We cleared our slip at Clearwater Beach early the day after New Years, added 100 gallons of diesel to our starboard tank, and headed South. We were bound for Bradenton, on the Manatee river just south of Tampa Bay.
It was a nostalgic journey. Two years prior, we rented a home on Indian Rocks Beach for a Krueger family vacation. During that vacation, we visited several area marinas – advanced research on future possible live-aboard homes. Our marina road trip included the Harbourage in St. Pete., Regatta Point in Palmetto, Twin Dolphin in Bradenton, and The Moorings on Long Boat Key. The latter two were our favorites. but we had no clue that we would return on Cirila less than two years later.
Since kids were the only ones brave enough to swim in the chilly gulf waters, we rented a 20′ runabout one day to enjoy the intracoastal waters between Indian Rocks and Treasure Island to the south. What a fun day we had! Gary, Dawn and I drank a case of beer while exploring the complex waterways of Boca Ciega Bay. This body of water separates the beachfront communities, like Indian Rocks, Redington and Madiera, from the St. Petersburg metro area to the east. Homes lining these waters range from quaint to corpulent, all making the most of each foot of their precious waterfront. Because we were in a small rental boat, depth and bridge clearance weren’t concerning. We did however, need to control our wake, as this stretch of water consists of alternating “go fast” and “no wake” zones. I successfully splashed the passengers and crew in a few “go fast” zones, to the delight of grandpa Jerry manning the bow.
Fast forward two years, now cruising Cirila, depth and bridge clearance became relevant. We still needed to control our wake, because a 42′ trawler going seven knots leaves about as much wake as a runabout going thirty. In those stretches where the waterway narrowed, kayakers paddled about, or homeowners had clout, we backed Cirila down a couple knots and had longer to enjoy the passing scenery.
On this leg of our journey, we passed eight bridges, far more than any previous day. Six were drawbridges, with 20-25′ of clearance in their closed position. Most of us have experienced the frustration of approaching a drawbridge, in the car and in a hurry, just as the bells start clanging and gates come down. While frustrating in the car, it’s a happy sound and sight from the water. For sailboats and larger cruising boats, drawbridges block progress and are an important part of the planning process. Cirila’s airdraft is twenty five feet to the top of her lightening rod, and a couple more to the top of her tallest antennae. She needs these bridges open.
So how do you open a drawbridge? Resources like the Waterway Guide and Active Captain indicate whether a bridge will open on a fixed schedule and/or “on signal”. Bridges on roads less travelled often open on signal, which means the boater can hail the bridge tender via VHF radio, usually channel 9, and request an opening.
“Corey Causeway bridge, Corey Causeway bridge, this is southbound motor vessel Cirila, passing marker Green 42, requesting an opening, over”
Both the boat captain and bridge tender try to time the approach and bridge opening to minimize wait time for travelers, whether they be by car or boat. On busier roads, and during rush hours, many drawbridges only open every half hour. For these, a good captain will synchronize his/her travel speed with an arrival time just before the next bridge’s scheduled opening. I call it marine choreography.
Considering this was our most complex bridge day, we did well, with less than an hour wasted waiting for these six draw bridges. Much of that was at The Corey Causeway bridge. Its tender would not open on signal until we rounded a curve, idled right in front of the bridge, viewed the clearance placard, and confirmed to the tender that we needed an opening. This was very unusual, and almost comical. A sign posted at Florida bridges cautions that a $2500 fine could be levied on the captain requesting an unneeded opening. This bridge tender must have missed that class, and thought he would need to pay if he opened unnecessarily.
In our experience that day and since, the bridge tenders are very courteous and accommodating. The best ones tend to be women. The choreography with the bridge tenders spices up the journey. It is socialism at its finest, at least if your lucky enough have a car or a big boat. If not so lucky, you might think of it as giving food stamps to the more affluent.
Once we cleared the Pinellas Bayway bridge, we cruised east towards St. Pete, then ran south, parallel to the Sunshine Skyway (I-275), before emerging in Tampa Bay. Since it’s a big body of water, Tampa Bay can get rough. On this day, 15-20 knot winds kicked up a moderate chop. Now, better seasoned by our Crossing experience, even Lola took it in stride.
On the south side of the Tampa Bay, we rounded Snead Island and turned upstream into the Manatee River. After a few miles on this beautiful stretch of water, we entered the Twin Dolphin Marina in downtown Bradenton, backed into Slip A13, secured Cirila, and shut down the engine. Twin Dolphin was a favorite when we visited on our Indian Rocks vacation – little did we know it would be our home base for the next two months.