Part II---do bridges have personalities?

Seemed so, as we navigated the Ship Canal from Lake Union to Puget Sound. The first of the three on that stretch is the Fremont Bridge; we gave a good loud long/short horn signal, came up close and waited. No answering signal. Waited, waited…waited and waited some more. After 15 minutes the bells went off, gates came down, and we got a lift. Why so long? Mid-day auto traffic wasn’t heavy. The Fremont bridge: either oblivious, or obtuse.

Half a mile farther at the Ballard Bridge, we repeated the process, got close and gave the hoooooonk  honk---and got a honked response, and an immediate opening. A laudable bridge! Enthusiastic, eager to please.

Going down through the Locks, we could see the Burlington Northern railroad bridge was open. But as we exited the chamber, it had closed. Motored up, sounded the signal, waited. Even longer than at Fremont, but this made sense; the operator has to monitor when the next train will arrive. If one came when the bridge was open, and it ran off the rails into the Canal, it would be inconvenient. Eventually a train---a very long train---rumbled up, passed, disappeared. The bridge stayed down. As we continued waiting, we entertained ourselves by maneuvering against the current to keep from being swept down into the closed span.

There’d been no sign of life in the tower since our arrival, and eventually I ignored policy and called on VHF 13. No radio answer, but we got a signal---five shorts on the electronic horn, meaning: look out! Not too long later, another train passed and we got our lift. Personality of the Burlington Northern Bridge: cautious, businesslike.

But also, as I discovered later after a close reading of the regs, a little obtuse. Once an operator hears a boat signal, they are supposed to give a response. Neither Fremont or BN did. But Fremont gets a little slack---an operator has the option, it turns out, to wait until traffic eases before opening. However, ten minutes is the limit for such waits, clearly exceeded in this case.

Clearly, though, one is grateful for any kind of opening. Thanks to all three! But the Ballard Bridge rocks.

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