We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Bridges!

We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Bridges!

Or shoals…or live firing at Marine Corps bases…or opposing currents…or eight foot tides…or high winds when we’re at anchor… Everything doesn’t always come up roses when traveling down the ICW in a sailboat that needs 53 feet of clearance above it and 6 feet below!

On the day that we left Swansboro, NC en route to Wrightsville Beach, NC, we encountered several of these. We left bright and early that day, shortly after sunrise, because we had a long day ahead of us. The first uncertainty of the day revolved around Camp Lejeune, a Marine Corps base where there could have potentially been live fire exercises being performed, which would have closed a section of the ICW for the duration of the live firing. Fortunately, this was not the case on this day. Obstacle number one cleared.

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If these lights had been flashing, it would have meant that this section of the ICW, which runs through Camp Lejeune, would have been closed. Thankfully they were not flashing on the day we passed through!
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Warning sign at Camp Lejeune, a Marine Corps Base Camp.

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Marines patrolling the waters in Camp Lejeune

Obstacle number two…Shoal (verb) – to become shallow or more shallow. Ugh. Shallow or MORE shallow?!? There is a LOT of shoaling on the ICW and we need to be very aware of the spots which are shoaling. There was one such spot (one of many!) on this leg of the trip where friends of ours that had left ahead of us found themselves hard aground. We would have loved to have been able to stop and help them out of the bind they found themselves in, but with winds blowing at 22 knots we would have most likely been pushed right into them or been grounded ourselves. We passed safely around them, at one point with only 6 1/2 feet of water below us…a mere six inches to spare. A bit too close for comfort in my book!

Obstacle number three…Bridges. There are a LOT of bridges on the ICW. Fixed bridges, swing bridges, lift bridges, railroad bridges, London bridges…oh sorry…got carried away there! The fixed bridges aren’t an issue for us, as they all have a clearance of around 65 feet. It’s the bridges that need to open for us to pass through that cause us headaches. Some bridges open on demand, while others are on a timed schedule and only open at certain times each day.

On this particular day, there were four bridges that we needed to pass through when they were open, and NONE of them opened on demand. The first one we encountered was the Onslow Beach Bridge which only opens on the hour and half-hour. At 8:30am we could see it opening, but were still nine minutes away, so figured we’d have to wait til the 9:00am opening to make it through. Jim called the bridge tender on the VHF, told him how far away we were and asked if we’d be able to make this opening or if we’d have to wait. We were so relieved when he told us he’d hold it open for us! Just saved us a half an hour of wasted time!

The next bridge we would encounter this day was the Topsail Island Bridge, which was a fixed bridge with a 64′ vertical clearance, so we could go under at our leisure. Obviously our favorite kind of bridge! Still three more opening bridges to go though, and the next one on the itinerary was the Surf City bridge which only opens on the hour. Believe it or not, we actually had to slow down a bit so we wouldn’t get there too soon! It’s not easy trying to “stand still” in a sailboat, especially with current pushing us around, and the dredged channel we need to keep ourselves in is not very wide. Sitting in front of bridges waiting for them to open is NOT fun and can be quite nerve-wracking!

This is exactly what happened at the next bridge, the Figure Eight Island bridge. It opens every half hour and we arrived at 2:45pm. Ugh. That was a VERY long 15 minutes spent trying not to run aground or hit one of the other boats also waiting! 3 o’clock finally arrived and we brought up the rear of the parade of boats through the bridge opening. The next part’s pretty frustrating….the Wrightsville Beach bridge only opens on the hour…and it’s only five statute miles away, which means we have to move slower than our normal snail’s pace, again so as to not get there too early. You have no idea how hard it is to PURPOSELY try to go slow, when we are typically trying to figure out how to gain any extra bit of speed we can!

Finally made it through the last bridge of the day at 4pm! Woo hoo! We’re in Wrightsville Beach where we are going to anchor. We just need to make a left hand turn, go through Motts Channel and we’re there. Oh yeah…but there’s only 4.5 feet of water through this channel, so instead we’ve got to go about another four miles to get to the anchorage which we can practically see as soon as we made it through the last bridge opening! Oh the joys of having a deep draft sailboat!

