March 8 &9: If you have ever run the ICW (that’s the Intercoastal Waterway) in south Florida, you can skip this blog but if not, you just might find this challenge interesting reading. I hadn’t thought about it, but in many ways it is similar to auto rallying in my book.
First, South Florida is heavily populated which means lots of bridges and lots of boating traffic both which produce their own set of challenges for anyone transiting the area. Remember for the transient, (that’s what boats running the ICW are called) you have to stay in the channel between the red and green markers. The distances between markers varies and you have to keep a sharp look-out to find them. Getting out of channel might just mean going aground. Our March 8,from Ft. Pierce to Palm Beach, we saw a sailboat aground on the west side of the channel. This was a particular difficult grounding since we had 20 kt. winds from the East, pushing him further aground. Nothing we could do to help as we passed him, but I’m sure he had to be towed off and this costs a bundle.
OK, so not only wind can push you out of the channel, but other boats can and South Florida has lots of small power boats-big ones too which don’t seem to pay much attention to the “slow no-wake” zones. The wake from these big engines rock a sailboat around and push you off course.
So, now we are dodging boats and trying to make the bridge openings. Make that Ed is. I don’t take the helm much under these circumstances. March 8 we had three bridges that open “on signal”, meaning you call the bridge on your radio and ask for an opening. Most bridge tenders are very cooperative, but sometimes they make you wait for other boats to catch up so they can open only once for several boats. Once, the bridge had to delay because an ambulance was coming and that took priority. But, here’s the real problem with this. We had five additional bridges with opening schedules. That might mean on the hour and half-hour, or 15 and 45 minutes after the hour, or on the hour, 20 and 40 minutes after the hour. Missing even one of these openings can put you behind schedule for any where from 1/2 to 1 hour. Ed’s job and captain and chief helmsman, is to calculate the distance and the time it will take us to make each opening on time. But you can see, any delay, even a 2 minute delay in the “on signal” opening, frequent”no wake zones” which means reducing speed or navigating around other boats causes problems down the line. This is much like delays in car rallying that you can’t anticipate-like trains, traffic lights, stop signs and road traffic. In both cases the point is to make your time.
Day 1, Ed made every bridge and we were in Palm Harbor Marina earlier than anticipated so that we could shower and walk to a nice French Bistro for dinner. (For those of you who know Ed, there is nothing like a good restaurant at the end of the day to motivate him!)
Day 2. From West Palm Beach to Ft. Lauderdale. Normally we do this “on the outside”, meaning running down the ocean to Ft. Lauderdale. Weather did not permit this, we were anticipating 15-20 knot winds from the south and seas 6-8 feet. So once again the ICW. this time, 15 bridges on a schedule and 2 more on signal. Much more work for Ed. The anxiety of the challenge beats boredom according to Ed’s philosophy and he was up to it a second day. I think I took the helm only twice as there was hardly any time between bridge openings. I need to add one more thing that adds to this challenge. As you might guess, when we got to a bridge, we were not the only boat going through. This means maneuvering Silver Girl while waiting on the opening. Now, sailboats with one engine don’t back easily and don’t sit still in the water. This is one time when power boats with dual engines have a big advantage. Several times Ed had to keep turning Silver Girl in slow circles, dodging other boats and keeping the position north of the bridge. I just sat with taking pictures.
Why were we doing all of this? Well, the weather forecast was just a one day weather window to cross the Gulf Stream to the Bahamas. That day was Saturday and we wanted to catch that window. More of that our my next blog, but to let you know, it is Sunday and we are comfortably docked in Old Bahama Bay Marina on Grand Bahama Island.
If you think this blog was written by a great fan and admirer, you bet it was! I can’t let Ed read this one before I post since he will consider it bragging on his skills, something he is not prone to do. Well it is bragging. And Iwrote it not Ed!
P.S. We are collecting more incidences for our next novel, Night Watch and in fact saw a boat in Palm Harbor named Night Watch!