The Great Debate
03 November 2017
The paddle wheel ferry that runs between Portsmouth and Waterside every twenty minutes starts at 6 in the morning. The whistle blows every time it leaves and every time it comes back. It is our wakeup call this morning. We dont need to be up that early. We can not request an opening at the Gilmerton bridge until after 9:30 a.m. So, after a leisurely breakfast, we ease our way off the dock in Portsmouth at 8:30. The great debate that started last night is whether we should take the Dismal Swamp or the Virginia Cut. We must decide now. We have always taken the Dismal. This year the Dismal has just reopened two days ago after being closed for 14 months. It has taken the Army Corp of Engineers all this time to clean up trees (350+) and dredge the canal since hurricaine Mathew. It has been a beautiful scenic part of the trip. The Virginia Cut is more commercial and a bit longer. We have heard that the hydrilla (or duck weed as it is called here) is really bad. I want to take the Virginia Cut and Carl wants to take the Dismal Swamp. After much debate, and talking on the phone with the lock keeper at the Deep Creek Lock, we decide to try the Dismal. He says that "yes they have some duck weed", but 14 boats went through yesterday with no problems. After getting through the Gilmerton bridge with just one other boat going south and a tug with a barge heading north, we make the turn to the lock. We are early and the only boat. The lock keeper recommends that we cover our fender covers with plastic trash bags to keep them from getting yucky from the duck weed. He also informs us that when he opens the lock, to give it 15 minutes to get some of the duck weed out before we enter. I'm not liking this so far. Two other boats arrive in time to join us in the lock. When the doors open, the water is solid green! After 15 minutes we enter the lock. The walls are covered with hydrilla. I'm glad I have my sailing gloves on. Did I mention that I'm not liking this! The lock keeper entertains us with stories and with a little prodding, plays a tune on his conch shell. He's a character. Before we know it we are on our way out the other side. The water is completely covered in a green carpet of hydrilla. The canal is still beautiful and the trees are beginning to change colors. The trees used to form a canopy, almost touching over the water. Now it is more open. That helps a bit with the sailboat masts. It was always hard to keep an eye on the water depth and an eye out for tree branches. There is sometimes less than a foot of water under the keel, setting off the alarm. And then it happened....just two miles from the Visitors Center....the engine temp started to climb. We had been keeping a close eye on it because we knew that the duck weed could clog the sea water strainer. Carl shut the engine off and we both went below because it takes two people to lift and hold the compartment under the mattress in the aft cabin to get to the strainer. It couldn't be in a harder place to get to. Carl pulled it out and I cleaned it. It was cramed full of duck weed. We put it back together and I started the engine. Temp was normal. In the meantime the boat had drifted to the bank. I had heard the depth alarm going off and figured that we were aground. Just a soft grounding, so we easily backed off and resumed our trip. We reached the Visitors Center where the other two boats also decided to stop. I'm glad they did. One couple was from Virginia and the other from Texas. We had a fun evening on the dock. We are all headed to Elizabeth City tomorrow.