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Are we going to hit the bridge?

by Mike

26 November 2013 • Sailing with a big ship under a bridge always brings excitement on the outer decks. Kids protect their ears in anticipation of the big bang. Will she pass?

Of course captains know the height restrictions of the bridges, and accidents are rather seldom. If it happens it is mostly related to a bad synchronization between ship and lifting bridge. On YouTube you can find some spectacular examples.

There is often a remarkable optical illusion, where you think the funnel is far too high to pass under the bridge. The effect is enhanced just by the rising noise of cars and trucks buzzing like bees over your head. Just when you are caught by the moment some naughty captains dare to blow the horn, which definitely guarantees some passenger jumps.

It is also nice to observe the souvenir photographers. Suddenly smart phones and tablets are pointed towards the bridge, and as the moment of optical impact approaches, stress seems on the rise, because it is so damn difficult to capture ship and bridge.

Over the years I’ve passed under quite a number of bridges. Some examples.

Last August we sailed from New York to Bermuda on Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Breakaway, and after leaving the Big Apple one of the first attractions was the Verrazano–Narrows Bridge. 

More recently I sailed from Bergen, Norway to Denmark on Fjord Line’s cruiseferry Stavangerfjord. The scenic route along the Norwegian Coast starts with two bridges near Bergen.

The funnel of Stavangerfjord might look a little different: indeed, she’s the first cruiseferry in the world powered by liquefied natural gas or LNG.

Bye bye Bergen

Another well-known bridge in Scandinavia is the Älvsborg Bridge linking the northern and southern part of the Swedish city of Gothenburg. When arriving with one of the big Stena Line ferries you have to be on the outer decks to enjoy the bridge moment, which is shortly before berthing.

The old Stena Germanica passes the Älvsborg BridgeThe new Stena Germanica with the bridge in the background

Scandinavia has more bridges. Two of them have changed the lives of many Danish and Swedish people. Take the Öresund Bridge, linking Malmö (Sweden) and Copenhagen (Denmark): this is truly a piece of architectural art. If you want to sail under that bridge, take the Finnlines ro-pax ferry between Travemünde and Malmö. This ferry is mainly for lorries, however they do take cars at a reasonable price. Do not expect luxury. Travel the way truckers do.

The second one is the Great Belt Bridge in Denmark. This 18km long bridge across Storebælt (Store = great) links the eastern and western parts of Denmark. That’s again a bridge you can pass by taking a ferry. Now we’re talking about Color Line, which brings you in great comfort from Kiel to Oslo. 

The magic moment, with Color Magic

Time to head for the south. My favourite bridge is the Ponte 25 de Abril in Lisbon. Last year more than half a million cruise passengers passed under the double rail-road bridge.

Véronique and I enjoyed the passage twice, first with the Azamara Quest, and then with Le Soléal.

Enthusiast passengers on Azamara QuestVéronique on the forward deck of Le Soléal

River cruise passengers might have to be more careful when sailing under a bridge. Sometimes the captain has to ask passengers to leave the sundeck, because there is simply not enough space. Most railings are foldable, and modern river cruise ships sometimes have telescopic navigation bridges. When they approach a bridge they just lower themselves down.

Down goes the captainAs the bridge has been passed the telescopic cockpit can go up again

If you think that navigating on rivers is boring, then you forgot about locks and bridges.

One of the 'Porte de Fier' lock-bridge combinations on the Danube, with spectators high above

Croisieurope’sVivaldi on the Danube in the summer of 2012. The picture shows the New Europe Bridge under construction. The bridge was opened last June (2013). It is a road and rail bridge between the cities of Vidin, Bulgaria and Calafat, Romania.

Even if often the marriage between ships and bridges seems to be perfect, it happens that bridges kill some ferry routes and cruise destinations. The most recent example was the Hardangerfjord Bridge in Norway, opened in August 2013. The bridge replaced the ferry connection between Brurvik and Brimnes.

The bridge is 30m longer than the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. Because of this bridge the lovely ports of Eidfjord and Ulvik can no longer be visited by ships such as Queen Victoria etc.

The Hardanger Fjord Bridge under construction in 2012