Mobile Bay, an inlet off the Gulf of Mexico, rewards a wide range of interests, from nautical to natural to historical. Just west of the Fort Morgan Peninsula, the Bay's laid-back atmosphere is a stark contrast to the busy sands of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach.
The eastern shore of the Bay is home to the picturesque Grand Hotel Marriott Resort, Golf Club & Spa, located on over 550 acres of scenic property. Perennially ranked among the top luxury hotels in the southeast, the Grand is ideal for overnight trips.
The Mobile-Tensaw Delta comprises the north end of the Bay. Dubbed America's Amazon, it is home to over 120 species of fish, 68 species of reptiles, and at least 300 different birds. Exploring this intricate system of rivers and streams requires smaller craft and an adequate GPS. A better way to see this natural wonder is through a guided tour try 17 Turtles Outfitters or WildNative Delta Safaris.
The city of Mobile rests on the western shore of the Bay. Those with an interest in history should visit the Battleship Memorial Park and board the USS Alabama. In downtown Mobile, you can get a unique view of the city by land and sea on a duck boat tour. There are some great dining options downtown try The Noble South, Dumbwaiter, or NoJa. For dinner with a view, head to Dauphin's, which offers a panoramic look at the city and bay from the 34th floor of the RSA BankTrust Building. Also discover the true birthplace of Mardi Gras at the Carnival Museum in Mobile.
A visit to Mobile Bay provides something for everybody. You can go at your own pace, and enjoy the people, food and attractions that will make it a regular detour on your travels.
Where to Dine
NoJa (6 N. Jackson St.)One of the best fine dining spots in downtown Mobile, NoJa's sophisticated menu blends Mediterranean and Asian styles.
BLUEGILL Restaurant (3775 Battleship Parkway) Located on the water, BLUEGILL offers fresh seafood in a casual atmosphere and live music.
Wash House Restaurant (17111 Scenic Highway 98) This cozy restaurant has long been a local favorite in Baldwin County southern coastal cuisine at its finest.
Where To Dock
Dog River Marina (251-471-5449, dogrivermarina.com)
North of the ICW, this full-service marina and boatyard features a Ship's Store, courtesy car, 24-hour guard service and shore power. Dog River Marina can also accommodate vessels up to 150 feet and offers painting, yacht sales, electronics repairs, engine and generator repair, custom outfitting, prop repair, and fiberglass.
They come in all shapes and sizes, lengths and locations, ages and angles. For boaters, America’s coastal bridges are a fairly common sight, one that often goes unappreciated and undervalued, especially when most of us only get to see them up close from underneath — a unique perspective not often enjoyed by the general public.
Here are the stories of nine of our country’s famous bridges that span America’s frequently traveled waterways, along with fascinating facts that you can share as you sail under or drive over them.
Perhaps the world’s most recognized span, this 139-year-old granddaddy of bridges took about 13 years to construct, linking Manhattan to Brooklyn and comprising the East River’s first fixed crossing. As the longest suspension bridge in the world when it opened in 1883, its main span measures 1,595 feet and deck rises 127 feet above the river’s surface.
Its building was a true family affair, designed by John Roebling who died unexpectedly after an injury he sustained in the early stages of the bridge’s construction. He was succeeded by his son, Washington who suffered a paralyzing caseof caisson disease. Unable to supervise construction in person, he directed the work from his nearby apartment using a telescope overlooking the site, while his wife Emily delivered handwritten instruction notes to the engineers.
Located between Piers 4 & 5 in Brooklyn Bridge Park on the East River is the new ONE°15 Brooklyn Marina with 100 slips for vessels up to 300+ feet. Estuary, the marina’s flagship restaurant, features new American cuisine, and the park is home to numerous restaurants, shops and cafes.
Chesapeake Bay Bridge (aka the Bay Bridge)
Soaring above Chesapeake Bay, this dual-span bridge connects Maryland’s densely populated Western Shore with the more rural Eastern Shore, running between Annapolis and Stevensville. The original two-way span opened in 1952; a parallel span was added in 1973 to alleviate congestion. It was only marginally successful.
Especially in summer, the bridge is often referred to as “the world’s tallest traffic jam,” packed bumper-to-bumper nearly 200 feet above the Bay. Because of its height, narrow spans, low guardrails and frequent high winds, the Bay Bridge is cited by some as one of the scariest crossings in America. But to west-bound travels, the sun setting over its tall towers and curved steel girders is a spectacular sight.
