Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Dismal Swamp

Days on cruise: 36

Miles today: 24.0

Travel Time: 4 hrs 12 mins

Total Odometer:  1,033 statute miles



The name of this post in no way reflects our mood. That is, in fact, the swamp’s name. But it certainly seems it might reflect the mood of the folks who first built this canal!


We left Elizabeth City, N.C. before 8am to catch the scheduled opening of a 12-foot high bridge. The kind bridge tender opened it as soon as we arrived, not making us wait for the official opening.



The serpentine Pasquotank River looks different north of Elizabeth City than the southern portion coming up from Albemarle Sound yesterday: almost completely rural, increasingly narrow with every passing mile, and nothing straight about it! It sounded like we were traveling through an aviary as we quietly ticked off the miles at about 5 mph, though we actually saw few birds. There was always plenty of water beneath the hull, and no sand shoals or ocean inlets, no wind, nothing to cause any stress.


We arrived at the South Mills Lock shortly before the scheduled 11am opening, our first Lock!  We re-read some notes we’d taken regarding how to handle passage through a lock, called the lockmaster on our VHF radio, attached locking lines and fenders to hold us safely and securely against the wall, and entered our first lock.


While it was interesting, it was also anti-climactic, as we’ve heard lots of people express fear about the chaos of traveling through locks. Maybe it was because there was only one other boat besides us. Or because the lock only lifted us to water that was 8 feet higher. Or because the lockmaster was friendly and helpful in setting our bow and stern lines.P1000491


It took about 20 minutes for the lock to fill and raise us to the next level, then the doors opened and off we went, into The Dismal Swamp.


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This 22-mile Canal, in its’ first incarnation, was an investment idea designed to sell timber and improve the transportation of goods between Virginia and North Carolina, and George Washington was one of the original investors. Slaves dug the canal by hand over 12 years, and it opened in 1805. Its’ life as a busy transportation corridor had many ups and downs over the ensuing years, and in 1929 the U.S. government bought it for $500,000. Designated a National Historical Landmark, it’s the only facility in the country that greets folks at a Visitors Center who arrive by both highway and historic waterway. About 2,000 boats travel the Canal each year, and 600,000 folks arrive by automobile.


Today the waterway is kept at a controlled depth of about 10 feet between the locks at each end, and as warned, we hit one submerged deadhead (log), though we were traveling at idle speed, and no damage was done. We called in the location of the deadhead anyway so it can be removed by the Corps of Engineers who maintain and manage the Canal.


The Dismal Swamp Visitors Center is only 4 miles up from the South Mills Lock, and we stopped to tie up at the free face dock for the night. There were a few scattered showers in the afternoon, but during a dry period we crossed the Canal to the State Park and walked the boardwalk through the Swamp. It was quiet and pretty.


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