Well here we were! Our long awaited destination! When we passed buoy number 36 just outside of downtown we all jumped up and down and were screaming! Yahoo! we made it!!! Buoy 36 is the offical beginning of the ICW, mile marker 0.0!
But we were thwarted by some fog Monday morning! This was not so bad as one of the bridges we had to pass thru does not open until after 8:30 am in the morning M-F. The fog finally burned off around 11:30 and we had the engine all warmed up and ready to go. Clay and Mary had left a little ahead of us. We caught up with them at the highway bridge, they waited for us so the bridge tender only had to open it one time. Unfortunately they lost their transmission just as they were about to pass under the bridge! We were sick for them! We waited just on the other side of the bridge for quite a while and they assured us they would anchor and be OK. We headed on.
We passed under the last high bridge and then we had to make our first choice. Do we take a HARD right and go through the Dismal Swamp or do we go straight and take the route known as the Virginia Cut? Well we had done some research – the Virginia Cut has a reputation of shoaling, whereas the Dismal Swamp is a straight shot. We opted for the Dismal Swamp route.
The very sharp right was a little elusive at first! We almost missed the channel and ran aground in our first thirty seconds! Sheesh, a little exciting….but we nosed back across the shoal into the channel and everything was fine. The channel (we will use this word loosely) was a little meandering at first as we approached Deep Creek lock. It was VERY shallow! I was sick with the thought that this is how the whole canal would be! Thankfully it was not. With locks, the lock is meant to level the tidal waters, so this is the precise reason they put the locks in. We knew the lock was coming up and we would get locked in, they raise the boat and out we go on the other side at a much more comfortable depth.
We waited outside the lock for the 3:30 opening. We arrived pretty early, about 2:45 so we had some time to wait. The lock tenders have only four openings a day, we would be making the last one. While we were waiting Clay and Mary come up behind us pushing their boat with their dinghy! very smart! Mary was at the helm and Clay pushed them along. We were glad they would be somewhere safe for the night.
In a lock you are sitting basically in a big steel bathtub and then this water starts rushing in and boiling all around. You really have to keep those lines tight! The Deep Creek lock is a fascinating piece of engineering in its own right. But the history associated with it, and the role it played in the Civil War was the highlight. The lock tender Robert, who had been there for 16 years, gave us quite the history lesson! He also had a dog, U-turn, and the kids were playing with him and at one point U-turn got a little rough with James, of course Robert felt terrible, and as a peace offering he gave James one of his hundreds of Conch shells he has received as gifts from boaters over the years. His yard is literally covered in them! James got a beautiful conch shell, and a lesson on how to blow it. James is all set for the Conch blowing contest in the Keys.
In addition to all this, Robert made sure we were tied up safe and sound before he left for the day.
Once inside the lock, with the bridges and basic hull speed of the boat, you can only go so far in a day. We knew we could not get to an anchorages before sunset. We opted to tie up on the other side of the lock for the night. Clay and Mary tied up right behind us and started taking apart their transmission. We were able to give them some items they needed. Michael has bags and bags of “stuff”. Old parts, spare parts, broken parts. He does not throw much out. So when Clay needed some 3/8” threaded rod to make four new bolts, guess what? We had it…It feels good to be available for others.
The next morning, Robert came over and invited us for coffee, juice, fruit and pastry! What a wonderful guy! We had to wait until his 8:30 lock opening time had passed, there were no boats but he also is the bridge opener a mile away, so we were not going anywhere without him. At 845 we all jumped on the boat and headed south! Robert assured us we could make Elizabeth City NC by the end of the day. I was skeptical but the math worked. So lets go for it!
Along with instructions for the Great Bridge lock (“Frank does not talk much” says Robert) Robert gave us one last heads up on the VHF about a log in the middle of the channel at mile marker 24 and we were on our way.
The “ditch” is just that. A narrow, man made ditch about 12-14 feet deep in the middle. So thankfully we were the only boat! We ran right down the middle all day. It was kind of eerie to be the only boat in the middle of a deserted swamp. after a while the ditch starts to run alongside a highway, so that was comforting.
Lots to watch out for though, lots of partially submerged logs and trees. Hardly any garbage which was comforting. But I still needed another set of eyes up with me in the cockpit. Michael took a well needed break from the helm and cooked all day, potatoes, cabbage and onions, baked beans and slaw, parsnip, apple and carrot soup. Yum! Mariah was at the helm with me most of the day. It was nice to have a change of scenery for her I am sure! She has been “cookie” on this whole trip.
We arrived at the Great Bridge Lock by 1:30, Robert was right, Frank does not talk much, so glad we had instructions on how to tie the boat up properly when locking down! Much different then locking up! When locking down, you DO NOT tie off the bitter end to your boat, you hold it in your hand and release a little as needed to lower the boat down the wall. The water remains perfectly calm, you do not even know you are moving except the wall in front of you is getting bigger.
We entered the Pasquotank River, Kind of straight at first but then it started to really meander! Thank goodness for accurate charts! A beautiful river though, the land is untouched except for a few hunting lodges here and there, maybe we saw one house on the river bank. We did see an American Bald Eagle, it was beautiful!
We came right into Elizabeth City, approached the highway bridge at 4:05 and were heart broken because we thought we missed the last opening. I hailed the bridge tender anyway and he said he would open again at 4:30! Hallelujah! All I could think was bless this man opening a highway bridge in the middle of ruch hour just for us! it turned out, 4:30 was a regular opening time, but we did not know that at the time. I am sure he appreciated our gratitude. Our destination was just the other side of the bridge and we could not wait!
After passing through and receiving directions from the bridge tender to the Elizabeth City free dock, we were there in less than five minutes. A boating neighbor came and took our lines, we were off the boat and headed to the seafood market by 5:00pm! That is a record!
Elizabeth City is an extremly friendly boating town. The go out of their way to accomodate boaters. They even have a volunteer group of folks called “Rose-buddies” who make sure you have everything you need, rides, directions etc…Bravo Elizabeth City! It was a great place to end a great day. We had safely transited the Dismal Swamp, only one or two “bumps” – literally bumped submerged logs along the way but nothing serious. Here we would wait for our weather window to cross Albermarle Sound, another notoriously shallow Bay which needs just the right winds to cross it.
We knew it would not be Tuesday, the weather on the Sound was bad so we had a day to site see and shop. But for now it would be dinner of oysters, shrimp and slaw! All for $15.81 and a good nights sleep.