Joe Boater and the Bridge

Oh Joe! You recently purchased a Lord Nelson sailboat. It is your first sailboat and you are neck-deep in the learning curve. You know that some boats are bigger than others, taller than others and better built than others. You are feeling confident in your boat, if not so confident in your abilities. Both of these are bound to be tested, but such is the nature of boating. Its time to head out on the Sound and give it a go.

You figure a jaunt to Port Townsend would suit you and be a good shakedown cruise. The first step is to leave the dock which is easy enough. The boat is big and heavy and single handing is a challenge, but there is always someone to help you off if you ask. You are in the Ship Canal, so next is to transit the locks. Conditions are light so this goes successfully, using the small locks and the locksmen give you a hand with the lines. You make it to sea level and manage to get the lines off on your own. You know the rule is “lake line last” and the current holds the boat against the wall as you release the bow line and finally the stern. You have arrived! You motor out of the locks and under the railroad bridge with the outflowing current…But wait! Some boats are taller than others, and this means your boat, Joe! You quickly power back, but the mast strikes the bridge. The rig holds, but the boat spins sideways as the outflowing river current attempts to drag you under the bridge. The results are a dramatic heel, but the righting moment incredibly balances out the forces and your boat is pinned, immobile between the railroad bridge and the current. Embarrassment, shame, frustration, foolishness, anger and more flood through your brain. None of these will help. Either will the hefty diesel you have inboard.

The railroad bridge operator saw the incident and realized quickly that to open the bridge  would rectify the situation. This was likely not their first rodeo. It allowed your boat to flow on through without further interruption. You motored to Port Townsend where you promptly hired a rigger to inspect for damage. Somehow, the rigging report was good and you managed to make it through unscathed, or at least physically.

Joe was very fortunate not to be dismasted. He now knows his height clearance and safety margin in regard to bridges, power lines, trees, whatever is overhead.


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