Cheers to the Coast Guard!

I was concerned when our friends said they were delayed trying to get back to Discovery Bay from DYC a week ago because the Orwood Railroad Bridge over Old River broke down.

BACKGROUND: When we bought in Discovery Bay, we knew that the Santa Fe Railroad line cuts off Discovery Bay and the other marinas and communities at the south end of the Delta) and the rest of the Delta, to Sacramento, the San Francisco Bay and out to the Pacific. There are only two waterways from the very south Delta to the north: Old River and Middle River. Between the two is the Sante Fe RR trestle. There are redundant RR bridges, one at Old River and one at Middle River. The Old River bridge, called the Orwood RR Bridge, typically operates 24×7. Before buying property in Discovery Bay, understood that Discovery Bay was protected by being ever cut off from being able to go to/from the Delta because if the Orwood Railroad Bridge over Old River ever broke down, the alternate Middle River RR bridge would be put into 24×7 operations. Therefore, boaters from Discovery Bay and other areas in the South that are too high to fit under the closed RR bridges, would always be assured that if they took their boats out, they would be able to get home.

Map of the location of the two railroad bridges (the Orwood RR Bridge over Old River and the Alternate RR Bridge over Middle River). The Santa Fe line that could, without bridges, cut off boater access between Discovery Bay and the South Delta and the rest of the Delta and to the Pacific.

Photo of a boat coming through the Orwood RR Bridge

THEN RECENTLY: I saw emails from our Discovery Bay Yacht Club (DBYC) Fleet Captain about upcoming maintenance work on the Orwood RR Bridge (probably due to the breakdown a few days prior). The fleet captains were checking to see if the maintenance shutdowns would affect any cruise-outs or people going to/from their outings.

I’d always understood that the Alternate Middle River RR Bridge was supposed to go into 24×7 operation whenever the Orwood RR Bridge went down so we had guaranteed 24×7 access in and out of Discovery Bay. However, few years ago when the Orwood RR Bridge went down, I called the US Coast Guard Bridge Chief who was very nice but informed me that the alternate bridge had had a fire and wasn’t operable. That gave me angst. I worried that we may be out on an outing with kids and grandkids and not be able to get the boat home on Sunday night. We would need to find a marina north of the bridge that we could arrange to leave the boat at. That can be difficult if you are moving the boat when marinas may be already shut down. Then finding an Uber driver willing to come to an out-of-the-way location, preferably with two kid’s child seats. With six or more of us, that’s two Ubers and they are not very plentiful in the Delta. Or trying to find a willing friend or neighbor. Not a disaster in the scheme of things, but does make boating a less pleasant outing.

My bigger fear was if there was no real commitment to ever fixing the alternative, then if there was a massive breakdown, did Discovery Bay and other south Delta boaters face the possibility of being cut off from the Delta for long periods of time? If that was the case, that would be a real hit on our home values and economy. But the Bridge Chief said they were going to repair it so I figured it was a short-term issue.

So now, years later, the issue came up again and it didn’t seem the Alternate Bridge had swung into operation. I was surprised. I reached out to the Bridge Chief again. What a prompt, nice email I received in return! I was impressed. He even apologized if the prior breakdown had given boaters issues. The USCG are the boater’s friend.

I’m happy to report that the Alternate RR Bridge is available. I didn’t know it, but the Bridge Chief said it’s always available with 12-hour notification. Whew! That is a relief. In addition, the Coast Guard has committed to open the alternate on demand if Orwood is down and inform Discovery Bay boaters about any outages or planned maintenance. How nice.

My real estate friend said she’d get that information spread to other agents. It’s a good selling point for Discovery Bay homes – that the US Coast Guard has a commitment to supporting boaters going in and out of our area.

This isn’t the first time I’ve been impressed with the RR Bridge operations. I think, and I’ve heard others agree, that the Bridge Operators are the nicest we’ve encountered anywhere in the Delta. They are always so polite, treat boaters with respect, and really seem to care about our convenience. Some other bridges are known for operators who grumble when they are requested for a bridge opening (even though that’s their job). But the RR Bridge operators are always apologetic if a train is coming and they need to make a boater wait. Whereas there’s no complaint from boaters – we certainly understand they can’t be opening the bridge when a speeding Amtrak is coming through.

A cute story about the Bridge Operators.

About ten years ago, our friend was selling his power boat to buy a sail boat (in preparation for one day sailing around the world. He and his wife are currently starting their eighth year of their circumnavigation journey). He was planning on keeping his new sail boat at Discovery Bay during the summer months, so we could anchor together at Mildred for weekend raft-outs.

Bringing his power boat back to Discovery Bay to sell it, Brian radioed the Orwood RR Bridge operator with a question: “Can your bridge accommodate a sail boat with a 70 foot mast?”

The bridge operator, with a proud voice answered, “Yes sir! My bridge can go ‘vertical’!” He sounded like he was beaming.

And it does. Whenever we’d take the boats out during the summer, Brian would radio, “Orwood Railroad Bridge. This is the vessel Persephone. We are a sail boat with a 70 foot mast. Can you take your bridge vertical?”

The bridge operator would respond, “Aye, aye Captain. Going vertical!”

That was always fun.

One day when we approached the bridge from the south, there were multiple maintenance personnel in bright orange vests, swarming over the partially opened bridge. Brian radioed the bridge operator requesting a vertical opening. But the operator replied, “I’m sorry, Captain. But we are doing some maintenance here. You will have to squeeze through.”

Brian did a little gasp, knowing the clearance was in no way sufficient for his mast. Immediately the bridge operator came back on and said, “Just kidding, Captain. Going vertical!” (I think the railroad bridge operators enjoy their work.)

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