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Risky venture - Bridges and Hunter 41 down the ICW ?

Sep 27, 2008
Hunter 41 Longport,NJ
Running form Delaware city, DE to Oriental NC. Don't know exactly how high my windex and whip antenna go above my mast, which is listed at 62.83 inches. Lowest bridge en route is listed at 64 feet (I believe at Alligator river). Most others are 65 ft - anyone ever do this trip in this situation ? From Cape Charles to the Albemarle sound looks like a long outside run without many easy inlets.....any thoughts or suggestions ?
Courting danger ?
Jun 8, 2004
-na -NA Anywhere USA
Corps or Core Creek Bridge in North Carolina on the ICW is the one to be more concerned about between the Pamlico River proceeding south on the ICW toward oriental. Where US 64 crosses across the Alligator River is a swing bridge only with a transient marina nearby. Do not attempt to travel south on the Alligator River portion of the ICW at night
Nov 6, 2006
Hunter 34 Mandeville Louisiana
Should be an "air draft board" on the bridge showing the gap from bridge to water at whatever water level you have when you get there.. Remember the stated clearance is at mean high water (I think), which is kind of an average worst case.. The tide charts and the wind state may dictate whether ya go or wait some hours.. Whip is typically 3 feet and Windex is probably lower.. My VHF whip has done the "tink… tink… tink" thing a couple of times on the bridge girders of a New Orleans bridge.. Kinda puckers ya up!
Oct 22, 2014
CAL 35 Cruiser moored EVERETT WA
They say.. Knowing the space between water and bridge bottom as well as your “airdraft”... Priceless.
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Mar 19, 2015
Beneteau 31 North Vancouver
image.jpeg image.jpeg image.jpeg image.jpeg image.jpeg Hi Spadaforaj,

In October 2018, I was delivering (via ICW) Hunter 39 from Hampton VA to Palm Beach Fl (mast above water 62ft + VHF antenna, draft 5ft, wing keel). ICW Guide is listing few fixed bridges under 65ft; on 64ft bridges we touched beams with antenna and in Jacksonvlle, FL we broke antenna under 63ft bridge. You have to read water hight under the bridge with binoculars before proceeding. Walter level may change with wind direction and current. Pay attention to lamps hanging below the bridge!

Alligator bridge is swinging and you should not have any problem except in winds above 35kn; because of long span they will not open.

Min depth in ICW, according to guide, is 12ft, but shifting sand with tides and deposits from rivers are reducing depth in many places. We grounded 2 times in the middle of the channel and once in a river with 24ft depth on chart.

From Hampton VA to Palm Beach FL (two people on board, motoring 40 to 70nm/day) in 19 days, enduring 24 hrs of Hurricane Michael on anchor (on a river, 11ft depth 90ft of chain, nylon snubber bridle, exposed to wind but protected from waves).

Pic show broken antenna on deck, hurricane wind on anchor and few sunken sailboats (out of many scattered along ICW few days later).
Sep 27, 2008
Hunter 41 Longport,NJ
Thanks !! - sorry about your antenna. Wow - so sad to see those boats.
Looks like we may be able to just make it if we are careful on the tides and keep an eye for those hanging lights. We will re-route around the east of Roanoke Island - as there is a bridge marked at 64 feet vs 65 feet at the south end of the Alligator River-Pungo canal (too bad) One foot may make a difference !

How I do miss the old bascule bridges - have to wait for openings, but the infinite height was wonderful. Had to delay our trip first because the fiberglass guy was 4 months behind schedule, and now suddenly the lift at the marina is not working and have to wait another week or so.......Who wanted to get back to work on time anyway.....
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Oct 22, 2014
CAL 35 Cruiser moored EVERETT WA
Who wanted to get back to work on time anyway.....
Now might be a great time to explore remote connection internet working. That44 is unless your a heart surgeon. Then the long distance would make hands on performance a bit dicy..


Feb 11, 2017
J/Boat J/160 Annapolis
I've been told that he clearance on the bridges is posted as to the STRUCTURE; and, it doesn't include the hang-down lights, occasional maintenance "swings" or other similar temporary stuff, etc. Unless someone is reporting it differently, the sailboat's reported "vertical draft" is to the top of the mast without instruments, antennae, Windex, or flag staffs ;^)))). Also, the clearance may only be at the "center" of the span (a slight "arch" in the bridge isn't necessarily reported.)

Also, aside from tidal, wind, and flood run-off variations, you need to take into account a wake from other vessels that might influence you actual clearance.

