Saturday, October 23, 2010

Dismal Swamp Welcome Center

Friday, Oct 22
Distance Traveled:  40nm
Total Distance:  958.19

This morning we left the Hampton Public Piers at 735am with no wind, blue skies and 50F.  It was 60F inside the boat.  Once we got in the Elizabeth River, the winds picked up to 3-4 knots from the North.  We did use the electric heater as we were getting ready to leave and the temp inside increased to 64F.  One go my many layers.  Phil saw the first dolphin of the trip about 755am and he was able to let out the head sail at 825am as the winds picked up to NW @ 10-12 knots.
After we got to Hospital Point, the ICW officially begins.  Then we came to our first lift bridge, the Beltline RR bridge.  In the distance a sailboat was going through, but unfortunately, as we came close it closed and we had to wait 15 min for a train to go over the bridge until the bridge lifted again for us to pass.  The Jordan Bridge  at Mile Marker (MM) 2.8 as we had been told, is no more.  The Old Virginia RR bridge was open but as we came to the Gilmerton Bridge at MM 5.8, we just missed going through with  a group of sailboats!  I was at helm and we jilled around for about 10 min going through at almost 11am.  Just after going under the I64 Hwy bridge and a sharp right turn, the Dismal Swamp begins.
water in the Dismal Swamp - brown
As we were passing the marks for #1 and #2, I called the Deep Creek Lockmaster and it's a good thing I did as the lock was closed, but there were 3 sailboats that were coming in and had to be tied up so he said he'd hold the lock open for us. 

first 3 boats on left in rush to meet girlfriends
We arrived at about 1130am and it took about 1 hour for us to tie us and the water to go down.  All together there were 8 boats in the lock together.  A large Jeanneau and 2 Beneteau 361's were on the other side of the lock and were upset about it taking so long as they had girlfriends to meet in Elizabeth City, NC - usually a 1 1/2 day trip.  They were the first ones to leave the lock and I heard later that they were going at about 7 knots leaving a wake behind them (not very nice of them).  That is why I've been saying that we can't pick the time and place to meet people as then you can get into not safe situations, and it's not very safe transiting the dismal swamp after dark.  
Justin, Lockmaster
Entering NC on Dismal Swamp
I have to say that this part of the Dismal Swamp we hit either bottom or objects in the water about 30 times! (I counted)  We'd be going along and then BAM and the mast and table would shake.  I'm glad that Changes is over built.  It made me nervous I had to say but Phil seemed pretty calm.  I was at helm about 225pm when the depth sounder alarm went off and it showed 4.9 ft and we hit bottom.  Phil!!!! and he came up and took over the helm and got us off.  Many times the depth sounder showed 5.9-7 feet.
Welcome Center (rest stop) Sign

Changes at Dock in Dismal Swamp

Toasting being on the ICW
We ended up at the Dismal Swamp Welcome Center (a rest stop for Rt 17)  at 335pm with Sail Away, Talisman and Sweet Chariot too already there.  There is a 150' dock and there was just enough room for us to be at the far end.   After getting the boat settled, we visited the Welcome Center's brouchure area and signed the visitors book.  We are planning on going to Roanoke Island, part of the Outer Banks of NC after Elizabeth City, and they also had cruising guides, marina, and other information that will be helpful to us.  Of course, by this time it was cocktail hour so we joined the other boater for some wine and beer.  It was getting very cold, so I warmed up the spaghetti sauce and cooked some more noodles to add to it for supper.
We got out the champagne that Chet and Carole Slabinski had given us, and toasted to being on the ICW with other sailors there.  S/V Serenity joined us as they went through the 130pm opening and then later as it was almost dark, a cataraman Katiewalk (I think) came in to dock.  There was a total of 6 with the last 2 rafted off other boats.  Phil and I went to bed early at about 930pm.  It was cold so we had 2 quilts on the bed.

