Our trip today takes us from the Alligator river to the Dismal Swamp. Note to North Carolina: Spend some money on a PR dude/dudette and see if you can come up with more inviting names.
Number of Locks: 1
Number of swing/lift bridges: 2
Number of logs hit in river: 3
Number of trees on shore hit: 1
Number of snakes: 1
Number of RUSs: 0 1
We are once again up ridiculously early to head out. But we are not alone; there is a large sailboat behind us on the dock and they also want to get an early start. We once again have some south winds and we are running generally north. We are heading up the (not so many alligators in the) Alligator River for a short 3 miles, then into the Albermarle Sound for 12 miles. Slight left into the Pasquotank River and up to Elizabeth City. Then through a bascule bridge, farther up river to a lock (WOOO—ANOTHER LOCK!) and we will officially be in the Dismal Swamp. On the Dismal Canal. On a dismal day.
But before we get all the way there, we have to cross the Albermarle Sound. This is a large, shallow body of water that can get some icky (technical term there) when there are strong winds blowing. We are seeing 10-15 knots this morning, but all behind us. Waves, at least until we get to the Pasquotank River, are all behind us. We throw out the genoa and run across the sound in the morning. At least as much as we can. There are crab traps everywhere, so the morning is spent zigging and zagging between lines of traps. And getting wet, because the rain, absent when we aren’t moving, has returned.
We turn into the Pasquotank and now we are getting a bit broadside to the waves and our boat rocks. Jan is driving, dodging crab traps and keeping us pointed the correct direction while I throw out helpful hints/tips like “wow–it is really rocky, can you make the waves stop?” Or “are we there yet?” Or “watch out for the crab trap!!!” Or “WE ARE ALL GOING TO DIE!!!” Jan does not appear to be in a place where she can be receptive to some unsolicited (though IMHO, constructive and valuable) advice, so I head down below to escape near certain death.
We approach Elizabeth City by noon(ish). The town is known for its welcome to boaters, its free docks and just being a generally nice place to stop and enjoy small town North Carolina. We, of course, ain’t stopping. We did look at the bulkheads in town as we passed by, but there wasn’t a lot of room at the inn. There is a town fair going on and looks like lots of people have stuck around to enjoy the time. We, on the other hand, are on a mission. We are going to get some miles in today and looking at our schedule, see if we can make it back to the Chesapeake by early next week. So MUSH you doggies, MUSH!
We pass through the bascule bridge and start making our way to the first of two locks on the dismal canal. The locks are on a fixed schedule. They open four times a day (0830, 1100, 1330 and 1530). We aren’t going to make the 1330 opening, so we turn one engine off and putter slowly towards the lock. The scenery is gorgeous. Trees and greenery grows right up to and over the water. The river, which was miles wide when we entered just two hours ago, is now a quarter mile across and getting smaller. The water? Not gorgeous. Brown. We see exactly two boats between Elizabeth City and the lock. First was a run about with four people aboard enjoying a lovely Saturday afternoon. The second was a sailboat, moving southwards on the river having just locked through on the 1330 opening. The canal is narrow, our boat is wide, and we both moved as far over as we could. The canal is reported to be six feet deep from bank to bank, but I don’t really want to test that AND there are some logs/branches and other unidentified things sticking into the water from shore which constrains how far we can move aside. But we move.
And a short aside.
We have a lot of experience on rivers moving out of the way of boats, both large and small. This isn’t new. BUT. When we were on the rivers, we didn’t have a mast above our heads. The top of our boat was just above the top of my head, so as I looked out on the river, I could see if we were going to hit anything in the air. That was then. NOW we have a 40 foot stick on the top of our boat, and it is held to our boat by two cables that connect the top of the mast to both sides of our boats. To which I really should have paid more attention.
As our two sailboats approach each other (at a whopping 3mph), we wave at each other. Then the other boat continues to wave. And his wave is more ‘pointy.’ And the pointy is above us. Weird wave. Then I can see his lips form the word ‘tree’ and my eyes look up just in time to see the port side shroud knock into a branch on an overhanging tree and shower our deck in leaves and small branches. You don’t see that every day!! Note to self…pay more attention to that thing ABOVE the deck.
Even with our slow speed, we still arrive at the lock almost 30 minutes early. The lock entrance is just after a small turn in the river and the river is cut in half by markers showing where a shoal has begun to build. We have a nice wind blowing us towards the lock, or at least is was nice as long as we weren’t trying to stop. Now that nice wind is a pain in the a$$. We attempt to tie off to some dolphins that are immediately in front of the lock door, but wave that off after three attempts. We turn the boat around and putter into the winds until 3:30, then turn and enter the lock. Second to last lock for this trip.
We are through in 30 minutes. One dude is working the lock and he has a single speed. It isn’t fast. We were thinking that maybe the dismal swamp dudes should take a field trip to Canada to see locking done right… Out of the lock, under a drawbridge and we are on our way. We are the only boat there; heck, we are the only boat in sight. Which is definitely a plus because the canal is even more narrow here than in the river. We fill the middle and putter along in placid, dirty brown water, occasionally bumping into a log just under the surface of the water. It is 5 miles to the Dismal Swamp welcome center and they have a wall that you can tie to. And if there are a ton of boats, you can (and should) raft up with other boats. Fortunately when the visitors center comes in sight and there is one boat at the dock–plenty of space for us for the night. Naturally the rain starts to pour as we approach the dock. AJ headed up front, sans rain coat, because he is a preteen and doesn’t need any stinking raincoat. Jan remains in back under the solar panels until the last possible minute the jumps out to put the line around a cleat on the dock. And still gets soaking wet. We tie off and five minutes later, the rain stops.
We are in a park complete with hiking trails and flush bathrooms. Lucky gets some quality forest time, we all get quality porcelain time and that is why we rate this a top 10 stop along the route! We watch the movie “The Princess Bride” only so we can see them go through the fire swamp and commiserate. The remainder of the night is filled with quotes from the movies (“You killed my father, prepare to die,” “have fun storming the castle,” and “inconceivable!” are the crowd favorites). We are 15 miles from the next lock, about three hours, so we will get to sleep in tomorrow. Then we will finish the Dismal Swamp and will be back in the Chesapeake Bay once again.
1Rodents of unusual size (Princess Bride)