I was told this by a fellow sailor who routinely takes his Swan through a bridge to the slip behind his house on the Severn River in Annapolis. He had a number of "tells" on the bridge piers, seawalls, etc. that he had to give him clues, warning, or comfort about what was the actual situation. The Federal Highway Administration, Corps of Engineers, etc. built a fixed bridge over the Severn just above the Naval Academy with 75' clearance. Just a short distance above that bridge, there is there is another fixed bridge which was built with 85' clearance. Go figure why they didn't make both the same???

We have 73' vertical draft to the "hard" mast on our J/Boat. I figure that there is at about 2' more to the top of the Metz antenna and other stuff up there. When I go under an 85' reported bridge, it looks like we're going to hit it from the deck.
Jul 27, 2011
Bavaria 38E Alamitos Bay
If it were my issue, I’d remove the Windex and maybe the whip antenna from the mast top for the trip. A hand-held VHF is good enough for any exchanges along the ICW. Don’t really need a Windex if motoring.
Oct 26, 2010
Hunter 40.5 Beaufort, SC
The Wilkerson Bridge that uncledom shows the picture of can be problematic if the wind has been coming from the south for a long time. There is very little tide there and the wind can back up the water into the Alligator River.

Check the water depth on the route around Roanoke Island for any updates or NOTAMs. Last I checked there was significant shoaling below 4 feet depth a few places. Also, if you go that direction even though it looks like there is a lot of "open water" the channel is very narrow even in the open water. Make sure you check for any updates on the shallow areas on the Roanoke Island route!

I am told you can call someone in Bellhaven ( think its Bellhaven) who will come out with a boat and heal you over to go under the bridge. I was on a delivery on a Moody 46 with a 64 foot mast head height plus whip/windex last year. We had a "salvage bag" that we hung out on the boom with it swung out, filled with water, and hoisted with the main halyard for a few degrees of heal. We still tinged the antenna on that bridge and with tinged the antenna on a few other bridges along the route but didn't lose anything. A salvage bag is a heavy bag that they normally fill with air to float heavy objects off the floor. You can invert it and fill it with water to act as a weight of help you heal if you need to.
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Oct 26, 2010
Hunter 40.5 Beaufort, SC
Pretty impressive old salt there! We couldn't get nearly that much of an angle but we got some and that was enough. He subsequently has had a couple feet chopped off his mast and the sails recut because he is paranoid after that trip.


Jan 4, 2009
Ketch 55 Bristol, RI
I’ve done this trip many times with a 63’ 2” air draft. There are only two 64’ bridges with no tide. Here are four simple rules:

1) Measure your mast height by going up the mast in a bosun chair with a tape measure. Don’t believe the literature. Next, take down the Windex. You don’t need it. The VHF whip will bend - you’ll get used to the twang” as it pops under each girder :)

2) Don’t go under the Wilkerson bridge (and skip the Alligator River all together) Instead take the alternate route past Manteo. It’s a few miles shorter and the bridge is a full 65’. Manteo and Ocracoke are also two of our favorite stops on the ICW. Note, this route is uncomfortably rough in a South wind of 20+ knots.

3) The other problem 64’ bridge is Pungo Ferry bridge near Norfolk (mile 28). There’s no way to avoid it. There is no tide in this area. Strong southerly winds or a lot of rain can raise the water level several feet. If that happens, just wait for the water to go down. We once had to anchor 48 hours at the bridge but that’s better than losing your mast. The height board is accurate.

4) South of Beaufort there are substantial tides and you have lots of room at low tide. Each day plan your start and end so as not to go under a fixed bridge within two hours of high tide. You’ll be fine.
Sep 27, 2008
Hunter 41 Longport,NJ
Dear all - many thanks for all your advice. Just arrived in Oriental NC. Took the route around the east of Roanoak Island and into the sometimes ugly Pamlico sound - took alittle longer than the Alligator River route, but probably worth it. Whip antenna touched one of the 65 foot bridges (reading 64.5feet on the airdraft board) with no damage, but would probably have had problems with the 64 foot bridge. Why would one build nearly all the other bridges at 65 feet and then one at 64 feet on the ICW ? Must ne a story in there somewhere…..
Nov 26, 2008
Endeavour 42 Cruisin
I have a 63.5 air draft with whip above that. I have run that stretch about 12 times and not once tickled steel with my whip, including the 64' Wilkerson bridge and the Pungo Ferry bridge. Even if my draft is lower because of extra weight, my whip should still be 64'.
Oct 2, 2008
Pearson/ 530 Strafford, NH
Most bridges have tide boards and they are accurate. The problem exists because the tide data was inaccurate by definition so several bridges are problematic. We need 64 feet to clear with our mast and hardware, the whips bend and return to full height. We have traveled the AICW for eight years and have made it under the Wilkerson every year along with all the others. The NWS has a site for monitoring river levels and if a river is at flood stage, we stay anchored.