|Annie Laurie's last trip down the Miami River
I called the bridge tender to ensure he saw me. He acknowledged, and said yes, he was opening in 5 minutes for three other vessels, and he would hold the opening. The bridge opened, the vessels passed, and then I was a bit surprised when I was still about 300 yards from the bridge, and I could see the spans lowering. I called him back, saying, "Dania Blvd Bridge, northbound sailing vessel, can you please hold that opening?". He stopped the spans, and said "Roger Cap, hurry up, I'll hold for you". I said, "Roger, I'm almost there, I'm going as fast as I can".
It's a little frustrating traveling on the ICW sometimes, when you just miss a bridge opening, and are forced to sit there for another 30 minutes waiting for the next scheduled opening, so I try to be as kind to the bridge tenders as I can, and often times, they are kind in return, and will hold an opening a little longer than I know they feel comfortable, so I can continue on my way.
I was so appreciative of this particular bridge tender, holding the bridge for about 4 or 5 minutes for me. I felt bad, because the closer I got to the spans, the harder the current was flowing against me, and the longer it was taking me to get there. When I was finally in the fender system, between the spans, I was almost full throttle, but making less than 2 knots. As slow as I was moving, I finally felt relieved that I had made the 1pm opening.
Relief quickly turned to horror though, as I heard the all-too-familiar sound of the bridge hydraulics running. I had my sunshade up, so for the final few yards of my approach, I couldnt actually see the bridge spans. I thought it was safe to assume that after holding the opening for 5 minutes, the bridge tender was going to hold for the additional 20 seconds that it would take me to pass between the spans.
|Atlantic Blvd Bridge, Pompano
I was directly between the spans, and they were coming down.
It was too late for me to abort. I throttled up, maintained my course, picked up the radio and, in what I'm sure was a raised and panicked voice, I said "Dania Beach! Dania Beach! I'm right between your spans! Stop the bridge!". The bridge tender sauntered over to the window, just to make sure that he wasn't about to unnecesarily stop the spans and further hold-up vehicular traffic. Once he was certain that there was indeed a sailboat about to be crushed, he stopped the spans. By that point, I had about 3 feet of clearance on either side of my main mast.
He muttered something over the radio... 'Why would you attempt to pass with the spans coming down?", something to that effect. Exasperated and shaking, I angrily said, "I didn't see your spans coming down! You told me you were holding the bridge!". He obviously didn't bother to stand up and look out the window before bringing the spans down, as I was in clear sight from the bridge house during the last 7 or 8 minutes of my approach.
All is well that ends well, so they say, but the cumulative effect of all these traumas have taken their toll. When I anchored that afternoon in Lake Sylvia in Fort Lauderdale, I had myself convinced there was no way I was ever going to make it to the Bahamas. I no longer felt I had within me the mental fortitude required to head out on the open ocean alone. I would continue up the intracoastal to West Palm Beach, and that's where I would sit indefinitely, too scared to head out into the Gulf Stream, becoming one of those sailors who talk about getting out there again someday, but who are ultimately destined to sit at anchor until their ship rots beneath them.
I couldn't have known that afternoon how things were about to change. The next day, as I sat idling at Atlantic Blvd Bridge waiting for their opening, I met a fellow who said he might possibly be up for a jaunt to the Bahamas too...