Voice of Experience: Bridge Encounter Page 2

John, a friend and sailing instructor, and I cruise from our homeport of Englewood, Florida, aboard his 35-foot Pearson sloop Lokahi. Because we often use the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW), both of us are familiar with the bridges spanning the channels in this part of the world. One afternoon we were approaching the bascule bridge at Snake River Creek, near the island of Islamorada in the Keys. As
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Meanwhile, JT and Shari, like the good friends they are, had stayed with us throughout both our accident and the tow, and were anchored nearby. They dinghied over, and Shari, who is an expert rigger, went up the mast in a bosun’s chair to remove the broken spreader and then went to a lumber store to get some wood to make a temporary replacement. John and JT went below to see what had made gearshift lever fail. It didn’t take long to discover that the shift cable was broken and a replacement would be needed. With Lokahi’s propeller inoperative, JT and Shari towed us out to a spot where we could drop our anchor. Because the only good spot that remained was closer to the bridge than we would have liked, and there was also current, John decided he would use two anchors rather than one.

The next day a few phone calls located a replacement cable, and while we waited for it to arrive, John fabricated the temporary spreader and Shari went back up the mast and installed it. Just two days after we hit the bridge, our repairs were complete and we were ready to head home.

I confess, the idea of doing so made me more than a bit nervous. With the passage of time the terror that I had not felt at the time of the actual impact had somehow managed to find me. During the previous two nights, when I heard the bells of Lokahi’s ship’s clock ring—sounds that I used to find comforting—I woke up with a start thinking I was hearing the warning bells on the bridge.

Finally, after John had thoroughly tested the gearshift, we pulled up the anchors, turned away from the bridge and began heading home. We decided not to sail, because the rig still needed work. The farther we motored without a mishap the more I was convinced that all would be fine—until we ran into a thunderstorm about 13 miles from home. We were now in the Gulf of Mexico, and with the winds and seas increasing we decided to duck back into the ICW and keep going, even though it now was well after sunset.

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Just before midnight we were back in our slip. As we were leaving the boat and walking up the dock, we found ourselves being pelted with rain. But that was fine, because we knew we had overcome some major difficulties and had managed to come through unscathed. The wind and rain surrounding us now served as the final exclamation points to what had been a great adventure.

Dr. Ellen Sogolow works with the Department of Homeland Security. Wonders, her own boat, is a Tanzer 7.5.

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