Another early morning departure as Rode Trip and Serendipity hauled anchors at 7:30am and departed the Hampton River. We made our way motoring through choppy seas into the Elizabeth River. This river passed by Norfolk, VA and lead us into the Intracoastal Waterway. The industrial banks of the Elizabeth River were lined with Navy shipyards and piers hosting destroyers, cargo ships, tugboats, and aircraft carriers. The channel was bustling and more than once we had to swing off to the side to make way for tugs!
I looked ahead on the charts to see when our turnoff would be approaching for the Dismal Swamp and spotted the Gilmerton Bridge. This bridge opens every hour on the half hour. Uh oh, we had less than five minutes to make the 10:30am opening. As it turned out, the Gilmerton Bridge was running on our schedule! It hadn’t opened on time and we joined a group of waiting boats.
Underneath one more bridge and there was our turnoff, a sharp turn to starboard, with a national park sign both encouraging and welcoming us into the Dismal Swamp. We were on our way through the first stretch of the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW).
The Dismal Swamp is the oldest operating artificial waterway in the United States. Construction began in 1793. Labor was done by slaves; we learned that slaves knew this area so well that the swamp became a refuge for runaways with several colonies being established throughout. The Dismal Swamp canal was finally opened in 1805. It’s use was limited to shallow draft, poled or towed flat boats and log rafts. Throughout the years the canal faced financial hardship and difficulty maintaining locks due to flaws in design mainly caused by incorrect measuring of the feeder ditch runoffs. The US Army Corps of Engineers began maintaining the canal in 1913 and the government purchased the canal in 1929 for $500,000. (This was the same price paid for the Albemarle and Chesapeake Canal the now more popular extensions of the Intracoastal Waterway.) The Dismal Swamp was widened to 50-feet and dredged to a depth of 9-feet.
Our first lock on the Dismal Swamp, and first lock EVER, was the Deep Creek Lock.
We were loaded into the lock with 10 other boats. We were instructed to raft on our port side to another sailboat. Brian pulled Rode Trip into our spot effortlessly and we handed off our lines to our rafting partners with ease. Serendipity thought this was much too easy for our first lock experience, we didn’t have to tend any lines along the wall while the water level changed. We enjoyed the ride. We had a very entertaining and informative lockmaster; he even played the conch shell for us as the water started rising. A nice tribute to our future travels south!
While I was taking the bumpers down we passed by this buoy “ROCKS,” necessary because of course we hadn’t noticed them along the shoreline. We kept to the middle of the channel since there were also floating stumps and branches scattered throughout. We didn’t hit anything noticeable sitting aloft our lead full-keel, but some of the other boats traveling in our line that day had bumped logs out of the way for us.
We had to hustle to make the 3:30pm lock because this group of boats had already held up the 11:30am lock, which hadn’t loaded us all until at least 12:00pm. Full steam ahead at 5.5 knots we continued onward.
The land surrounding the Dismal Swamp is a national park. This made for excellent labeling of what we were passing. It also meant that the navigator could spend more time outside and less time looking at the charts to see what we were passing. Although there was a lovely view from the navigation station. The feeder ditch pictured below leads to Lake Drummond, the largest lake in Virginia.
Rode Trip stops traffic as we pass underneath our final bridge of the day just near the second lock. The lockmaster controls the bridge and we were last in line for the 3:30pm lock – late! Serendipity had called ahead to let him know there were a few boats in the back of the line and he assured us we’d make the lock.
At 3:48pm we entered the South Mills Lock. This time we were against the wall and had to tend our lines as the water level dropped.
But that was not the end of the day’s adventure. On Goat Island we could see a dock with a campsite sign. Matt wanted to venture there as did Brian and I, so we dinghied over to the dock to check it out. It was two campsites, on docks. Strange. The dinghy was stuck in sludge when we came back so Brian had to give us a running, jumping, shove-off the dock.
Matt drove us over to West Creek to investigate before returning home for supper. This creek was similar to driving down a suburban road, it was a waterway looping through large, brick homes.
Back to Rode Trip and Serendipity for supper and planning the following morning’s departure toward Elizabeth City. What a beautiful anchorage!