Located at the eastern base of the bridge on Kent Island is Bay Bridge Marina, which accommodates boats up to 70 feet. Sandy Point State Park Marina awaits on the westside for day use and fueling. Several other marinas are nearby.
Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel (CBBT)
Hailed as one of the great engineering marvels in the world when it opened in 1964, the original CBBT required the construction of four artificial islands, two miles of causeway, nearly six miles of approach roads, two-mile-long tunnels, four high-level bridges and 12 miles of trestle. It crosses the Chesapeake Bay between Cape Charles on the Delmarva Peninsula and Virginia Beach on the mainland.
The CBBT crosses two key East Coast shipping lanes. High-level bridges were initially proposed to span these channels, but the U.S. Navy objected to a bridge over one of the channels, because a collapse could cut off the Norfolk Naval Station from the Atlantic.
Cape Charles Yacht Center and Cape Charles Harbor Marina on the west side of the Delmarva Peninsula put you in the middle of the quaint shoreside town of Cape Charles and its charming shops, restaurants and accommodations.
Florida Keys Seven Mile Bridge
Among the world’s longest bridges when it was built, Seven Mile Bridge connects Knight’s Key in the Middle Keys to Little Duck Key in the Lower Keys. Actually two bridges, the newer span is open to vehicular traffic; the older is only for pedestrians and cyclists.
The older bridge was constructed in the early 1900s as part of the Key West Extension of Henry Flagler’s Florida East Coast Railway. After the Keys section of the railroad was damaged by the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935, Flagler sold it to the U.S. government, which convert edit to automobile use. Unsupported sections were added in 1935 to widen it for vehicular traffic, and the railroad tracks were recycled, painted white and used as guardrails.
Near the center, the bridge rises, providing a 65-foot clearance for boat passage in Moser Channel on the ICW. The remainder of the bridge is considerably closer to the water’s surface. Several marinas are on the Marathon end of the bridge.
Golden Gate Bridge
Named one of the Wonders of the Modern World by American Society of Civil Engineers, the 1.7-mile bridge was the world’s longest and tallest suspension bridge when it opened in 1937. Originally designed by engineer Joseph Strauss in 1917, the final design was conceived by Leon Moisseiff, engineer of New York City’s Manhattan Bridge.
The relatively unknown residential architect Irving Morrow designed many of the bridge’s Art Deco features, but his most famous contribution was its unique color, international orange. Others preferred that it was painted aluminum, dull gray, and the U.S. Navy suggested black and yellow stripes to ensure visibility by passing ships.
The water under the bridge is often turbulent, given the clash of the silt-heavy Bay waters and the cold Pacific Ocean currents. Consequently, recreational and commercial traffic are carefully monitored and regulated. Looking to dock and dine nearby? Try the north end of the bridge. Le Garage at Schoonmaker Point Marina in Sausalito serves innovative French cuisine, and at the casual eatery, Fish, place an order at the counter and sit at one of the picnic tables overlooking Clipper Yacht Harbor.
The engineering marvel often called “Mighty Mac” is the longest suspension bridge with two towers between anchorages in the Western Hemisphere, with a shoreline-to-shoreline length of five miles. Opened in 1957, it took three and a half years to build, because Michigan’s harsh winters limited construction to the summer months. Engineers faced daunting challenges. The Great Lakes freeze during the winter, causing large icebergs to place enormous stress on the bridge’s base.
The total length of wire in the main cables is an amazing 42,000 miles, enough to wrap around the Earth nearly twice. Painting the bridge takes seven years; when workers finish, they immediately start again. Locals note that the current in the Straits of Mackinac frequently changes direction, and when combined with wind-blown waves, churn from passing freighters and rebound off the bridge pilings, boating under and near the bridge can be challenging.
St. Ignace on the Upper Peninsula has a full-service public marina with 136 slips and is close to shops, cafes and restaurants, like the Mackinac Grille & Patio Bar.
Sunshine Skyway Bridge
One of Florida’s most iconic sights, the current Sunshine Skyway Bridge opened in 1987 and is the second bridge of that name on this site. The striking cable-stayed span connects the St. Petersburg peninsula to Terra Ceia, just north of Bradenton. The original bridge opened in 1954. A similar structure was built parallel and to the west of it in 1969 to make it a four-lane bridge.
In 1980, the freighter MV Summit Venture collided with one of the bridge’s supports during a storm, causing the southbound span to collapse and sending vehicles into Tampa Bay. After the disaster, the northbound span was converted to carry one lane in either direction until the current bridge opened.
