When we entered the inland waterways of the states we knew there’d be a number of low-lying bridges to pass under and – Morvargh being a one-off design – there were no record of her mast height. Cue lengths of rope, tape measures and head scratching as we tried our best to establish whether she would make it. After lots of umming and aaahing, checking and rechecking (this is not something you want to get wrong) we came up with a figure of 54ft.
You don’t want to get it wrong when approaching a bridge like this
The first bridge was a bit of a heart-stopping moment, but we soon got used to passing under them without giving it a seconds thought, feeling smug about the roar of traffic over our heads as we glided along, often under sail.
Our final bridge of the trip was one at Cape May canal, a shortcut that avoided an extra 12 miles through the shipping-laden waters of Delaware River. The chart recorded its height at 55ft, the lowest we’d ever encountered. We’d been up since 6am and were both feeling less than perky as we approached the bridge after 20 hours on the go. Can you guess where this is going?
Another bridge successfully passed, even with moustache
We both felt a sense of trepidation as we motored towards it in the dark, as we’d managed to arrive at high tide making it look VERY low. As we got close enough we could read that the current height available was 52ft. I’m not sure what happened next – a mixture of fatigue, belief that we’d been overly generous when measuring our height, a simple desire to get through and on with our journey – but we decided to go for it.
As we throttled back to take it slowly we realized that there was quite a strong current sweeping us towards the bridge. We tried to reverse to slow our approach but Morvargh doesn’t reverse straight and the stern began to kick round so we stopped. We were now committed whether we wanted to our not….
I stood at the bow, holding my breath. PING. TWANG. TINKLE. Bits of plastic fell to the deck. Rosie shouted to ask whether she should reverse but I said to keep going. Every second I waited for her to be brought to a juddering halt with the metal stays holding her mast parting from the deck. Within moments it was all over and we were spat out the far side, both shaken but still in one piece.
Before we had a chance to gather our thought our path was apparently blocked by a row of red lights (normally used to indicate the side of the channel, but this time across our whole path). We were expecting to pass through low-lying swing bridge but these markers didn’t make any sense. Still being swept forward by the current, Rosie asked what to do as I ran back to take the helm and she ran forward with a torch to try and light our way. Through the murky night we could dimly make out the sharp edges of an open bridge, with a gap just wide enough for Morvargh through the centre. Phew.
Ahead we could see one final bridge, the same height as the first, but we’d had enough excitement for one night. We dropped an anchor in the channel to wait for the tide to drop and take stock of the damage.
The top of the mast is home to our long-range VHF Arial, navigation lights and wind indicator so there was plenty of damage that could be done. We had also planned to keep on moving through the night to reach New York before some strong weather was forecast, but doing this without navigation lights of VHF would have been foolish. After various tests we established that the only thing obviously broken was our wind vane, thank god. We put the kettle on and waited for the tide.
The only thing to break
Morvargh loses another life and the adventure continues!