I pushed off from the Shoreline Marina slip just after 8AM for a quick solo cruise up to the yard in Wilmington. The planned 3 mile route would take me out around Queensway Bay and Piers J and F, then up and in between Piers D and T, under the Gerald Desmond Bridge and under the double-draw Commodore Schuyler F. Heim and Henry Ford bridges. Just beyond the two draw bridges were Cerritos Yacht Anchorage and Eddie’s Marine Services, the final destination for haul-out and bottom paint. I performed a radio check before leaving and pre-programmed the frequency on the radio telephone to 156.65 MHz (Channel 13). Once I was near the bridge, I would call the draw tender to request raising both bridges. Both bridges when up allow for 163 feet of vertical clearance, but in the down position the Heim and Ford bridges are 38′ and 6.7′ respectively – not nearly enough for the mast to clear. I was looking forward to what I imagined to be an exciting display of the limbo dance with our boat and 2 large bridges! What could possibly go wrong?
- 3 mile course from Shoreline Marina to Cerritos Yacht Anchorage.
After clearing the marina breakwater, I raised the RPMs on the motor and made way for Pier J. It was a gorgeous morning, and the only other moving boats I counted were fishing vessels on their way out and the Harbor Patrol. Being within the harbor the water was calm and I was making good time. If not for the cacophony of the Farymann, it would have been a quiet morning. I began singing a few Irish standards to compete with the engine racket. Singing “Dirty Old Town” helped pass the time and distract me from the lingering unease that something was bound to go wrong – at any second. Nevertheless, I was already about halfway, with the Gerald Desmond Bridge insight.
With the tankers at their moorings it was like sneaking passed sleeping giants. I was now heading up the channel between piers D and T. I slowed momentarily as the Fire Department tug backed out of a dock up ahead, but as they sped away quickly I had no need to adjust my course. I brought the RPMs back up, being respectful of the 5 MPH limit…and perhaps the only one to do so. As I passed underneath the Desmond Bridge I heard the zoom of the cars overhead. I was reminded of a gondola ride in Venice and the requisite kiss for passing under each bridge. I wished Jackie was with me so we could respect the tradition in kind. With the Desmond bridge now behind me, it was a left turn at the inner harbor and onward to the two big limbo bars.
As I neared the double draw bridges the channel narrowed considerably, and up ahead to starboard was a BIG Russian tanker being off-loaded at Pier A. I lowered the RPMs just above idle so I had a better chance of hearing the radio. I hailed the draw-tender on the posted frequency….
I hailed the draw-tender again on the posted frequency……
For charm’s sake I hailed the draw-tender a third time………and nothin’.
The sign posted on the bridge informed me that the signal to raise the bridge was 3 prolonged horn blasts. Without a working horn my only option was the $19.99 Horn-in-a-Can. I pulled it out of the cockpit locker, raised and pointed at the bridges and squeezed. PHHEEeesssssssss! Before the damned thing could even get started it quit, and did little more that spew out freezing liquid. Some horn that was. I resisted the urge to throw it as hard and far as I could.
So with little else to do until communication was established, I was reduced to making nice circles in front of the bridges. I was hoping I would be seen, and thus not so easily ignored. I switched to neutral and hove to. I lowered the RPMs to idle and tried to hail again….
I waited a good 5 minutes and hailed the draw-tender again, and this time requesting the bridges lifted. Amazingly enough was a quick response, all of which was completely unintelligible – just squelch and mumbles. I most certainly did not copy that reply. My request to “SAY AGAIN, OVER” was not answered…..Again. And again.
- For nearly an hour I made circles in front of the bridges – trying to hail the draw-tender with everything but smoke signals.
For nearly and hour, I made my fun little circles in front of the bridges. Meanwhile I was in contact with the boat yard asking for their help in hailing the bridge. Unfortunately they could do little to help. Of course, I was all the while diligently trying to hail the bridge. They must have heard me, even as I explained my “No Horn” situation politely – to no response. I jumped up and down on the stern waving to no avail. It was starting to feel like a Twilight Zone episode, were the sole antagonist slowly descends into madness. That was me in front of those bridges – doing those fun little circles – laughing maniacally.
In my last attempt to radio the bridges I had drifted far too close to the Russian tanker than I wanted to be. I shifted to forward to gain some distance from it when just as I did, the boat jerked forward and the engine room produced a loud CLUNK. The boat quickly shook like a rifle report, and the engine stopped. Immediately, I peeked down into the engine room through the companionway. The Farymann had torn itself away from the (port side) motor mounts and had come to an inopportune rest on its side. “Are you F@&king kidding me?!!!”
Before I could think, I dashed to the bow and dropped the anchor. In what seemed like seconds, I let out over 150ft of anchor chain before the 50lb plow grabbed the bottom of the shipping channel. I was now without engine and anchored in a shipping channel with a BIG tanker just 200 ft away. Needless to say, this aroused my ire! I took a moment to recite all swear words known to mankind, and then went ahead and made up a few on the spot. Still at the bow pulpit, I gave the rigid one finger salute to the bridges. Had I grown a pair of wings at that moment, I may have widowed the poor woman unlucky enough to wed a draw tender.
- With no other option, I let out 150’+ of anchor chain – keeping me about 200′ away from the Big Russian Tanker on Pier A.
Yet, a cooler head prevailed. I called the yard and shared with them the pickle I was now very much in. Within 15 minutes, 2 kind souls in a skiff pulled up to me and tied up. I raised the anchor and we limped away from the BIG tanker back toward the bridges. Thankfully, the skiff had a working horn – and we gave it 3 prolonged blasts. However just as soon as the last horn sounded, a mile-long freight train approached the Ford Bridge. We knew well enough that the train had priority. So with power from the skiff, we resumed my signature fun little circles in front of the bridges.
Once the train passed, I hailed the draw tender, yet again, and this time declaring our distress status……they didn’t care to respond. So we circled….and circled. As another train came and went. And only after another 30 minutes of fun circles did we try the horn again. We held the last horn longer than needed – just to drive the message home. Unbelievably, the draw tender sounded the “Approval” horn blast and the buzz and hum of the hydraulic lifts started up. The traffic gates went down and both bridges were now raising up….and up….and up. We waited just long enough to be sure the mast would clear and passed under the bridges. On the other side I could see the draw tender station. As my two rescuers waved a thanking gesture as we passed, I hoisted a finger straight at them to convey my gratitude.
At the yard dock I called Jackie to tell her the tough news. What was supposed to be a quick $2000 bottom paint job, was now more than likely going to be a new engine job too. Although we had planned to replace the Farymann eventually, we hadn’t planned for eventually to come so soon. In no time at all, the yard crane pulled our baby out of the drink and set her atop boat stands. Jackie came to collect me after lunch, and gave me a ride to my truck at the marina before going back to work herself. I took the rest of the day off – and enjoyed some well deserved Guinness to excess. After a few pints to put things in perspective, I was thankful to be able to laugh about the days events with no damage to life or limb.
Disregard the following if you are not in the draw-tending profession:
If you happen upon this blog and find yourself to be the draw tender who failed me, please do go f@&k yourself.