If you’re headed into Tampa Bay, Terra Ceia Preserve State Park is on your starboard side, a 2,000-acre mangrove forest and wetlands offering kayaking, fishing and nine miles of hiking trails. At the St. Pete end of the bridge, check out O’Neill’s Marina near Maximo Park.
Tacoma Narrows Bridge
The name Tacoma Narrows Bridge has been given to three different incarnations of this span connecting the city of Tacoma with the Kitsap Peninsula to the west. The original bridge opened in 1940 and spectacularly collapsed just four months later due to design flaws that resulted in what was termed “aeroelastic flutter.” It was replaced by the second Tacoma Narrows Bridge in 1950, which is still used for westbound traffic. A third parallel span opened in 2007 to carry eastbound traffic.
The collapse of the original bridge — nicknamed Galloping Gertie — had a major impact on the field of bridge aerodynamics, which influenced the design of all the world’s long-span bridges built since 1940. The newsreel footage of the collapse can still be viewed on YouTube today.
Just south of the bridge you find Narrows Marina with transient docks that offer 375 linear feet of three-hour complimentary guest side ties and 13 overnight moorage slips. The Narrows Brewing Company and Boathouse 19 restaurant are steps away.
This massive suspension bridge connecting Brooklyn and Staten Island opened in 1964 after decades of on-again off-again planning and five years of construction. Each tower is made up of more than a million tons of metal, one million bolts and three million rivets. The four main suspension cables are 36 inches in diameter, and each is composed of 26,108 wires totaling 142,520 miles in length. Due to thermal expansion of the steel cables, the upper roadway’s height is 12 feet lower in summer than in winter.
The double-decker bridge carries 13 lanes of traffic, seven on the upper level and six on the lower level. Both the upper and lower roadways are supported by trusses that stiffen the bridge against vertical, torsional and lateral pressure — thanks to lessons learned from the Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapse in 1940.
Fort Wadsworth, at the Staten Island end of the bridge, is one of the oldest military installations in America, built in the early 1800s to protect the Narrows. In 1994, the U.S. Navy turned Fort Wadsworth over to the National Park Service.
In Marinalife's spring issue we explored the wonderful restaurant offerings along the Connecticut shore of Long Island Sound (LIS). Of course, the Sound has correspond-ingly delicious and tempting culinary delights along the New York side as well. In this issue, we will explore them as we make our way from the eastern end of LIS where it joins with The Race and Block Island Sound to its western end approaching New York City. The following destinations offer a sampling of the many fabulous restaurants on Long Island. We also hope they introduce you to the quaint and historic maritime villages that also abound.
East to West on the Long Island, New York Shore
At the Eastern end of Long Island Sound to the south lies Gardiners Bay between the two forks of Eastern Long Island. Many great restaurant options await you here, including Claudio’s in Greenport, Il Capuccino in Sag Harbor, and Inlet Seafood in Montauk.
Located at Danfords Hotel, Marina & Spa, the eatery serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. You can find this charming spot on the waterfront near historic Port Jefferson Village and enjoy the delicious results of its “farm to table” concept.
This is where the locals go in Port Jeff Village. The menu is extensive and eclectic, from Mediterranean to Greek and seafood to waffles and even fondue. Come for breakfast, lunch and dinner to enjoy indoor and outdoor dining.
Visit this great family dining spot located just a five-minute walk from the Port Jeff Ferry. Find your favorite among 30+ beers on tap including local craft brews. Guests like the energetic American tavern vibe with some twists on the usual pub fare and seafood.
Visit this Port Jeff institution since 1995 that offers fresh and varied dishes. PJ’s supports local commercial fishermen and diggers to provide top quality fish and seafood. Large dining room and sports bar feature plasma TVs with a casual and friendly vibe. It’s very popular; reservations suggested.
The historic Three Village Inn’s elegant eatery offers refined French cuisine in a casual and comfortable setting. Savor French bistro classics with American comfort foods, as well as fresh-meets-French, farm-to-table prix fixe.
Located at Brittania Yachting Center, The Whales Tale reflects the eclectic nautical vibe of the Northport area. They offer craft beers and local seafood such as fish tacos, soft shell crab and other uniquely prepared dishes. Laid back indoor and outdoor seating available.
