The Dismal Swamp Lives up to its Name
04 November 2015 | Great Dismal Swamp
We choose to transit the Great Dismal Swamp route because it sounded so cool and we met the minimum depth requirements (less than 6' draft). The alternative was the Virginia Cut route, which just didn't sound as challenging and romantic. The Swamp canal was surveyed by George Washington, so it has been around for a long long time. Who could resist?
We left Norfolk Little Creek Marina early in the morning as we had to get through a railroad lift bridge on the Elizabeth River by 11am as construction had it closed for most of the rest of the day. We passed the Navy shipyards and the Norfolk shipping terminals full of container ships on the way, fighting a current and hoping we'd make the bridge. To our dismay, when we sited the bridge it was in the down position at 10:40 am. The bridge operator explained it was down for a train passing and he would have it lifted and us through before the 11am cut off. We watched the six car train approach oh so slowly. We did get through as promised and on to the entrance of the Swamp.... in a pouring rain.
The rain continued all the way to the Deep Creek lock, where we tied off to a dolphin (not a fish, but a bunch of vertical logs tied together as a 'post') and made a hot lunch while waiting for the lock to open. Once inside, we were greeted by the lockmaster, Robert, who promptly told us our experience locking the Erie was totally inappropriate for his lock. He clearly explained our procedure, and then entertained us with stories of the canal and the region. When I asked about the deep brown color of the water, he explained that the water was the purest water in the country despite the color (which comes from peat bogs in the swamp that act as a giant filter). And the rain stopped as we dropped the twelve feet to the canal!!
An interesting side note: we passed through the lock with one other boat, a small, single-hander whom we had met way back in a Chesapeake anchorage at Worton Creek. The sailing world is so small!!
Our good luck and weather held throughout the day as we made our way down the straight as an arrow canal, narrow and heavily wooded on the starboard side. The port side had a highway part of the way and the Canal park the rest of the way. We saw no other boats and few houses along the way.
We arrived at the Dismal Swamp Visitor Center, midway through, at dusk to find four boats tied to the small dock. We rafted off the largest, an Endeavor 42 from New York. We enjoyed a quiet dark dark night in the Swamp. Although we heard stories of bear and other animals we saw none.
The next morning was misty, cloudy and eventually rainy as we traveled the second half of the Swamp. The lock at the end took us twelve feet up into a windy river which eventually took us to Elizabeth City, where we tied up at the city dock for the night.