SimplySailingOnline.com shows by example how easily you can eliminate stress, become more independent, raise your children in a safer environment (while spending more time with them, instilling values not based on the mighty dollar) and avoid the traps of commercialism. Because we live and sail simply, we have been wandering for 11 years with no intention of stopping. This is not a trip for us; it is our life, and I hope to share our success with stories of laughter and tears, as well as how-to tips and DIY projects for preparing, sailing and making a boat a home, so that others can join us.

Waiting for Bridges

November 9, 2015

Many critics of this site extol the rights of cruisers to do things "their own way." I hear a lot of "to each his own" when I write posts about how to act in a seamanlike manner. It seems that many cruisers are not interested in this sort of thing. They just want to drive their over-sized boats to the next port of call on their list that gives them bragging rights. Obviously, I disagree. There is a sense of pride and accomplishment in being able to act in a safe, courteous, seamanlike manner. That's more our style.

One of the greatest differences between us and many cruisers is our desire (and ability) to sail. But there are some scenarios in which one must (for the most part) motor for safety and regulatory reasons. Even in these situations, there is a "salty," professional way to handle your boat, and there is the under-skilled (or maybe just uninformed and uneducated) manner. We see this behavior most often when transiting the ICW, specifically, waiting for a bascule bridge to open.


Rarely do you have this much room to wait for a bridge opening.

A maneuver is not determined to be unseamanlike simply because it "looks bad." There are elements of danger, inconvenience, and rudeness involved, as well. This describes those cruisers who drive in circles while waiting for a bridge to open. While this captain is doing circles, he is continually getting in the way of other boats also waiting for the bridge, he is endangering small boat traffic trying to weave their way through boats steering erratically, and he often puts himself and other boats in a poor position for the bridge opening, which can be inconvenient at least, dangerous at most. Bridge tenders are not always the most patient people you deal with on the ICW. They have the responsibility of keeping traffic stopped for the shortest length of time possible, while still allowing for the safe transit of waiting traffic. But if you do a circle too far from his bridge when he opens it, he has the right (and will exercise it if necessary) to make you wait for the next opening. Boats are not the important element in bridge openings: car traffic is. We are just an inconvenience to be given the least amount of consideration possible. This is only logical: we are very few in number compared with the tax payers who cross that bridge daily and who are going to be late to work because of us. For these reasons, it is vitally important that we treat bridge tenders with the upmost respect. (See Bridge Etiquette in Tips, Tricks, and Tales.)

But it is also imperative that we display seamanlike behavior toward other boaters by being able to handle our boats. Rather than circling while waiting for the bridge to open, try holding it steady. Yes, you can make a boat STOP, though it's not easy to do and is even more difficult to explain because every boat is different. It's sort of like trying to explain how to heave-to: there are too many variables. The method for holding your boat steady while waiting for a bridge to open depends on wind and current speed and direction, whether they are combined or opposed, how much windage your boat has and how it is distributed (Do you have an oxygen tent? Is there a dinghy on the bow?), which direction your boat "walks" in reverse, what the underbody of your boat is like, and how quick your reaction times are.

Here are a couple of things to consider. Know which way your boat backs. (Ours walks hard to port.) Use that to your advantage. In the simplest sense, this means that you can put your bow SLIGHTLY off the wind to the same side your boat backs. We would put Eurisko's bow so the wind is FINE off the starboard bow: bow to PORT of the wind because we back to PORT. Now, our windage (dinghy on the bow, next to no canvas aft) pushes the bow off the wind and our cutaway forefoot of our full keel allows her to go fairly easily. The wind will slowly push the bow farther to port. When Dave deems that it has gone far enough, he puts the boat in reverse. She backs to port, pulling the bow slightly to starboard, but not going so far as to bring her bow all the way through the wind. He puts her in neutral, plays with the tiller to keep her in place as long as he can before having to bump her in reverse again.

The above is the simplest scenario, but it never happen like this. Instead, you have current to content with or the motor can't compete with the wind speed or you simply screw up. Occasionally, Dave doesn't correct soon or hard enough and the bow goes through the wind and he has to spin the boat around to bring her back into a position where he can hold her. Notice I didn't say he CIRCLES around. We have had combinations of the elements where the best way to wait for a bridge is to drift sideways toward it at 0.3 knots. Sometimes the wind and current oppose each other perfectly and you can just bump the motor in forward every minute or so to keep her close the bridge. Sometimes the wind want to blow you sideways across the ditch and you have to face it, presenting your beam to the bridge while you wait.

After 15 years and far too many miles on the ICW, Dave still has not perfected this maneuver, but that doesn't deter him from trying. Instead, it makes him even more determined. Like most of my posts, this isn't necessarily about teaching you HOW to hold your boat for a bridge, it's about explaining why you should TRY. Just for a few minutes, rather than immediately circling, try holding your boat to the wind and/or current. Like every other skill, by practicing it, you will improve. Circling is simply admitting that you cannot control your boat. In addition to the pride factor, is the necessity of learning this skill for the times when circling is not an option. Sometimes there is not room or the conditions or traffic do not allow you to circle. Then what? If you have been practicing at every opportunity, you will be able to demonstrate your seamanlike skills. If not, be assured that there will be someone nearby shaking their heads at you and saying, "To each his own."

As the migration heads south, MONDAY we will share a convenient anchorage for provisioning and staging for offshore.

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