Stroll into this unassuming little bar near the waterfront to discover continental fare and a bargain prix fixe brunch (try the crab benedict and a Bloody Mary). Savor the seafood, steaks and pasta, as well as comfort foods for the kids. Choose indoor or patio dining.
Treat yourself to New American cuisine with an elegant, modern and chic ambiance. The classy setting with 1850s woodwork and heated patio offers pre-theater dining steps away from Long Island’s only year-round Broadway music hall, The John W Engeman Theater.
Homemade blintzes, pancakes and burgers star at this vintage railroad car diner for breakfast and lunch. Family run for over 50 years, their friendly service and homemade classic food are featured with a nod to updates like cold brew coffee and stuffed crab.
This classic northern Italian eatery with Tuscan-style decor offers a waterfront view, patio dining and late-night dancing. Run by an Italian family that values old world charm and fine dining that showcases seafood. Great location for lunch and dinner groups.
Panoramic views of the sound draw fans to this upscale seafood venue in Bayville with beachfront seating. For years, the historical centerpiece in the town has served seafood from the local catch, sushi, baked stuffed clams, and homemade soups to the locals and visitors. Spectacular views.
Festive locale on the water with beautiful views of Manhasset Bay Marina and historic Port Washington. The kitchen favors seafood and contemporary American cuisine. An outdoor tiki bar features food, tropical cocktails, live music and dancing. The new boat-side service sends a waiter to your boat who serves you on board.
Have fun at this iconic seafood spot dating to 1905 with deck seating and bay view, plus an oyster bar, large selection of seafood, weekly bands, mahogany bar, and Saturday and Sunday brunch. Plenty of boat parking (cars, too).
Take a seat at the roomy gourmet deli featuring breakfast, sandwiches and pita pizzas, plus big windows with waterfront views. Sample a unique selection of Mediterranean hot and cold appetizers, salads, dips, entrees and pastries. Freshly prepared sandwiches and wraps are popular.
Route planning can sometimes be more about what you choose to miss rather than what you include. Time in country can be surprisingly short for many cruisers, as seasonal weather requires you to plot a destination and move toward it on a relatively strict timeframe. Often you leave little room for detours and deviations. If a country isn’t on your track, it is left in your wake forever.
The problem is, unplanned destinations often crop up and fitting them in can become a priority. Colombia was never a name on our cruising destinations list until we arrived in the Southern Caribbean, but the closer we got to South America the more frequently the name Cartagena cropped up. At the time our focus was on transiting the Panama Canal and cruising the remote Pacific Islands, so detouring to a big city didn’t appeal. However, we were going from low-key islands in the Atlantic to low-key islands in the Pacific, so an injection of high-speed would be a nice change of pace. With a large, sheltered bay, busy metropolitan city, UNESCO World Heritage Site and the vivacious Latin culture, Colombia was our unexpected add-on.
As the date for our transit to Colombia neared, rumors started to spread concern. We heard reports of strong winds, poor anchorages and crime off the north coast of Colombia, as reasons to avoid the country. The winds that funnel around the coast create a wind acceleration zone, resulting in high winds and steep seas. Would we be driving our boat Aeta into a chaotic washing machine? Colombia has a history of violent crime. Would we lose everything not padlocked to the deck or hidden on our bodies? Everyone spoke of rough anchorages and the need to stay in marinas. Could our budget survive?
The more we heard of Colombia, however, the more the sense of adventure outweighed calls for caution. As sailors, how could we not be drawn to a city steeped in piracy, conquest and gold? As travelers, how could we not fall under the spell of a vibrant city thriving behind old, fortified walls? Plus, we’d get a break from our lazy sun-drenched Caribbean beach days to drink “aquadentes” under the twinkling lights strung above Cartagena’s rooftop bars and dance until dawn in the city’s famous salsa clubs. We re-drew the travel plan for the season and decided to sail for Cartagena.
The Old Amid the New
Cartagena’s dramatic high-rise skyline rose up on the horizon as we closed our two-day passage from Bonaire to Colombia, giving our first indication of the different pace that lay ahead of us. As we entered through the eastern entrance to Bocagrande, our echo-sounder bounced from 10 to 3 meters, registering an underwater breakwater that was built in the mid-1700s to close off the northern entrance to the bay and force access to Cartegena by sea past the heavily fortified southern entrance.
Old military forts that once protected the Spanish from foreign invaders now stood idle, welcoming inbound traffic from all over the world. Today, Cartagena is Colombia’s main container port and processes around 1,600 vessels each year, including container ships, cruise ships, bulk carriers and the odd cruising yacht. The cannons that point seaward are no longer a threat to foreign interest.
