Sails Full of Florida: Under the Sunshine Skyway Bridge
By Kris Hundley
From seven miles out on Tampa Bay in a morning haze, the Sunshine Skyway Bridge looks like a mirage, a smudge on the horizon.
But sail a few miles closer, till the towers of downtown St. Petersburg begin to recede, and the outline becomes distinct. Two massive concrete goal posts reach skyward, strung with yellow cables like cobwebs. Sun-blazed cars scurry like beetles across the arched span, rising to about 20 stories above the water before descending to the opposite shore.
More than 100,000 people cross the Sunshine Skyway bridge every day. Just a fraction of that number ever see it from below, from the cabins of cruise ships or the hulls of a fishing skiff.
We’re in a 42-foot sailboat heading west, and once we round the shallows off Pinellas Point, it’s a straight shot to the center channel.
But the Skyway Bridge is also the needle that huge freighters must thread as they move in and out of the busy commercial port of Tampa. This morning, a half-mile long, red-hulled bulk carrier is moving quickly toward the bridge at 12 knots, headed to Ecuador. Inbound is a tug pushing a 130-foot barge bound for the port’s oil tanks. We circle and watch as the carrier glides under the Skyway, blows five long, deep blasts on its horn, then passes the barge, port to port in the narrow shipping channel off Fort DeSoto Park. After the barge is propelled under the Skyway, white froth rippling off its bow, we take our turn.
No longer a mirage, the Skyway bridge suddenly blots out the sun, a vaulted concrete dome overhead. In the cool shadows, tiny fishing boats bob like corks off the pilings that protect the towering piers.
There’s a thrum of unseen traffic, a moment of calm, then we’re through. Headed west as the Sunshine Skyway recedes, then becomes just a smudge on the horizon.