It is a paperback book (about $15) called "ELDRIDGE TIDE AND PILOT BOOK 2018." It contains numerous graphics that show the tidal currents in popular locations (from what I remember most were in the North East or New England state areas) with arrows representing the current directions, and tide charts etc. Books like this are very useful info to have aboard.

Eldridge Tide and Pilot Book

ELDRIDGE Tide and Pilot Book
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