FITTING UNDER BRIDGES: View From the Masthead

Sailboat under bridge

FUNNY THING ABOUT SAILBOAT MASTS and bridges: no matter how much clearance you actually have, when you’re standing in your cockpit looking up it always looks like you’re not going to make it. Of course, the people who think to put bridges in our way do try to provide information on how much space is under them, even at various states of the tide. But still every so often the situation is ambiguous, and you’re not quite sure your mast will fit.

Some people just hold their breath and take their chances when confronted with this dilemma. For example, check out the brave souls in this video:

Watch closely, and you’ll see they get some sensors scraped off their masthead. Which, obviously, is not the worst-case scenario.

But there is another way… as I learned some years ago while crewing for tech guru Nigel Calder on a delivery from Maine to Annapolis. We were hoping we could fit his Pacific Seacraft 40 Nada under the bridge over the Cape May canal (to save having to go all the way around outside to get into Delaware Bay), but we weren’t at all sure we had clearance. Nigel knew immediately what to do, and in a heartbeat we hauled his buddy Mike to the masthead in a bosun’s chair so we could get a better perspective on things.

Nigel Calder

Sailboat under bridge

Sailboat under bridge

As you can see, it was close, but we fit through, and Mike got to exchange pleasantries with some puzzled pedestrians.

It goes without saying that when doing this you need to approach the bridge in question carefully so that you don’t accidentally behead your crew.

Stepping mast from bridge

As for those bridges that you can’t fit under, they do have their uses. Case in point: follow this link here for some hot tips on how to step your mast from a bridge.

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