Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Tollhouse Pancakes on the Swamp

The Great Dismal Swamp has always been a place of mystery for me.  I've driven alongside en route to the Outer Banks and longed to explore it from the inside. This was my chance! By boat!

We left the public pier at Hampton, cruised past naval warships, and entered the Intracoastsal Waterway (ICW) just after the Norfolk shipyards.

Passed through a couple of railroad bridges (usually open, but look left and right for oncoming trains!) and waited for the last opening of the day of a major highway bridge, the Gilmerton Bridge, at 3:30 pm.

At the fork, we turned right, into the route less traveled. (Others, including deeper draft boats, go the "safe" route.)  We're in this for the adventure.

The Dismal Swamp Canal was begun in the late 1700s by George Washington, to connect Chesapeake Bay with Albermarle Sound. The virgin cypress were logged for ships, the cedars for houses. Agricultural goods were moved from southeastern North Carolina to Norfolk. Runaway slaves traversed the swamp along the Underground Railroad.

We spent the night at the first canal lock, waiting for it to open in the morning.

Up at sunrise to sip tea, start up the diesel, and lift anchor before the lock opened.

We tied up to the side of the lock, followed instructions from friendly lockkeeper Robert Peek. Life jackets on. Throw up lines to be secured on top of the lock wall. Stay alert.
The gates behind us closed and the lock flooded, lifting us about 8 feet. Note the height of the boat in relation to the wall in the before and after photos. 

While still tied up to the lock wall, we were invited off the boat for a pancake breakfast at the lockkeeper's house!  All boaters welcomed. 
After pecan and rum-raisin pancakes with maple syrup, we continued down the straight, narrow waterway.
At Mile 23, with me at the wheel, we hit an overhanging tree with the top of the mast--yikes! Gotta be more careful and look up as well as ahead and to the sides. 
Other than one sailboat that came through the lock with us, we have the canal to ourselves all day.
Crossed the state border. No change in the scenery! Narrow black water, wildly overgrown with vegetation. 

Stopped at Dismal Swamp Canal Welcome Center for a picnic and decided to spend the night. The welcome center is...very welcoming!  They have a book exchange for boaters, a comfortable lounge with easy chairs and wifi (where I am now), and waterway guides.

Took an 11-mile bike ride on a trail alongside the canal; free bike loan, courtesy of the welcome center! North Carolinians are very hospitable.

Later in the day, more boats showed up to spend the night--all waiting for South Mills Lock, five miles south, to open tomorrow morning.
These two days on the swamp have been a blast. Less work, more play. I'm finally feeling retired.
We could have made it all the way to Elizabeth City today, at the end of the canal. But why hurry? The sun is shining, the air is warm, we have plenty of food and water. And we're retired!

1 comment:

  1. Amber: Love, love, love to read your blog. Say hi to Capt. Runaground!
    P.S. Barb says hi.