Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Karma, Southern Bridge Style

My view for most of the day: me on navigation and communications, Dan at the helm ... and a series of boats following us.
You know all that stuff about karma?  It doesn't particularly work for me.  Feels too passive.  I'm all for karma getting back at people, but, you know, rather than sitting back and letting karma fight my battles for me, I'd kinda like to help the process.  

So I have to tell you about yesterday, and karma.  We're headed to a fixed bridge, late in the afternoon, first in a line of 4-6 boats.  The two boats at the end of the line, who apparently had a faster cruising speed than the rest of us, start speeding up to pass everyone.  They don't call first on the VHF to arrange the pass, which is considered somewhat rude in the constrained stretches of the ICW.  By the nautical rules of the road, the burden is on the overtaking boat.  Generally the overtaking boat will ask permission to pass, and say something like, "I'd like to slide past you on your port side" [or starboard, depending on the circumstances].    This will give the boat being passed lots of options.  They could ask the passing boat to do whatever they think is reasonable to make the pass safe and comfortable -- slow down to make the pass easier and decrease wakes, or they could alert the passing boat to hazards they might not be aware of, or arrange to pass on the other side for whatever reason (once we were trailing instruments from our starboard side and would make sure people passed us on the other side, for example), and on and on.  Anyway, so here come these rude boats, barreling on ahead with radio silence, apparently in a blazing hurry to get to the anchorage first.  They got to us at just about the time we were approaching the constriction of the bridge, and there wasn't room for two boats to go through side-by-side.  I was really, really, ticked; to avoid collision (!!) we had to throw our boat into reverse and get way over to the shallows outside of the channel.

So I'm on the VHF to them: "Cinderella to the boat overtaking on my stern, it is NOT advisable for two boats to pass through the bridge at once!"  They never slowed but steamed on past. I saw in their cockpit as they passed us, he reached for the VHF mic but changed his mind and put it down.  She waved.  I didn't flip them the bird, though I wanted to, I improvised an angry gesture and shook my head.   And of course, they were making for the same anchorage we were, just a couple of miles down the waterway from the unfortunate bridge.  We anchored as far away from them as we could.

(For the record, while I steamed, I reviewed what I really should have said: "Cinderella to the boat overtaking on my stern, it is NOT advisable for two boats to pass through the bridge at once! As I am the stand-on vessel, request you THROTTLE BACK and pass me AFTER we have cleared the bridge." I also decided I hated cruising, drank an extra glass of rum, wished that the jerkboat would have exactly the trip that he deserved, got into a long chat with the boat next to us, who was also headed to St Augustine, and decided I didn't hate cruising after all.)

So next morning at low tide, we left the anchorage leading 3 boats, including our new friends from St Aug (who had jokingly asked if we minded if they followed us, so they could see if we ran aground and they'd know where to stay away from).  A little later that morning, the jerkboat that passed us yesterday and his friend appeared at the end of the line.  Each time we approached an opening bridge, I'd hail the bridge for the whole group: "Mudpuddle Bridge, Mudpuddle Bridge, this is southbound sailing vessel Cinderella.  I'm the first of a group of six southbounders traveling together, requesting an opening please."

The "jerk" stayed behind us all until after the second bridge, then again started to speed up.  But this time, apparently chastened from the day before, we heard him calling each boat in turn on VHF to arrange the pass before passing.  Cool!  My mission accomplished! When he got to us at the head of the line, he even asked us to switch to a private VHF channel, where he apologized for crowding us at the bridge the day before.  Lesson learned, I think ... but karma apparently thought he needed more reinforcement.

At Bridge #3, the guidebook warned that the bridge operator preferred boats to go together in groups, and although the opening times were on request, he made boats wait between openings so openings we at least 15 minutes apart, to clear road traffic that had stacked up behind the bridge.  Jerkboat is now about a mile or two, 10-15 minutes ahead of us, and he calls the bridge to request an opening ... and the bridgetender replies, "Well, I see four more boats just a little way behind you, [us and our companions!] and I'm going to wait until they get here so I only open once and you all go through together." Just this once, at least, karma really did all work out.  And I hadn't had to say a word.

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