NINE bridges in 7 hours sailing (?) Florida’s West Coast ICW (WICW). We hadn’t gone under NINE bridges in the 15 years we owned Winterlude. Mostly because we always sailed outside in the big blue ocean. But this time, we decided we wanted to see “inside”. The knowledge might come in handy when planning for our commuter cruiser future especially knowing we were going to sell Winterlude at the end of this trip up Florida’s West Coast.
We dreaded the day as we picked up anchor early at still-tranquil Stump Pass. Not sure what we were dreading, Winterlude performed like a champ, but both of us were anxious. How would our little 30 hp putt-putt diesel do at holding us in place against raging current (no hitting a bridge in our plan!)? Would we be fast enough to get from one bridge to the next in places where there are bridges close together and timed to open in sequence for faster boats? The FL West Coast ICW is shallow with no pulling off to the side to drop anchor. Would we get far enough before dark to drop anchor? All these thoughts churned through our minds as our beloved Spade anchor came up.
We shouldn’t have worried! It was a beautiful day, the bridge tenders were super and in a mere 7 hours, we navigated through 9 bridges. One bridge tender even held the bridge open a bit longer so we could make it because the current was racing through and she didn’t want us hitting HER bridge! 🙂
Here are the 9 bridges in order, starting from Stump Pass north to Sarasota:
Tom Adams Bridge.MM 43.5 by Red Marker 22 Northbound (NB).7:45 AM
Opens on demand. Called the Bridge Tender on VHF Channel 9. She asked that I spell Winterlude (apparently all bridge tenders have to keep a record of boats going through). I was told to stand by on VHF 9 until traffic could be cleared and the gates lowered and in place. While waiting, the dolphins swam around the boat and an eagle ray put on a spectacular jumping display. Good omens to start the day! After we cleared the bridge, I called back to thank the Bridge Tender and he informed us that the next bridge would be Manasoto Key, also opening on request. 🙂 Nice touch that we found after every bridge, some even told us how far it was to that next bridge.
Manasoto Key Bridge. MM50, just past Green 43 NB 9:15 AM
Opens on request. Called on VHF 9, no delay at all, apparently there’s no traffic at 9:15 AM going to Manasoto Key. Wish we were faster. 2 bridges down, 5 to go. Next bridge north is Circus Bridge 5 miles north. Current against us, but 5 miles, we get to SAIL! WooHoo!
Average ICW depth so far 10.5′. Great, just don’t get off an edge because it goes to 2′ immediately! Yikes!
Now the ICW feeds into a narrow canal-like section and no markers are necessary past Green 53. So you just follow the canal and deal with each bridge as it comes.
Circus Bridge. MM 55, 10:20 AM
On Demand. Follow the canal, you can’t miss it!
Venice Avenue Bridge. MM 56.5, NB 10:50 AM
Opens 10/30/50 (10 past the hour, 30 past and 50 past — i.e. 10:10, 10:30 & 10:50). Called Bridge Tender on VHF 9 who informed us the next opening would be 10:50 AM. Lots of current here and bridges very close together. Scariest part so far! Venice Ave Bridge came with a net fisherman that didn’t seem to know when to get out of the way! With the current pushing us, it was a little tense! Whew! Next bridge, Hatchett in a short half a mile! Still no ICW markers, you can see the Hatchett Ave Bridge to the left around a bend in the ICW canal.
Hatchett Ave Bridge. MM 57, NB 11 AM
Opens on the hour, 20 minutes and 40 minutes past the hour. Note: Marker numbers changed on us a couple of times up the west coast. The first chance was just after the Hatchett Ave Bridge when marker numbers went from 50’s back to single digits. Confusing for me, but David understood it – I guess it’s a US Coast Guard thing. 🙂 Watch your charts closely through here as the ICW little jog and there are other channels intersecting.
Albee Road (Casey Thorofare)Bridge.MM59.3, past NB Red #10 11:31 AM
NOTE: ICW markers switch from “17” to “1” at Venice Inlet. Opens on demand. This was by far our scariest bridge with 6 knots of current slingshot-ing us through. It would have been very difficult to stop. The Bridge Tender recognized the current pushing us and left the bridge open a bit longer to accommodate our slow boat.
Blackburn Point Bridge, MM63 just past NB Red # 32, 12:15 PM
Opens on Demand. Conversation:
Bridge Tender: “Catch up to m/v Just Barely (mega-yacht) and I’ll open for both of you”
s/v Winterlude: “We’re going as FAST as we can” (our little 30 hp pushing 13 tons of sailboat against the current just wasn’t up to the task).
m/v Just Barely: “I’ll go in neutral and wait”.
HOW NICE WAS THAT! As we revved up the little diesel that could to catch up, a bald eagle soared above chasing an osprey. Diving and twisting, they put on quite the aerial dance. After what seemed like an eternity, but probably was only a few minutes, we caught up, the Bridge Tender opened the bridge and both vessels made it through.
Next bridge is SIX MILES! After 5 bridges in the past 8 miles, we were happy turn off the diesel and SAIL … and enjoy lunch.
Stickney Point Bridge, MM69, just after NB Red 62, 1:21 PM
Opens on Hour/20/40. We could see the bridge but weren’t actually close enough to make the 1:20 opening, but we learned something. Southbound vessels have the right of way over Northbound if there’s only one lane. Due to construction, the West side of this bridge was closed, so the only way through was the East side. Those SB boats gave us enough time to just barely make the 1:20 opening and away we went.
Siesta Key Bridge, MM71.8, after NB Red 82, 2:05 PM
Opens Hour/20/40. We barely the hourly opening. In fact, coincidentally, the Bridge Tender delayed the bridge opening due to pedestrian traffic. When I called to thank him, he said “Thank you for waiting for pedestrian traffic” which we hadn’t realized, we thought he held the bridge opening for us since we were the only boat going through. Must have been our lucky day!
After the Siesta Key Bridge, markers switch again, starting the NB Green 1. All these marker number switches make it difficult for those of us less experienced in reading ICW charts to figure it out!
FInally, the ICW widens into Sarasota Bay and by 2:40 PM we were hooked to Mooring Ball 2T at Marina Jack’s (the “T” is for transient) at 27 19.828N 82 32.871W. With so few options for anchoring and potentially bad weather overnight, we decided the mooring field looked pretty darn good. Call them at 941-955-9488. Originally they insisted we’d have to drop our dinghy and come in to pay, they relented and took our credit card info over the phone. A pleasant ending to a better than expected day!
7 hours 10 minutes, 9 bridges and QUITE an education! And now we’re THROUGH the bridges, except for the Ringling Bros. Bridge fixed at 65′ at MM73.5. Might as well leave one for tomorrow!
And that was our day. Better than expected. If the boat had a bit more umph so we didn’t have to worry about current pushing us into a bridge, it might have even been a fun adventure! Stay tuned for one more post with two more favorite anchorages on our adventure up Florida’s West Coast! Cheers! Jan