Our last post announced that we would begin the Dismal Swamp Canal on Tuesday. Well, the plan changed, as plans often do. The only thing “dismal” was the weather on that morning, more misty gray skies. Regardless of the weather, Kindred Spirit and Magnolia left Portsmouth in good spirits, excited and ready for the Dismal Swamp Canal.
But first we had to arrive at the Gilmertin Bridge for the opening at 9:30 am. Gilmertin is a new “lift bridge.” There was soon a line of powerboats and sailboats waiting for the opening.
The ICW has many bridges –
- Bascule bridge (single and doubles, depending on whether one side or both lift up.
- Pivot bridge (single or double) – one or both sides of the bridge swing out
- Lift Bridge – the horizontal spans lift up
- Fixed – most are 65 feet. Our mast is 59 feet high so we check each fixed bridge’s height on the chart. And still hold our breath, like for this one —
With great anticipation, Magnolia and Kindred Spirit took the turn to enter the Dismal Swamp Canal.
Immediately after the turn, we heard Moosetracks on the VHF hailing us. They had heard us chatting with Magnolia and warned us not to “do the Dismal” today. We also called the local Boat US and the Deep Creek lockmaster – both confirmed that Moosetracks was right (thank you for the early warning!!) The duckweed has been especially bad recently. It covers the canal’s water and is then sucked up into the engine intakes, clogging the strainers, overheating the engine, and the engine stops. Big problem. Although we were disappointed, we immediately began the careful maneuver to turn the boat around in a narrow place.
OK. Now what? Ahhhh, Plan B. We both headed down the “Virginia Cut” of the ICW. Another bridge ahead of us.
The Steel Bridge was a bascule bridge.
We next prepared for our first experience with a lock – Great Bridge Lock at Chesapeake, Virginia, the only lock in the Virginia Cut route of the ICW.
All went and we moved just 0.1 mile past the lock and tied up to the free dock at the Great Bridge Park. Yes, FREE dock! No electric or water or services, but a nice free place to spend the night and wait for the bridge opening in the morning. There were 6 of us there for the night. We walked down the street, a main road, to do some grocery shopping.
Wednesday morning, we began our journey through the Virginia with Great Bridge Bridge.
Shortly after that bridge, was the Centerville Bridge, a swing bridge.
The day was long, but did brighten a bit in the afternoon. People say that the Dismal Swamp Canal route is very scenic. The scenery along the Virginia Cut was ……. ok, but became a little boring. Hope we can go through Dismal Swamp on our trip north in the spring.
At Mile Marker 34, we crossed the border between Virginia and North Carolina. There are plenty of red and green buoys to mark the channel, but we only saw one “ICW mile marker” so far, although they supposedly mark every 5 miles. Good thing we have the charts and books, along with the chart plotter. It makes it easier to check off the miles as we go.
One of the best parts of the ICW so far has been sharing it with Magnolia. We stopped for the day at Buck Island and anchored in calm water in a cove just off the channel.
We had a very calm night but morning brought quite a “rush hour” for power boats going down the North River to Albemarle Sound. We rocked and rolled until deciding it was time to get up and go ourselves.
Thursday was a short day, just a hop down the North River to Broad Creek, a nice secluded creek with many little creeks branching off. After both boats were securely anchored, we explored by dinghy. No more gray skies; it was a sunny and breezy afternoon. Some of the sights —
This part of the trip has been very different from our usual sailing experiences in New England. It has been all rivers and creeks. We are enjoying it, but missing our sparkling ocean waters. The waters in the ICW are brownish in color due to the tannin in it. Tannin is also what makes coffee and tea brown in color. Like coffee and tea, the tannin in the ICW water can stain the white fiberglass boat hull. Tannin is naturally released from the roots and decaying leaves of cypress and juniper trees that line the North Carolina ICW. The water is not really dirty, in fact, the tannin keeps the water from spoiling. Boats that travel the ICW usually develop the “ICW smile” on their bows – a slight stain.
We had one last dinner together aboard Magnolia. It was hard to say goodbye, but we know that we will see each other again on our journeys south – another Morgan reunion is in our future. Tomorrow morning we are leaving to cross Albemarle Sound.