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Tangling with ICW bridges

Apr 30, 2018

Tim Queeney

Editor’s note: Former Ocean Navigator finance guy Ken Koehler is currently at Marathon Key aboard his Tayana 37, Surrender, after a passage south that included both the Intracoastal Waterway and segments offshore. Here is his take on the sometimes-frustrating experience of dealing with the drawbridges on the ICW.

From West Palm Beach to Fort Lauderdale is, in my opinion, the worst part of the ICW. I did it at night to avoid other boats. I had 20 bridges to open, many of which were on restricted schedules. But my luck ran out in Fort Lauderdale.

Florida has so many opening bridges in such a small area that bridge operators and boaters can be confused about who they are talking to. I had an incident where I knew the 17th Street Bridge was opening in five minutes, so I radioed them for permission to pass through and I gave them my position. I got a response from a woman that called my vessel’s name and said to come on. I watched the bridge open and gave it more throttle. Some megayachts in the 120- to 160-foot range were passing through. When I got about 500 feet from the bridge, however, it started to close. I radioed the bridge tender and got no response. I had a 3-knot current behind me and a 10-knot headwind — it took all I could to stop.

With all these big boats and a bunch of small ones, I had to try to turn around so I didn’t get sucked under the bridge. I finally got turned around while continuing to hail the bridge. Finally, someone on the radio said, “I don’t talk while I’m operating the bridge, and I didn’t give you permission to go through.” I asked if he had seen me, and he replied that yes, he saw me, and I would have to wait a half-hour until the next opening.

That’s when I decided I was going offshore.

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