Sailing past these 500-year-old fortifications is a reminder that much of Cartagena’s past is deeply woven into its present. Old forts stand beside modern skyscrapers that line the shoreline of Playa de Bocagrande, Cartagena’s version of Miami Beach. Empty turrets stand next to busy modern housing complexes and sections of fortress break way to streets and pedestrian walkways. La Ciudad Amurallada, Cartagena’s historic walled city, is the most well-preserved and complete fortification in South America. As in the past, horse and cart roll down old cobblestone streets; however, they are now interrupted by lengthy traffic jams.
Perfectly preserved colonial architecture has been repurposed into swanky cafés, upmarket restaurants, local residences and boutique shops. The 11 kilometers of old city wall are a unique feature, as you can circumnavigate the city by walking on top of them. The old, exposed brick covered in beautifully painted graffiti and covered in brightly blooming jacaranda is a perfect example of how the past has been woven into the present, creating one of the most beautiful cities in the world.
We enjoyed every minute of our time in Cartagena. We wandered through San Felipe de Barajas Castle and learned about the constant pirate assaults and colonial invasions, then strolled through the convent and chapel of La Candelaria de la Popa, a beautiful church that sits atop the city’s highest hilltop, Mount Popa. We walked throughout the old walled city a dozen times, seeing popular landmarks from statues of Simón Bolivar and India Catalina that stand in central plazas to gold museums, theater houses, slave quarters and bull rings held within beautiful colonial buildings. We found a dozen or so Spanish colonial-style churches and cathedrals spread throughout the city.
When we were done sightseeing, we soaked up the colorful Colombian environment. We relaxed in street side cafés, listened to buskers strumming local tunes, window-shopped outside upmarket designer boutiques, ate scrumptious local chow in hole-in-the-wall restaurants and gazed at the provocative murals and graffiti that are displayed throughout the city.
While ambling through backstreets and staring at magnificent street art, I remembered the list of reasons not to come to Cartagena, and crime topped the list. When everything around me left me buzzing with delight, I wondered what the negative comments were about.
Little Reason for Concern
After gaining first-hand experience, we saw that many of the streets considered too dangerous 20 years ago are now popular hangout spots filled with funky cafes and swanky bars, trendy artisan shops and local art galleries. Rough turned bohemian, and the historically volatile neighborhoods had transformed into a hip, artistic quarter that drew international visitors by the thousands. While I was wary of pickpockets, I had no cause for concern regarding serious crime.
Poor anchorages and restrictions to marinas were also mentioned, but we stayed just outside the Club Nautico de Cartagena marina with our anchor buried deep in the mud. The only rough movement we experienced was created by daily tour boats rushing past us and stirring up significant chop. If you do Cartagena right as a busy tourist, daytime discomfort is irrelevant. By the time you return to your slip, tour boats are tucked in their berths and the peaceful quiet of a flat, calm anchorage surrounded by a city full of sparkling lights presents a view no fancy hotel could match.
Regarding caution with strong winds, the place of greatest intensity is the water between Punta Gallinas and Cabo Augusta. Approach the area with a good forecast, but it requires nothing more than standard good seamanship. The winds can be strong, and the swell can be large, but with a proper forecast you need not avoid the north coast of Colombia. We enjoyed remote, peaceful bays of the Tayrona National Park and the bustle of our anchorage in Cartagena’s busy port, but planned our movement between them with a quick weather check. With time and prudence, entry into the country doesn’t warrant precautions out of the norm.
After experiencing Colombia firsthand, we start a new rumor — Cartagena is a fantastic cruising destination. The winds are manageable, safe anchorages are plentiful and serious crime is a carryover from a bygone era. Take your time, check your weather, trust your anchor and go have big city fun. I came to Cartagena uncertain about what lay ahead, but in a matter of days I’d fallen for its charm. I could stay in the area for weeks, months, even years. Given a sturdy A/C unit, I could stay indefinitely.
The people are friendly, the topography varied, the cruising options abundant. The city is a living history, blending the old and the new, the past and the present. It is radiant, vibrant and absorbing.
Adding Colombia to our itinerary was a fantastic diversion, and if it lays as a detour from your route, do yourself a favor: rewrite the plan. Make sure you don’t look back and see it left behind in your wake. A dog-leg isn’t a detour when it holds all that Cartagena offers. It is the destination.