Saturday, Oct 23
Journey to Elizabeth City, NC

Rest of boats at dock as we leave Dismal Swamp Welcome Ctr
We woke to it being very cold in the boat and the 2 quilts were not enough by morning.  It was 52F inside the boat and 37F with a frost on the grass next to the canal.  On went the many layers.  Phil and I broke out our winter coats and I was wearing my watch hat inside the boat!  There was sea smoke on the canal which is always more beautiful to see in person than it looks in the photos.
Phil and I left @ 720am before the others as we wanted to be able to go about 4.5 knots so if we hit anything, it would jar the boat as much.  As we were motoring down, I cooked oatmeal for breakfast, as it was definitely a day for warm food.  It turned out the we hit something only 3 more times and it wasn't nearly as hard as yesterday as we came up to the closed South Lock Bridge.  We tied Changes up on the port side before the bridge to wait.  I called the lock master and left a message letting him know that we and 5 other boats were here to go south.  They have a schedule that any northbound boats go through the lock and then the bridge first at 830am and southbound traffic goes 30 min later.  We must be lucky as the bridge opened at 844am and  we asked the other boats to go through so we could be last.  The catamaran was first as the largest vessel and everyone went through without a problem.  By 855am we were entering the lock and soon after the gates were closing.  There was a lot of talking and Riley, a 1 1/2yo standard poodle was running at top speed on the grass alongside the lock.  The lockmaster has a miniature poodle that has free rein of the area, so the dogs were greeting each other.  Riley wanted to play, but it turns out the other poodle didn't and made that well know to Riley with a series of sharp barks.  Then the dogs were going over the lock bridge on top of the gates.  It didn't take very much to get Riley back on his side of the lock and then the water started going down.   The current as we were going down 12 feet was very strong pushing us against the wall.  Phil and I had to sit down and push Changes off the wall with our legs as the fenders were getting crushed and moved that I was worried they wouldn't work.  It wasn't too long and the current eased enough that we didn't have to push off.  After the lock, the water depth ranged from 11-13 feet, so we weren't hitting objects.  What a relief and then we joined a river and the depth ranged from 12 - 20 feet.

Motoring down the Dismal Swamp
Phil filled the diesel tanks with a couple of jugs from the diesel jerrie jugs and then tied one of the empty ones on the starboard side and then decided to try to use the fender board to tie 2 more on the port side.  Since we'll be mostly in protected waters, I think that we'll have most of them on the deck instead of in the cockpit.  Now Phil is at the helm while I a writing this post as we are underway.  I'm not sure what we'll do in Elizabeth City as Jim Koontz's wife died about a month ago and he's not here now.  Jim has our condolences for his loss.  It has warmed up to 66F on boat, so can put the winter coat away for now.
I thought I would provide a little history of the Dismal Swamp that goes back over 200 years.  Colonel William Byrd II of Virginia proposed the advantage of making a channel to transport good in 1728.  He was the person responsible fore adding Dismal to the name of the swamp.  Construction on the canal started in 1793 at both ends, at Deep Creek and Joye's Creek.  Slaves dug the canal by hand and became so familiar with the Dismal Swamp that it became a haven for runaways.   US 17 was opened in 1804 shortly before the full length of the canal opened in 1805.  Good were transported on flat boats and log rafts that were manually poled or towed though until the Civil War when war took a toll as ships were sunk in the canal to block transport of goods.  The late 1880-90's were bad times as the company almost went bankrupt and the canal deteriorates. In 1899 Major improvements were made and in 1913 the US Army Corps of Engineers take over.  In the 1920's to 30's improvements were made and the canal was dredged to 50' wide and 9' deep.   The canal has a problem, which remains today, in that canal doesn't have a good supply of water, even with a feeder ditch from Lake Drummond, so was dry in periods of low rainfall and drought.  When we were on the Erie Canal, we heard that they would open the locks only twice a day, instead of the normal 4 times a day because of low water supply, but was glad to see that it's 4 times a day on the days that we are here.

1 comment:

  1. A welcome sign to a place named The Dismal Swamp seems just a bit foreboding.