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Little gidding Goes to Washington -

 July 11, 2002 

The bridge at Alexandria, VA. Are you sure that's 50 feet high?

A few months ago, we came up with the idea of going to Washington, DC, for July 4th. What better place to view Independence Day festivities than the nation's capital? We were planning on hauling the boat at a yard near the mouth of the Potomac later in the summer anyway. A little detour up the river beforehand seemed reasonable. "It's only about four inches away on this chart," Eileen said.

David squinted at the chart. "That's a small scale chart," He replied. "DC looks like it's actually about 100 miles upriver, after you take into account all the wiggles. And then there's the matter of the bridge at Alexandria."

According to our charts and guides, the Woodrow Wilson bridge has a vertical clearance of 50 feet above mean high water and only opens when car traffic is light. Typically, this is around 2:00 am after you've phoned in advance to request an opening. Now, it just so happens that the top of our mast is about 50 feet above water level, with a bunch of rather fragile (and expensive) stuff sticking up another couple of feet beyond that. With a tidal range of 3 feet, we figured we could squeak under at low water without losing any antennas, lights or wind instruments. Maybe.

We didn't like the idea of waiting around in the wee hours of the morning for the bridge to open, so we consulted the tide tables and decided we'd get there for low water on July 3rd at 9:42 am. Everything more or less worked out on schedule, mainly because we have an auxiliary engine in our boat. If we had relied on our sails, we'd still be out there. There was hardly a breath of wind during the three days we motored up the Potomac.

At 9:41 am on July 3rd, we were about two boat lengths away from the bridge. It was looking very low and our mast was looking very high. We slowed down. Eileen asked, for the twenty-seventh time, whether we had the date and time right. "Do they correct for daylight savings in the tide tables?" she wondered. David perspired.

At 9:43 am on July 3rd, the bridge was behind us, the mast was intact above us, and the Washington Monument was poking through the haze in front of us. The next evening, we sat on the foredeck of "Little Gidding" in Washington Channel, surrounded by a flotilla of other anchored boats. The night sky was filled with bursting fireworks. We were glad we had made the trip.

"There's so much to see in Washington," Eileen said. "How long do you think we should stay?" "Maybe a long time," David mused. "In planning this trip, we never checked the tide tables for when it was going to be low water AFTER July 4th."

Cheers, David & Eileen