December 2, 2017
With the raw water impeller, pump and drive coupling replaced, as well as the clogged silver mystery box bypassed, everything finally seemed good to go. Nonetheless, we left the engine running for an hour to be sure.
The following morning, we picked up anchor for the first time since Thanksgiving Day. With our new crew member Wilson aboard, we set out to pass under the very bridge we had been looking at for over a week – our first fixed bridge with only 65 foot vertical clearance.
First Mate Wilson
We may have began experiencing a bit of hallucinatory cabin fever during the time we were stranded at anchor sorting out our raw water problems.
On day eight, when we set out in the dinghy to pick up our replacement parts, we spotted something bright orange floating at the surface in the shipping channel.
We ventured over and proceeded to fish one beleaguered survivor out of the water.
Subsequently, we learned Wilson’s amazing story: he had apparently barely survived a gruesome Halloween massacre in late October after watching his friends and family carved alive by knives, only to fall into the water. Floating helplessly in the currents for over a month, Wilson bobbed around until eventually being spotted and rescued by us.
With no family or friends to return to, Wilson opted to stay aboard Exit indefinitely. He has taken up residence at the stern deck, just behind the helm.
As a watch keeper, we doubt he adds much of a deterrent for would-be thieves, but what the Hell… you try to help out when you can.
It’s hard to describe the anxiety of watching from the deck as your 62 foot mast travels under a bridge whose underside is not more than three feet above that. The looming threat of sheering off masthead electronics or even the mast itself adds tension to the already exceptional difficulty of trying to gauge distance from that far below.
Fortunately, the tides at this bridge aren’t a factor. As we head further south, the tide changes start hitting three, six, even nine feet.
Bridge clearances are determined by the Army Corps of Engineers based upon the highest average tide. Shifting influences of the moon can cause exceptional tidal changes which exceed that average. What that means is, if you try to pass under a bridge during a very high tide the bridge clearance may, in fact, be less than shown on the charts. Many bridges actually have markers installed showing the clearance height based upon the current waterline.
Yet, even though we may see “64 Feet” on the marker and know our mast is two feet shorter, that separation seems minuscule at the moment of near-contact. Consequently, we are overly cognizant of working around tidal schedules on days we have to pass under 65 foot bridges… after all, three feet of clearance is fifty percent better than two feet of clearance.
As we pass safely under our first 65 foot bridge, Kris, at the helm, steadfastly refuses to look up. But, once through, instead of bearing right to the Dismal Swamp as originally planned, we instead head left towards the Virginia Cut.
We have heard reports that tree branches along the Dismal Swamp have only been cleared to a 55 foot height this year – obviously a problem for our mast. Other cruisers have reported that algae blooms and weed growth are so bad in the Dismal Swamp that prop fouling and engines overheating due to clogged raw water strainers are causing real problems. One couple had to plumb the raw water intake directly to their water tank and sacrifice their fresh water just to continue. I’d like to hope we’re done with raw water issues for 2017. So, Exit… Stage Left.