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Missile Test Range

Above is a screen capture of our optimum route from Panama City, Florida on down to Tampa.  The route is defined by a blue line.  One might notice three things from this OpenCPN chart screen shot.  The first thing one might notice is there is a pink outlined area that starts just outside of Panama City.  The second would be that no such other pink defined area is shown anywhere else along either the Gulf of Mexico side or the Atlantic side of Florida or along the upper Gulf of Mexico coast; in fact, to date, we’ve never seen such a demarcation line on our nautical charts anywhere we’ve ever sailed.  And, thirdly, our optimum course shows we would have to transit the entire length of the demarcated area, right down the middle of it.

If we zoom into the area it looks like this (click on the pix to enlarge):


And, if enlarged further, we go to this (click on the pix to enlarge):


Yes, as can be seen, our optimum route to Tampa takes us from one end to the other, right through the middle, of a missile test range.  This is no joke!  When something like this shows up on the charts one had better do the research…so, we did.  The appropriate note for this chart can be found HERE …the “regulations” for this area are, emphasis mine:

(b) The regulations.
(1) The area will be used intermittently during daylight hours for a week or 10 days at a time. Firing will take place once or twice a day for periods ordinarily of not more than one hour. Advance notice of such firings will be published in local newspapers.
(2) During periods of firing, passage through the area will not be denied to cargo-carrying or passenger-carrying vessels or tows proceeding on established routes. In case any such vessel is within the danger zone, the officer in charge of firing operations will cause the cessation or postponement of fire until the vessel has cleared the portion of the danger area involved. The entire area involved will be under constant observation of both surface patrol vessels and air patrol planes prior to and during periods of firing and notice will be given to vessels and tows of intention to fire by buzzing low over the vessel, upon which signal vessels and tows shall proceed on their established course promptly and clear the area as soon as possible.
(3) All persons and vessels, except those identified in paragraph (b)(2) of this section, will be warned to leave the immediate danger area during firing periods by surface patrol craft. Upon being so warned, such persons and vessels shall clear the area immediately. Such periods normally will not exceed two hours.
Since we have been here, quite regularly modern fighter jets have flown back and forth, north to south towards this area.  It turns out that just outside of Panama City is Tyndall Air Force Base and the area is actively used routinely and regularly for target practice against drones by the most advanced fighter jets our nation deploys.
As it turns out and as we’ve been told, every morning at 5:00 AM and 7:00 AM, as well as during the day, on VHF Channel 16, announcements are made as to when the range will be “live” and the area closed.  It is not a small area, roughly 18.5 nm wide at the narrow north end, 34.6 nm on the south end, and 83.8 nm at it’s longest.  We’d prefer to go as our route line shows, right down the middle of it for that would be the shortest route for our next leg.  On the other hand, though we have a big and very strong yacht, we seriously doubt we can stand up to the F-22A Raptor.
Stay tuned…



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