I told some of you that I would report on the Bridge of Lions when we passed it northbound. Here are my findings:
Approaching the Bridge of Lions from the south
The following two photos were taken on 15 June 2010 at 9:49am, as we passed under the bridge.
The south clearance gauge (tide board)
After photo analysis, the clearance gauge reads 19.5′, plus or minus an inch, which is clearance at “low steel”. The sign also states 4′ additional clearance at center. Thus clearance at center is 19.5′ plus 4′, or 23.5′. All drawbridges are governed by 33 CFR, which states:
§ 117.47 Clearance gauges.
(a) Clearance gauges are required for drawbridges across navigable waters of the United States discharging into the Atlantic Ocean south of Delaware Bay (including the Lewes and Rehoboth Canal, DE) or into the Gulf of Mexico (including coastal waterways contiguous thereto and tributaries to such waterways and the Lower Atchafalaya River, LA), except the Mississippi River and its tributaries and outlets,
(b) Except for provisions in this part which specify otherwise for particular drawbridges, clearance gauges shall be designed, installed, and maintained according to the provisions of §118.160 of this chapter.
§ 118.160 Vertical clearance gauges.
(a) When necessary for reasons of safety of navigation, the District Commander may require or authorize the installation of clearance gauges. Except as specified in §117.47(b) of this chapter for certain drawbridges, clearance gauges must meet the requirements of this section.
(b) Clearance gauges must indicate the vertical distance between ‘‘low steel’’ of the bridge channel span and the level of the water, measured to the bottom of the foot marks, read from top to bottom. Each gauge must be installed on the end of the right channel pier or pier protection structure facing approaching vessels and extend to a reasonable height above high water so as to be meaningful to the viewer. Other or additional locations may be prescribed by the District Commander if particular conditions or circumstances warrant.
The hand painted north clearance gauge (tide board)
After photo analysis, the clearance gauge reads 22.5′ plus or minus an inch, which it states is clearance at center, not “low steel” as required by 33 CFR. This nonstandard clearance gauge does not conform with 33 CFR.
The south side indicates 23.5′ at center and the north side states 22.5′. There is a one foot discrepancy.
The listed clearance on the charts and according to the contractor rebuilding the bridge is 25′ at center. Charted heights are based on clearance at Mean High Water (MHW). MHW for the tide station next to the Bridge of lions at the St. Augustine City Dock is listed as 6.41′. MHW reference: http://tidesandcurrents.noaa.gov/data_menu.shtml?stn=8720576%20St.%20%20Augustine,%20FL&type=Datums
This means that if you pass under the bridge at a low tide of zero, the clearance at center would be 25′ plus 6.41′, or 31.41′. We passed under the bridge with a tide of 4.0′ so we should have had a clearance of 31.41 minus 4.0′, or 27.41′. Said another way, we were 2.41′ less than MHW, so 25′ plus 2.41′ or 27.41′.
When we passed under the bridge at 7:45AM on 28 April 2010, with a 4.5′ tide the north clearance gauge read 22′ at center, which was our boat’s height with VHF antennas up. Because we were almost 2′ below MHW, we expected 25′ plus 2′ or 27′ at center. When we saw the north clearance gauge reading 22′ at center, Sue ran to the upper helm and watched the antennas miss the bridge by less than a foot. If the listed 25′ clearance was correct, we would have had 5.5′ above our antennas.
Sue did not miss estimate our clearance as less than a foot instead of 5.5′. The north gauge appears to be correct, which means the listed clearance of 25′ cannot be correct. The listed clearance may be off by as much as 4 or 5′.
According to Laurie Sanderson, the Public Information Officer for the Bridge of Lions, the Contractor still maintains that the listed clearance of 25′ is correct.
I don’t have all the answers, but I know the following calculations for clearance at center, based on a 4′ tide, don’t match:
South clearance gauge = 23.5′
North clearance gauge = 22.5′
Listed clearance = 27.4′
Something is still very wrong. Was the old bridge really 25′ and the new bridge 20′ or 21′?
Captain Bob Mimlitch
USCG 100 ton Master Captains License #1002684
I realized that as Public Information Officer for the Bridge of Lions, you may not realize the importance to mariners of the Vertical Clearance listed on the charts and in the cruising guides. As a Captain, I don’t know in advance what the clearance gauge is going to read until I am very close to the bridge. Any Captain knows that in normal conditions and at tide levels less than Mean High Water (MHW), he should have more than the listed Vertical Clearance. It is against the law for me to request a bridge opening when my boat height does not required – thus I must plan ahead. As I approached the bridge on 28 April, I had planned on the listed Vertical Clearance of 25′ plus two additional feet because the tide was 2′ below MHW. This should give me a Vertical Clearance of 27′. My boat required 22′ of Vertical Clearance, so I did not request an opening.
I approached the bridge with the current behind me. The current here can reach 2 knots in this area. To maintain rudder steerage of my vessel I need a speed through the water of 4 knots. Heavy currents passing under the bridge and between the fenders can cause eddy currents and challenging steering. Thus I am approaching the bridge at about 6 knots and expecting 5′ of clearance above my antennas.
What I found was a 5′ disparity between my planned clearance and the tide board reading. What do I do? I can slam both engines into reverse and try to stop in time, back out of the bridge entrance and try to resolve the real height. If I had thought that I only had a couple of feet clearance, with the current behind me, I would have requested an opening just to be safe. Because the listed Vertical Clearance is wrong, my planning was in error.
We, as boaters, should not have to wait for an accident and the accompanying law suits to resolve the true Vertical Clearance of the bridge. Organizations such as the Waterway Guide, ActiveCaptain, and[Salty] Southeast Cruiser’s Net stand ready to get the correct bridge height out as soon as the contractor can determine it. Please, as the Public Information Officer for the Bridge of Lions, insure that the contractor knows that this Vertical Clearance must be based on MHW.
Thanks for your help in this matter.
I appreciate the e-mails you have sent this morning. I also appreciate your position, and the very real concern you present. The information I have provided to you is that which was provided to me by the project engineers and the contractor’s personnel. I have forwarded the e-mails you sent this morning to the Senior Project Engineer and to the contractor, so they may hear directly from you the concerns which you have detailed for me. Thank you again for bringing this matter to our attention.
One tiny edit, if you please:
“According to Laurie Sanderson, the Public Information Officer for the Bridge of Lions, the Contractor still maintains that the listed clearance of 25′ is correct.”
The contractor actually maintains that their tide gauge is correct, not that the listed clearance of 25’ is correct. If the listed clearance of 25’ is incorrect, the Department of Transportation believes it is not within their jurisdiction, but within the jurisdiction of the U.S. Coast Guard, to make that correction. The Department of Transportation is responsible for overseeing the contractor and ensuring that the tide gauge is correct. I have forwarded your e-mails to the Senior Project Engineer and to the contractor.
Public Information Officer
Bridge of Lions Rehabilitation Project
I don’t know whether it is DOT’s responsibility or the USCG’s responsibility, I would assume that Laurie is correct; so who do we contact in the USCG. I hope that one of you have contacts.
Dear Mr. Dragon;
I would like to bring a situation with the Bridge of Lions to your attention. I have been discussing this with Laurie Sanderson, the Public Information Officer for the Bridge of Lions, and others for about two months and in todays email Laurie states that the responsibility for insuring the accuracy of the 25′ Vertical Clearance listed on nautical charts and published on government website is the responsibility of the USCG. Below Laurie’s reply, you will find my email detailing my findings and photographs of the conflicting bridge height data.
Thank you for your help.