The Duchess speaks About the Ben Sawyer Swing Bridge

Posted on Posted in Sailing/Boating
Sunday, April 23, 2017
Charleston, South Carolina

So far, we had run aground pretty well every single day. On the top of the list was the Ben Sawyer Swing Bridge, just on the other side of Charleston, South Carolina.

We had filled up with Diesel in Charleston because we had no idea when the next fueling spot would show up.  A couple of days ago, going through Georgia, there had been no marina along the way. We had emptied our reserve canister into the fuel tank and had used up pretty much all of it by the time we finally found Isle of Hope Marina.

Entering Charleston from Elliott Cut, it sure did not look like what we remembered. Back in 1998, we had anchored in front of a bascule bridge with some other boats and dinghied over to some dock to go ashore. This time around, we could not even see the shoreline for all the huge marinas that had countless docks filled with boats.

“Carol, come on up, look at this.” Elmar called me.

As I came up and looked around, a great surprise awaited. No more sleeping harbour where we could throw the anchor. In front of us was a huge marina with an endless dock and on that dock was the biggest, most beautiful sailing yacht we had ever seen.

“Athena”, the winner of the Show Boats International Award for Best Sailing Yacht over 40 Meters for 2004.

It is a clipper-bowed, three-masted gaff rigged schooner, 90 m or 295 ft long, with a beam of 40 feet and draft of 19 feet. It is the 4th largest sailing yacht in the world, built in 2004 for Netscape and Silicon Graphics founder Jim Clark. Listed for sale with an asking price of US$ 95 million in 2012, it was reduced to US$ 75 million in 2014. You can charter her for US$450,000 per week.

Look at details on

All day long, there had been announcements on channel 16 to listen to Channel 22a about Charleston harbour, but we could never understand their mumbling. Now, as we were motoring down and across the harbour, we knew what the fuss was.

The whole area was awash with sail boats engaged in different races. Four racecourses were set up; 300 boats were out there, competing. Judges’ boats at each of the race buoys, spectators, harbour cruise boats, and… a huge, packed-to-the-gills container ship, fighting its way through little sail boats whose masts did not even reach the container ship’s most bottom port holes.

And at the end of the harbour, at the entrance to the ocean, Elmar pointed out: “There is Fort Sumpter, where the civil war started on April 12, 1861, with the Confederate States Army and the United States Army returning gunfire, but subsequently surrendering .”

Once across the harbour, we entered the ICW again and within a mile was the Ben Sawyer Swing Bridge. It only opens on the hour. We waited for the opening. While the bridge was swinging open, I thought it would be fun to film the event. There are not too many of those bridges around anymore.

As we motored through, I was busy with the camera, filming. All of a sudden – bang! The boat lurched, I lost my balance – we came to a sudden stop- right at the pivoting point of the bridge!

“Elmar, you hit something – hard.” That was no sand, flashed through my mind. Elmar accelerated, the boat moved, reluctantly. It didn’t want to. I looked at the depth sounder and saw  —   nothing,  no depth

“Elmar, we have no water! We are aground!”

We were right in the middle of a swinging bridge, whose wheel house is so high with so many windows that I was not sure he could see us.

“Elmar, we are stuck. Call the bridge!! He can’t see us!!”

“Don’t bother me! I am busy!”

“Call the bridge!!!”

“Don’t worry, he’ll see us.”

“For heaven’s sake, CALL THE BRIDGE.”


The boat lurched, decided to move just past the critical swinging point of the bridge and then it was aground for good.

I kept an anxious eye on the closing bridge, trying to bring my heart rate and blood pressure down. Once the bridge was safely closed and we had not been swiped into oblivion, I relaxed a little. Thank God for modern electronics. While I was still trying to get cell phone reception to look up the tide table for Charleston, Elmar pushed a few buttons on his Garmin GPS Chartplotter and there it was; the tide table.

“Well, we haven’t quite reached ebb yet, but then it will turn. We’ll just have to wait.”

The graph showed a huge mountain, with our present position at the very bottom, near ebb, then going up over five feet of tide in the next 6 hours. So that is what we had to deal with for the next few days.


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