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Swing bridge in the closed position. Bridge pivots open on the center support.
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Swing bridge we had just gone through in the open position
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A different swing bridge. Our friends on Northern Star are the second boat in line to go through.

And here’s a quick video showing one of the swing bridges we’ve just gone through as it closes behind us. Enjoy!

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Lift bridge in the open position
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Lift bridge in the closed position, with a railroad bridge in front of it in the open position
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The same lift bridge now in the open position
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The NASA railway bridge in Titusville, FL
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And yet another example of a lift bridge. In these two lift bridge pictures, we have just gone through and our friends on Hullabaloo are behind us just passing through.

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Fixed bridge with lift bridge in the background
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Cool fixed bridge in Daytona Beach!
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And now a totally unrelated picture, just because who doesn’t want a pink house with it’s own lighthouse, a parrot painted on the side, and a tiki hut for their hammock?!?


  • Sharon Holbrook

    December 20, 2015 at 1:15 pm Reply

    Who knew there were so many kinds of bridges!!!This also brings to light all the planning and timing this trip has taken. I am incredibly grateful that our days and timing coordinated for the Wrightsville chapter of the adventure.

    BTW, I would be okay living in that house!(okay maybe minus the parrot!

    • Chris

      December 20, 2015 at 3:17 pm Reply

      I know! Me too! 🙂

  • Carol Carbee

    December 20, 2015 at 2:27 pm Reply

    You have some great pictures. What kind of a camera are you using? Where are you headed?

    • Chris

      December 20, 2015 at 3:19 pm Reply

      Thank you! My husband does most of the photography, and the majority of his pictures are taken with a Canon G16, but a few are also taken with his Canon 7D. Occasionally one of the pics I took with my Canon G7X makes it to the blog too!

      We are heading to the Bahamas for a few months! Can’t wait to get there!

  • Kathy Mercer Walden

    December 20, 2015 at 2:34 pm Reply

    Very enjoyable reading. Can’t imagine how intense it can be. However the great fun times make up for it.

    • Chris

      December 20, 2015 at 3:16 pm Reply

      Thanks! It is way more stressful than we had imagined, but we’re still enjoying ourselves!

  • Willow

    December 20, 2015 at 5:13 pm Reply

    Oh, brings back fine memories of our sailing journey south! Great pictures. Are you set to cross the Gulf Stream to the Bahamas? The water is soooo turquoise.

    Willow and Tom

    • Chris

      December 20, 2015 at 8:50 pm Reply

      Hi Willow & Tom! Glad you like the pictures! We will cross sometime after the first of the year, but haven’t yet decided where we are crossing from or if we’re doing the Abacos or Exumas first!

  • Lou Walker

    December 20, 2015 at 5:32 pm Reply

    Looks like you are enjoying your trip. Seems very exciting. Enjoy to the fullest. Thanks for sharing. Merry Christmas to you both and your sons.

    • Chris

      December 20, 2015 at 8:51 pm Reply

      Merry Christmas to you and the whole family!

  • Ken and Deb

    December 21, 2015 at 3:01 pm Reply

    It took us a year to get to “island speed”. When you get back on shore and drive in freeway traffic you will just freak the hell out how fast everyone is going. I always tell people who talk about the slow pace “if I want to go fast, I will fly Delta” (oldest daughter flies for them, so Mom and Dad fly free- nice bennie that!) Really enjoying the blog, makes for a bright part of the day. Ken

    • Chris

      December 21, 2015 at 4:59 pm Reply

      We’ll be driving in freeway traffic in a couple of days when we rent a car to meet family for the holidays. I think I will sit in the back seat with my eyes closed! LOL! Nice that you get to fly for free! Great benefit! Merry Christmas!

  • Kendra

    January 11, 2016 at 1:27 pm Reply

    Your pictures going through the bridges look like it is cold. I hope you warmer weather again soon!

  • Linda Timar

    February 7, 2016 at 3:17 pm Reply

    Are you moving again? Kathy told me to read all in order. She said you were leaving when I talked to her.

    • Chris

      February 8, 2016 at 8:51 pm Reply

      Hi! We are in the Bahamas now. Got here about a week ago!

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