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Sailing with Charlie – The Bridge

Charlie departed the BVI bound for Florida with a greenhorn, and a big horn (he never stopped talking about girls) on a used 40ft sloop. He told me his story: We encountered a tropical wave, torrential rain, lightning and strong winds; the autopilot broke and the engine overheated. The cooling systems checked out so we decided to reduce RPMs and that did the trick but still it was a worry.

Eight days later we entered the Fort Lauderdale inlet, doused sails and motored slowly up the waterway. We rounded the last bend to our marina a 100-yards down the channel and just the other side of the bridge. And the bridge was open! I got Bighorn to take the wheel and quick as a flash I was on the VHF. “Hold the bridge, we’re coming through,” I pleaded with the bridge keeper.

“You’d better hurry,” was the reply.

“Gun it,” I said, and we approached the bridge at seven knots. Suddenly steam rose from the engine compartment and the alarm came on. We were now 20-yards from the bridge. Angry motorists were peering down at us – then the engine stopped!

We ghosted under the bridge. The end of our marina T dock was open but should we try for it with no engine? (No reverse = no brakes.) We’d rigged lines and fenders previously; Greenhorn was on the bow with line and movable fender, Bighorn was amidships with aft spring and stern line. Still with some momentum and a slight current we steered at the dock at about two knots. Well, you’ve never seen a jump like it; Bighorn must have jumped six-feet to reach the dock, he teetered backwards for a second but steadied himself in time to get that essential spring line on. The stern line was next and young Greenhorn was perfect with the fender. The posh marinas in Fort Lauderdale have fancy protective rubber strips on their docks, unlike the Caribbean where unscrupulous topside refinishing companies encourage protruding nails and bolts.

It just happened to be July 4th and that evening a huge fireworks party was happening on the beach. I asked an elderly couple why they were celebrating the queen’s birthday in such an extravagant way. “We support our troops,” came back the reply. God bless America!

Julian Putley is the author of The Drinking Man’s Guide to the BVI, Sunfun Calypso, and Sunfun Gospel.

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