Monday, October 15, 2012

day five - mystery bridge, south to Indian River

In the morning the small drawbridge opened.  I motored through into the beautiful canal to Rehoboth Bay.  There was another drawbridge further down the canal for a road leading into Rehoboth.  The bridge tender was delighted to see me.  Not many sailboats come through the canal.  - Washington Tuttle

I get up just after daylight for an early morning walk through Lewes.  The weather is calm and clear, no sign of the rain and wind that had been forecast.  I walk back to the town dock to see a large catamaran coming down the canal.  I slide Spartina up the dock a ways to make room for them, then help them tie up.  I ask about the bad weather, they tell me it had slid north of us during the night.

Soon Bruce is up and we are stowing the boom tent as Marty, the dock manager, comes by to say hello.  "You guys didn't sleep on that boat did you?" he asks and we smile and start to say "yes we did" until we see a frown and quickly say "no we didn't", hoping not to have violated too many local ordinances.  Marty asks about the trip and we tell him our plans, tell him we've got a bridge opening scheduled for 10 a.m.  "What about the other bridge?" he asks.  Caught off guard, I sheepishly admit I had missed the other bridge in my planning.  "You need 24 hours noticed to get through that one" Marty says.

"How tall is that bridge? I ask.  "Oh, you can probably get through" Marty says while looking up the masts, "or maybe not, I don't know."  "How far away is the next bridge?".  "Not too sure about that, not many people go up that way" Marty says.

I call the bridge number, which is the Delaware Department of Transportation, to confirm our 10 a.m. lift.  A woman confirms the lift, then says the bridge tender wants to know if we need a lift at the Rehoboth Bridge too.  "Well, that depends on the bridge clearance" I say, "how high is it?"  She doesn't know.  "Can you ask the bridge tender?"  She calls back to tell me nobody knows how high the Rehoboth Bridge is, but regardless a tender wants to be there when we pass through.

As I ponder the fact that nobody but nobody - including the bridge tender - knows the height of the next bridge, the woman asks me what time we'll be passing through there.  I'm at a loss at this point as I'm not sure how far away the bridge is, plus we've been told that the canal is very shallow and muddy and the current can run several knots.  I tell the woman I really don't know when we'll be there.  "How about 3 p.m." she says, "can you make it then?"  Yes, I think we can.

We motor north on the canal, away from the Lewes Bridge, to top off the fuel can at a marina.  We ask at the marina about the mystery bridge and get the same response.  Not sure how far away it is, not sure how high it is.  Might get through there with that mast, might not.

We motor over to the town dock to await our bridge lift.  Marty the dockmaster rides up on bike and tells us we overpaid our dock fee, hands me a $20 bill.  Thanks very much, I say, this looks like lunch.  We cast off and the bridge begins the lift.

We pass under the bridge and quickly go from downtown Lewes to pure nature.  It is one of the most beautiful canals we have seen.  Pine trees to the west, a huge expanse of marshland to the east.  Herons, cormorants and ducks.  Wildflowers and marsh grasses.

We pass down the canal at idle power, happy to find that the warnings of shallow water and fast currents were far from accurate.  The current is gentle, the water deep.  After two days on the Delaware Bay it was a change of pace that we both welcome.  We take turns at the tiller, take turns with the camera as we enjoy a peaceful fall day.

Forty-five minutes down the canal we start to see homes along the shore line.  The canal curves and we see the mystery bridge to Rehoboth, the clearance marked right there on the side plain as day at 16 feet.  Spartina's mainmast is 18 feet tall.  It is not yet 11 a.m., we've got over four hours to wait for our lift.  I look around for someplace to tie up to while we wait.  Looking at an old broken down dock I hear Bruce is saying "Do you hear bells ringing?"  It is the bridge, and the bridge is opening.  The bridge tender, probably the same one who let us through at Lewes, is letting us through the Rehoboth Bridge.  They waved the 24 hour rule, and saved us hours by ignoring the 3 p.m. lift.  "Thanks very much" I say over the radio as Bruce and I both wave to the tender.

Thirty minutes later we motor out of the canal jetties into Rehoboth Bay with a nice SW wind blowing. Full sail up we turn east to Dewey Beach.  Sailing just off the resort (read "spring break party") town  we see people walking into a waterfront restaurant.  We tie up on a long, empty pier and have a great lunch of excellent burgers and fries, eating just a table or two away from Elvis (at at least one of his impersonators).

Back on the water with a stiff breeze we sail south towards Indian River Inlet.  I pick out a possible anchorage and try to sail directly to it past some shoals.  Soon the centerboard clanging on oyster reefs.  We bump over one shoal, then another.  The tide is on the way out and the shallows are getting shallower.  Seeing that we are not getting anywhere, Bruce, sits up forward with the binoculars and gps, points out some markers to the west.  I'm hot and tired and frustrated by the shoals.  We fall off and head that way, bumping over two more shoals along the way with both the cb and rudder raised.  We make it to the channel where we drop the sails and start the outboard.  The water is shallow and the current is running.  A red buoy sits up on top of an exposed sand bar.

The channel leads us around a marshy island to the Indian River and our first quick look at the inlet.    We motor back north then east and work our way through the sandbars to the area I had originally picked out for our anchorage.  It is a flood tide and the shoals are disappearing under the surge.  We drop anchor, then raise it again and move to another spot.  We decide this is a good spot, out of the way of the local boat traffic and plenty of room to swing at anchor with the changing tides.
At dusk we listen to the weather forecast and watch the lights glow at the bridge over Indian River Inlet, the bridge we hope to pass under the next day.  Bruce finds a baseball game on the radio, I drift off to sleep.


distance traveled             17.3 nm

moving average                3.0 knots

moving time                     5 hours 51 minutes 


Bill said...

Steve, are you familiar with It's nice because it combines the NOAA charts with satellite photos and clickable info buttons and local knowledge submitted by users - and if you upgrade to a paid subscription you can plot routes and download them to your GPS. One thing it shows is the info on all the bridges - including heights and opening schedules.

I've got the free account, which is enough to help plan trips.

I have no interest or connection; just the story of nobody knowing the bridge heights made me think of it and thought you might find it useful if you didn't already know of it.

Baydog said...

Hey, at least a couple of those photos you could've borrowed from me or MillieMac. We're there with you guys, and loving every post.

Steve said...


that's a great site. Just checked the bridge height on a bridge we may have to deal with in the spring - the causeway to Wallops Island. The site shows 40 feet. Pretty cool. But really, I should have done a better job of researching the last trip. Thanks for the tip.


thanks for tagging along. I just saw Sultana in Portsmouth at the Great Chesapeake Bay Schooner Race. She looked great.


MaryLou said...

Terrific account (all of it). Love the picture of the bridge. I tried for a couple of nights to get a picture of that bridge while we were camping at Del. Seashore State Park. Haven't gotten them off of the camera yet but I'm sure they didn't come out as well.

doryman said...

Would that be "The Riddle of the Sands", Bruce? Great book, recommended to me by Webb.

Steve said...


You are correct. I'll change it. Did you know there was a sequel written by another author called The Shadow in the Sands? I read it years ago and do not recall the details of the book, but I do remember enjoying it and also recall the author captured the voice of Childers.


Retired Bridge Tender said...

The first bridge you went thru (dual opening span) is the Lewes Draw Bridge. The second bridge (single opening span) is the Rehoboth Draw Bridge.

Steve said...

Mr. Bridge Tender,

thank you for the information. If you know any of those guys working the bridges these days please tell them the guys in the little green sailboat with two masts said "thanks very much!"