East Coast Alerts

By Mel Neale

Causton Bluff Bridge, Mile 579.9 Update:

Today, April 29, 2005, I spoke again with Mike Lieberum, Bridge management Specialist, USCG 7th District Bridge Branch, in regard to the Causton Bluff Bridge, Mile 579.9 in the Thunderbolt area of the Georgia ICW.

Mr. Lieberum had previously advised us that because of the importance of this bridge to ICW traffic, the county that owns the bridge would expedite the repair process by reducing the usual 30-day bid period for contractors to 5 days. By the end of this week the bids will be in. He further explained that the first step in repair would be to establish one-leaf operation. He said that the problem with the bridge is that, due to the damage by the truck, the emergency brake is stuck and the pins that hold the bridge down have been banged into place and cannot be removed. He pointed out that it is a useless bridge now, being closed to both vehicular and vessel traffic. The Causton Bluff Bridge is old, he noted, and replacement parts are not available. Parts for newer bridges will have to be modified to fit this bridge. There should be more information available by the middle of next week as to the possible date for beginning single leaf operation. Permanent repair will be made later.

Most sailboats and many larger powerboats are faced with the dilemma now of how to best get around the closed bridge. It is important to have the very latest charts and navigational updates, and calm stable weather and calm seas if you are using ocean inlets. Consider, for example, ordering Print on Demand OceanGrafix Charts from Bluewater Books and Charts at www.bluewaterweb.com or by phone at 800.942.2583.
The closest exit/entry from the ocean to the ICW to the north of the Causton Bluff Bridge is the Savannah River at Tybee Roads. This is a big ship channel with strong currents, but safe in most conditions if you are in the channel. Its biggest drawback is its distance from the ICW (13.5 nm from the Tybee sea buoy). Plan your trip here to coincide with fair currents in both your exit and entry inlet, if possible, and calm stable weather. Alternative unimproved inlets to the north are at Calibogue Sound and Port Royal Sound.

The closest exit/entry to the south is at the Wilmington River via Wassaw Sound. This is reported at approximately 7nm from its sea buoy to the ICW. This is an unimproved inlet, in its natural state, not dredged or jettied. We used it about five years ago. My 2004 C-Map Chart plotter shows the sea buoy (R “W2) and the next charted buoy at G can “9”. My paper chart notes that a series of floating markers are not charted and moved as needed. This was the case when we entered. We located the markers visually and with radar, with considerable difficulty. This inlet requires calm stable weather, local knowledge, preferably high tide and a fair current.

The next unimproved inlet to the south is at the Ogeechee River, via Ossabaw Sound. Some boaters are considering using it to bypass the Causton Bluff Bridge. It is reported at approximately 9nm from its sea buoy to the ICW. We have avoided this inlet, for good reason. Each time we pass through Hells Gate on Racoon Key in the ICW we look seaward to try to locate the markers to the ocean. They are very difficult to see. My 2004 C-Map indicates that entrance channel here is marked with a R/W sea buoy “OS”, and two channels, one to the north and one to the south of Racoon Key. They are marked with both floating aids and a few beacons. The south channel is the preferred channel according to the bifurcation buoy shown on the C-Map. Some of the markers are around two miles apart, and could be difficult to identify visually. The two channels are separated for a good distance to the east by mudflats that show as being bare at low tide. At high tide they would be covered and would appear as being open water. This could cause some confusion as to which markers are for which channel. Currents here are strong, and tidal range is around 8 ft. Extreme caution, calm stable weather, and local knowledge would be needed here.

The next unimproved inlet to the south is at St.Catherines Sound. It is reported at approximately 7nm from its sea buoy to the ICW. We have used this inlet twice, both times in 2003. Our 2004 C-Map shows the sea buoy R/W “STC”, followed by a series of floating aids marking the channel. We had no problem here with our 5 ft draft at mid tide. However, a powerboater using this inlet in 2004 reported grounding in the channel with a 6.5 ft draft at extreme lunar low tide. With good visibility, we found that the markers were spaced so that we were able find them with binoculars, with some difficulty at times. Most of the entrance channel was very deep. Caution, calm stable weather, local knowledge, GPS and radar are also recommended here as with the other inlets.

St. Simons Sound is the closest improved (dredged, jettied) big ship inlet to the south of the Causton Bluff Bridge. The distance from the St. Simons sea buoy to the Savannah River sea buoy is reported at approximately 61.5nm. It is reported at around 9nm from the ICW to the St Simons sea buoy.

Note that GPS positions for aids to navigation in these inlets will be wrong if the aids have been moved since the positions were recorded. Because of shifting shoals, it isn’t unusual for the aids to be moved.

We’ll keep you updated on the bridge situation. Meanwhile, if you must go outside to bypass it, be careful and safe. The unimproved inlets can be very confusing, have many shoals even out in the ocean past the beaches, and require extreme caution and the latest navigational information.

This information is not to be used for navigation. Consult the latest charts and Local Notices to Mariners and use prudent seamanship. Any person or entity that uses this information in any way, as a condition of that use, agrees to waive and does waive any and all claims which may arise from that use.

Copyright 2004-2005 Tom Neale