Running the gauntlet

“Are you ready to go?”

“I think so,” I say uncertainly.

“Tomorrow looks like a good day. Winds from the north. Sunny. Cool. Let’s do it.”

I’m reluctant to leave the anchorage at Peck Lake, where we’ve spent a quiet week walking on the beach, reading, napping, doing boat chores. There’s nothing else to do here, which is perfect. But we need to keep moving south if we hope to get to Cuba by Christmas, so we begin our preparations.

First, we make a list of the lift bridges we will have to clear between Peck Lake and Lake Worth. There are seven of them. The first three open on demand, but the last four have strict opening times, which they follow to the minute.

One last walk on the beach before we leave  Peck Lake.

But the bridge that really matters is Jupiter Federal Bridge, an aged bridge smack in Jupiter Inlet, where the tides flow in and out from the ocean, and subject to big currents and shoaling. We’ve run into trouble here before.

Once, when we requested an opening, the bridge operator told us there was an ambulance coming and he had to wait until it had cleared the bridge to open it. Now we’re all for giving way to emergency vehicles, but there was a good chance we’d end out needing an ambulance if we couldn’t keep ourselves off the bridge while we waited. The tide was flowing in, doing its best to sweep us into the bridge which has a 26-foot clearance when closed. We are 54 feet tall. Problem. Reversing at full throttle, calling on everything our 36-horsepower engine can give us, kept us just off the bridge. Just. That wasn’t something we wanted to experience again.

I studied the tide charts carefully.

“Slack water is at 1:30. So if we leave here at 10:30, we should get it just about right.”

The next morning we’re up early, one more quick walk on the beach then stow the dingy and check the oil and grease the thrust bearing and check the bolts on the drive coupling and top up the steering fluid—the last thing we want is a mechanical failure when we’re fighting the current—and we’re off.

The lighthouse in Jupiter Inlet, decked out for Christmas.

The Hobe Sound Bridge was not a problem. Some current running against us but we expected that, and the bridge operator was patient with us as we motored through at 3.5 knots. One down.

I went down and made coffee and we relaxed as we motored for seven miles through mango groves, very pleasant, lots of osprey and pelicans to amuse us.

Next, the 707 Bridge, which we passed through easily, the current was slowing nicely. Then a short stretch to Jupiter Inlet, which takes careful attention at the helm—the waterway is very narrow and if you wander outside of it, you’ll be on a sandbar.

“Here we go,” Chris says, as he makes the turn into the inlet and calls the Jupiter Federal Bridge. The bridge operator immediately stops the traffic and starts the long, agonizing process of raising the decrepit bridge. The A1A, a major highway, crosses the waterway here, and all four spans must be fully open before we can pass through.

Going up…

But they don’t snap to attention like they do on most of the other bridges—they creak up slowly, one by one. It’s rather like watching a yoga class for seniors. And the current is still flowing a little, urging us towards the bridge. Chris does a masterful job of keeping us off the spans but we do slip through before the last one is fully open.



The Federal Bridge at Jupiter Inlet, “fully” open.

Uh oh. Now the tricky turn. If you don’t get it right, you’re swept onto another bridge, and it’s not a lift bridge. But this time we were expecting this, and Chris keeps us out of trouble and manages to find the mouth of the Lake Worth Creek, where the waterway continues.

But the fun isn’t over. Now we’re into a series of tightly spaced lift bridges that open only on the half hour and the hour. If you get there a minute late, you’re out of luck. If you get there too early, you have to somehow sit still in the narrow channel until opening time. If you hold 6.5 knots between the first three bridges, you can slip through easily. Sometimes we hit 6.5 knots under full sail with the seas behind us. Sometimes. Our top motoring speed in the waterway is maybe 4.5 knots. Chris throttles way back and we accept that it’s going to take us all afternoon to get through this 10-mile stretch.

This is a small boat.

But there’s lots to watch. We are entering North Palm Beach, with its many excesses—huge mansions with lush gardens, some very tasteful, others merely ostentatious. Big power boats, bigger power boats, even bigger power boats. The afternoon is sunny and cool and it’s all very pleasant. By 4:30 we’ve cleared the last bridge and we’re entering Lake Worth, another of our favourite places to anchor, though very different than the nature preserve at Peck Lake. Here we’re surrounded by condos and monster houses (Trump’s villa isn’t far away.) But there’s a West Marine within easy walking distance, a darling French bistro, and a huge Italian grocery store.

Chris loves the Italian grocery store.



6 thoughts on “Running the gauntlet

  1. Must have passed each other. Been staying between Sebastian Delray Beach and Fort Lauderdale. Drove past lighthouse at Jupiter Inlet on Dec 2. North wind on day it cooled off. It would have been a treat to see you. Bavk north from West Palm Beach on Monday. Good sailing and safe harbours.


    1. I’m so sorry we didn’t connect! We were at anchor at Peck Lake on December 2nd. We could have picked you up on shore and taken you to the boat for a visit! We left North Palm Beach this morning and are on our way to the Keys. Hope we can get together another time.


  2. Absolutely hate the ICW there. We also had full-reverse red-line moments there. Far easier to go out the St Lucie inlet, and back in at West Palm… (next time!)


    1. We draw too much to attempt St. Lucie inlet, and anyway, we needed a shakedown motor after 8 months on the hard. Good thing we did it. The bolts on our drive coupling sheared and we had to drop anchor and replace them. Oh the fun of boating!


  3. Linda and I were in the Hobe Sound/Stuart/Jupiter area in October and experienced these bridges, but from the top side or kayak. Yes they are very slow and at times they get hung up. Drivers really can get out of control.

    We recommend the Fresh Market to those in the Stuart area. Their meat, produce and seasoning selections are fabulous.

    I also enjoy our biennial visit to the Jupiter Lighthouse, the island and St Lucia River.. It is nice to see those homes from the water side.

    I would be interested in your observations on Cuba at Christmas.

    Smooth sailing and Merry Christmas from your desert rat friends in Arizona.



    1. So lovely to think of you enjoying this area! If it weren’t for the bridges, we’d like it too. Too bad we never seem to be in the same place at the same time. Have a lovely Christmas. Linda and Chris


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