Most large yachts made it safely into the Yacht & Brokerage Show over the past week, maneuvering the skinny water near the Julia Tuttle Causeway with towboats and counsel.
But at least a few took the longer northern route and arrived just the same, a bit less stressed, they said, and only a few minutes later.
“I found 12-13 feet of water all the way up the ICW,” said Capt. Dave Johnson of M/Y Northlander, a 125-foot Moonen that draws 8.5 feet. “I’m glad I did it. It’s not worth the risk of touching anything to me. We just came out of the yard. And it didn’t add any significant time to our arrival.”
Yachts were warned about some navigation issues in the deep-water channel that runs parallel to the Julia Tuttle, the east-west route that yachts have taken for decades to get to the waters off Collins Avenue. They call it the southern route, and it was impeded earlier this year when the Army Corps of Engineers erected pilings in the channel to hold a silt curtain between boat traffic and newly planted seagrass to the north.
“Literally, where the pilings were was where we would have gone,” said Capt. Mark Wellnetz of M/Y Miss Michelle, a 130-foot Westport. “They drove the pilings literally right in the middle of where we needed to go.”
One spot in particular caused captains to hire towboats or lean on them for advice maneuvering the channel. At one point, about halfway through the area of pilings, a shallow area of about 4 feet causes yachts to dogleg in an area less than 200 feet long.
“Yeah, it was a little tight, but it was not impossible,” Wellnetz said. “The guys from Steel Towing were sittingthere so you could talk to them on the radio and they’d guide you through. Luckily the wind was light and we were on a slack tide.”
“It was a little tricky, but not too bad,” said Capt. Mitchell Heath of M/Y Harmony, a 164-foot Westport that came in with a convoy of yachts led by a yacht under tow. “The Army Corps really dropped the ball in limiting access. They put the pilings in the deepest part of the channel.”
Another option is to take what captains call the northern route. Instead of making that sharp right turn just through the Julia Tuttle, continue north on the ICW, through the 79th Street bridge and up to marker 16, then make a right and come back southeast near Normandy Isle before turning into the channel for the show.
That route adds about 10 miles to the trip. Depending on bridges and traffic, it can take two hours more.
“I like it because it’s sand,” said Courtney Day, owner of Cape Ann Towing, which towed several yachts into the show, including Northlander. “If you’re going to hit something, it’s no big deal. … You can make it both ways, but there’s a little more room for error coming the north way.”
Though the northern route is longer, the southern route was slower than normal this year because of the pinched channel.
M/Y Vango, a 164-foot Westport that draws about 8 feet fully fueled, was in front of M/Y Northlander on the Causeway bridge opening and planned to take the northern route, but got a call at the last moment asking if the yacht could arrive at the show sooner.
So Capt. David Hagerman made that sharp right turn to take what he thought would be the shorter, faster route.
“It was two hours to get in here,” Hagerman said. “Boats my size shouldn’t go that way. I had to stop to nothing, pivot and maneuver in and around that dogleg. I was pretty much idle.”
He made it to his spot in the show about 15 minutes before Northlander showed up.
“I’d rather take the nice, easy, non-stressful way,” said Hagerman, who noted he’ll take that way going back to Ft. Lauderdale next week. “I’m looking forward to dropping the hook in 10 feet of water, and having a sandwich and a Coke on deck waiting for the bridge.”
Lucy Chabot Reed is editor of Triton Today. Comments are welcome: email@example.com.