Day 12 starts with the traditional “walking of the dogs”. We leave the dock in Portsmouth, Va. at 0700 and turn south towards the first of 5 bridges before the entrance to the Dismal Swamp Canal. The bridges all go well with only a slight wait for a railway bridge.
When we arrive at the first lock on the Dismal Swamp we meet a boat christened “Bucket”. They’ve been anchored here waiting for the storm of the last few days to pass. The locks only open a few times a day at a regular schedule so we wait for 10 minutes or so before the lock operator, Robert opens up to let us in. Once inside the lock we tie up on our starboard side with bucket behind us. The whole locking operation takes approximately 30 minutes to raise us up about 6 feet or more.
While operating the lock, Robert who is semi famous on the ICW, gives a history lesson, plays a conch shell, and informs us that the swamp route had a few large trees fall during the storm. He says the Army Corp of Engineers has a crew that started at 0530 in there clearing whatever they find but we’re going to have to be the guinea pigs as the first to transit the swamp route. The canal is about 22 miles long and we soon we leave Bucket far behind. The canal can best be described as a tunnel through a thick forest, most of the time its not 75 feet wide and the reason it’s called the Dismal Swamp is that “it is”. I never knew gray came in so many shades, though to be fair it is an overcast, cold, drizzly day. Just past the Virginia / North Carolina border there’s the only welcome center in the country that can be reached by boat or interstate. We stop to get a freebie map they hand out to boaters but they were closed. So Christy uses the opportunity to take the dogs for a quick walk while I clean the engine raw water strainer of the microscopic plant life that is so plentiful in the swamp.
After we leave the welcome center come to the spot where the trees fell and find the work barge but no workers. The canal is half cleared and we’re able to squeeze through, we find a couple of more tree tops down but have no real trouble sneaking through. After we lock-out of the canal we are 8 feet lower and at the head waters of a winding river that will wander through 18 miles of nothing before we get to Elizabeth City. Enroute I did run us out of fuel in our port tank, I checked it before we left and I’d hoped it would be enough for the trip. The engine died, Christy took over at the helm as I went below, switched to the other tank and had us running before we had even coasted to a stop. Lesson learned.
When we got to Elizabeth City we hail the bridge keeper at the city limits and get no response. ?. We try again, nothing, now were 100 feet from the bridge keeper’s house and circling. We try the VHF down below, nothing, Christy gets both the handheld VHF’s, still nothing. Finally we pull up close to the bridge and Christy lets go with the air horn. The bridge keeper jumps up from his probable triptaphane induced coma, looks out his window, comes to the door and says “Do you want to go through?”. Christy is now out on the side deck and yells back to him “No, we’re just here to wish you a merry F’ing Thanksgiving”. Okay maybe that wasn’t exactly how it went but it did in my mind.
So now we’re through the bridge and tied up at the free slips the city maintains for transient boaters. Christy has just made the best turkey dinner with all the trimmings I think I’ve ever eaten. The boats warm and toasty, smells of turkey and I’m thinking its nap time. Tomorrow is only going to be a 26 mile day so we’re going to leave around 1100. The sun is supposed to be out so we’ll fix the dinghy, walk the town a bit, run the dogs and take our time departing.