Calypso’s log shows that, in 1999, she moored at the Elizabeth City Public Docks. The real story is being instantly greeted by a man with a huge smile, Fred Fearing.
For the next several hours this, very spry 86 year old, told us of his adventures. From Baseball Great, James Augustus “Catfish” Hunter to aviation hero, Charles Lindbergh, he knew them all. But through the stories you could always hear his underlying love for Eastern North Carolina and to him, it’s pearl, Elizabeth City.
Legend has it that in 1983, Fred Fearing and Joe Kramer at an impromptu meeting, with 17 visiting boaters, added a little wine, a little cheese, and a rose for each lady aboard each boat and the Rose Buddies began. They became known, internationally, for their offer of a rose to any women arriving by boat to Elizabeth City. They coined the phrase, Harbor of Hospitality.
Although the original public docks remain, they have certainly seen the test of time. Along the waterfront has been added additional new and modern, and oh yes, still free dockage.
Away from the fetch of the Pasquotank (Pass-Qua-Tank) River we chose to travel another 7 miles to Goat Island, to ride out the passing of yet another weather front.
Friday morning, we were underway, traveling the 10 miles further up river, to South Mills. This section of the meandering river reminds us of so many other secluded sections of the waterway like The Waccamaw, in SC, and the lower St. John’s River, in Fl.
At South Mills Lock, boats rise eight feet into the canal fed by the 3,142 acres of Lake Drummond. Locks at both ends of a nearly 30 mile Canal, originally surveyed by George Washington, today spill water after a very wet winter.
Before entering the lock, we see first hand some of the restoration work to the Dismal Swamp.
The Swamp was closed for nearly two years when Hurricane Matthew hit in 2016. Matthew brought in several feet of water. Leaving it’s mark on the trees as the Swamp overflowed it’s banks covering Old Highway 17.
Due to the cost of repairs to the locks and debris removal, the Dismal Swamp Canal was destined to be closed forever. Like hundreds of other great American canal systems over the past decade it was on “The Chopping Block”, until an intense grassroots movement arose.
During the period for public input, Congress received over 35,000 letters and countless phone calls from constituents urging them not to close the canal.
Like the song says, “Good guys win every onece in a while”, and here we are today!
We tied at the North Carolina Welcome Center and were instantly greeted with information, assistance, and a smile. This another, Harbor of Hospitality.
The docks here give easy access to the Dismal Swamp Visitors Center which offers information, on history &
wildlife, some displayed by unique taxidermy work.
For a small fee, kayak & bicycle rentals are available. A Twenty-two mile trail system includes everything from well maintained boardwalks to rough and rugged Swamp hiking, there is something for everyone.
Additionally, sections of old US Highway 17 are now part of the US East Coast Greenway.
">Started as a dream of a 3,000-mile protected biking and walking route, NC has already set aside many miles of trails, with the goal that the entire trail will eventually run from Maine to Florida.
Saturday it was on to Virginia and soon after we are met on the radio by Robert, the Deep Creek Lock-master. A legend among cruisers who travel the Dismal Swamp Route, for his knowledge & hospitality, Robert, goes the extra mile to make everyone welcome. His ability to remember boat & crew names, after seeing hundreds each season, is nothing but amazing!
He is also a Conch Shell Horn blowing Aficionado. If you are ever asked about a “conch shell” play off, you would be wise to decline. Just ask the former owners of some of these conch shell horns!
We asked if we could spend the night at Elizabeth Dock, a free dock located near the lock. It was available and since we were not going thru during one of the locks regularly scheduled daily openings (0830, 1100, 1330, 1530) we didn’t have to wait before proceeding to the dock.
Later that evening, on his way home, Robert, stopped by to talk and hear our traveling plans for the following day. Without a second thought he invited us for coffee the next morning, which we gladly accepted.
Monday morning, the weather forecast changed and so did our plans. We decided to back track into the canal for protection from forecast thunderstorms with damaging winds.
Regardless if your looking for information, history, a friendly smile, or refuge from a storm the Dismal Swamp Canal will always be a fine Harbor of Hospitality.
Fair Winds and Quiet Anchorages,
Jeff & Wendy