A bridge too short

Russ Roth
Michael Camarata’s article, “Dumbest Boating Decision Ever,” about a bridge too narrow, published in the Midwinter issue of Points East, hit very close to home for me. I have also made a dumb boating decision involving a bridge.

It was many years ago, and another boat ago. Marty and I made our first trip Downeast in an ultralight 33-foot race boat. Nobody told us that we couldn’t also use our race boat for cruising. We would take off all of the race gear, load on the cruising gear, and take off on a great adventure.

This trip, we decided to find out why our friends kept telling us to go Downeast. Marty and I had never been farther east than Portsmouth, N.H., with our boat. We filled up the 25-gallon water tank and 10-gallon fuel tank and headed for some place called Southwest Harbor.

One advantage of cruising a race boat is that you get places fast. We had a cruising guide and charts to get us as far as Southwest. We made all of the mandatory stops along the way, and eventually found ourselves entering the Western Way and Southwest Harbor. I should note that this was late afternoon early June in 1985, and we were the only boat on the water. The scenery was spectacular, and we were thoroughly enjoying our trip east.

About a mile out of the harbor, I spotted a large inflatable boat drifting out to sea with nobody aboard. Was this our lucky day? More likely it was someone having a bad day. We tied the inflatable onto our transom and turned the corner toward Southwest Harbor. Remember, this was our first time there, and it took me a while to figure out that all the pretty black boats were Hinckleys, of course. I felt just a little dumb.

As we motored through the mooring field, I asked Marty to look for a boat with people on it and no dinghy trailing off the transom. It didn’t take long to find a very large Hinckley with two men having a serious discussion in the cockpit. Marty called out to them and asked if they had lost a dinghy. She was waved off by a slightly irritated man in the cockpit. We were pulling away when the gentleman who waved us away decided to look over his transom. No dinghy!

After calling us back and making profuse apologies, it was explained that he was a yacht broker for Hinckley and was attempting to sell the boat he was on to a customer in the cockpit. We handed off the dinghy, and were invited to use all the facilities at the Hinckley yard. This included the use of Bob’s mooring in front of his house. Again, feeling a little dumb, I had to ask who Bob was, and which house was his. Bob was Bob Hinckley, and his house was very close to the yard.

It really was our lucky day after all. We enjoyed our stay and took full advantage of the washing machines and showers at the yard.

Now we needed to make a decision to either head back home or find more charts so we could go farther east. For us, it was an easy decision – find more charts.

This led us to Northeast Harbor and the local hardware store/chandlery. Northeast Harbor back in 1985 was a very different place. No superyachts, no marina, and very limited facilities. On entering, we asked one of the locals about moorings, and were directed to one we could pick up for the night. The price was $5, and we were told that one of the fishermen would be out to collect the fee.

The next day, we left with sufficient charts to take us to Roque Island. We spent a couple of days picking our way along the coast and decided to head to Jonesport for real showers at the shipyard. At this point, we were about five days from our last shower in Southwest Harbor, and I promised Marty that she would have one that night.

We entered Moosabec Reach from the western side, and the promised showers were going to be just on the other side of the bridge. Marty was on the helm, and I was down below making lunch when she said, “We are not going to make this bridge.”

Like any good husband, I responded, “Of course we are. I checked the chart and there should be plenty of clearance. Keep going.”

At this point, Marty directed me, “Get up here now! We are not going to make this bridge!” I popped my head up and confirmed what Marty had been telling me. We needed to get the heck out of there and fast. So, after spinning the boat with a few feet to spare and taking a moment to calm my beating heart, I needed to know what went wrong. It must be a printing error on the chart.

In my mind, I had read the vertical clearance as 75 feet, the horizontal clearance as 35 feet – more than enough for our 50-foot mast and 1l-foot beam. The reality was exactly the opposite: 35 feet vertical and 75 feet horizontal. The worst part was that I had to explain to my wife that the shower I promised was not going to happen. We needed to sail around the Great Wass, and might as well go to Roque instead. Marty was not happy with me.

All was forgiven when we entered Roque Island Harbor and anchored off the white sand beach. It was absolutely beautiful, and we spent two days at anchor there.

Now, whenever we pass by Jonesport on our way to Canada, I am always reminded of the bridge too short and the shower that never happened. Michael Camarata is not the only one who has ever made a dumb boating decision involving a bridge. Given enough time on the water, we all have a “dumb” stories to tell.

Russ and Marty Roth sail their C&C 40 sailboat Skiya out of Rockland, Maine and Portsmouth, N.H.