Dismal Swamp Canal = NO ……… Virginia Cut = YES

PLAN AOur 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.

Gilmertin Bridge going up

Gilmertin Bridge going up

And up!

And up!

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 —
Going under the fixed bridge, holding our breath even though we know that 65-59= 6 feet to spare!

Going under the fixed bridge, holding our breath even though we know that 65-59= 6 feet to spare!

Some bridges hav a measuring marker that tells you the height below at any given tide (the green numbers). This is the only one we have seen so far.

Some bridges have a measuring marker that tells you the height below it at any given tide (the green numbers). This is the only one we have seen so far.

With great anticipation, Magnolia and Kindred Spirit  took the turn to enter the Dismal Swamp Canal.

Intersection sign for the split in the ICW.

Intersection sign for the split in the ICW. (photo credit- Magnolia)

Kindred Spirit turns into the Dismal Swamp

Kindred Spirit turns into the Dismal Swamp Canal (photo credit – Magnolia)

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.

Sailboats heading for the opened bridge

Sailboats heading for the opened bridge

The Steel Bridge was a bascule bridge.

The tug comes through the bascule bridge first

The tug comes through the bascule bridge first

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.

Magnolia enteres the Great Bridge Lock

Magnolia enteres the Great Bridge Lock

Kindred Spirit tying up in the lock

Kindred Spirit tying up in the lock (photo credit – Magnolia)

Magnolia is all set

Magnolia is all set

Kindred Spirit is all set, too!

Kindred Spirit is all set, too!

The lock opens and out we go!

The lock opens and out we go!

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.

Sailboats tied along Great Bridge dock

Sailboats tied along Great Bridge dock

Wednesday morning, we began our journey through the Virginia with Great Bridge Bridge.

Sunrise at Great Bridge - ready to go through for the 8:00 am opening

Sunrise at Great Bridge – ready to go through for the 8:00 am opening

Shortly after that bridge, was the Centerville Bridge, a swing bridge.

Like a line of little ducks, the sailboats all pass through.

Like a line of little ducks, the sailboats all pass through.

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.

Fish stakes?

Fish stakes?

Along the shore

Along the shore

Interesting tree growing at the edge

Interesting tree growing at the edge of grasses

Another interesting tree

Another interesting tree

A scary tree with scary looking birds

A scary tree with scary looking birds

A sampling of ICW red and green markers

A sampling of ICW red and green markers

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.

This is the only ICW mile marker we have seen so far.

This is the only ICW mile marker we have seen so far.

Here comes the sun! We put out the jib for a bit to help the engine and just because we had a decent breeze.

Here comes the sun! We put out the jib for a bit to help the engine and just because we had a decent breeze.

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.

Boaters love boxed wine. We pull it right out of the cardboard and find all kinds of ways to stow it in our spacious water homes.

Boaters love boxed wine. We pull it right out of the cardboard and find all kinds of ways to stow it in our spacious water homes.

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.

Sunrise at Buck island

Sunrise at Buck island

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 —

Relaxing on our dinghy excursion

Relaxing on our dinghy excursion

Creek views - marsh grass and trees hanging onto life at the edge

Creek views – marsh grass and trees hanging onto life at the edge

Tree stump sculptures

Tree stump sculptures

Entering a little creek off of Broad Creek

Entering a little creek off of Broad Creek

Looking up above

Looking up above

Up the creek .......and back out the creek (photo credit - Magnolia)

Up the creek …….and back out the creek (photo credit – Magnolia)

Creek oddities ~ is this modern sculpture? ~ this is duplex birdhouse, waterfront property

Creek oddities
~ is this modern sculpture?
~ this is duplex birdhouse, waterfront property

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.

~You can see the bronze color of the water behind our dinghy.  ~ Creek water with a light tinge of tannin

~You can see the bronze color of the water behind our dinghy.
~ Creek water with a light tinge of tannin

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.

The sun sets on Broad Creek

The sun sets on Broad Creek

6 thoughts on “Dismal Swamp Canal = NO ……… Virginia Cut = YES

  1. Marianne: That Hallberg Rassy 43 is one fine boat. You are very fortunate. Chesapeake Bay has many good marinas to haul out. Check out Bert Jabin Yacht Yard.
    http://www.bjyy.com/yacht-yard-services/

    Sassafass Harbor Marina;
    http://www.sassafrasharbormarina.com/

    Brewer Oxford Boatyard
    https://www.byy.com/marinas/brewer-marinas-oxford-boat-yard-marina-oxford-md/

    With a mast :63’4″ and of draft 6′ 7″ you are pushing the limits of the ICW. You need to get a ICW cruising guide book and read it carefully before you attempt the Virginia Cut. There are many ICW cruising guide books. Just GOOGLE it and many will pop up.

  2. Hello,
    Congratulations for your blog and your fantastic travel !
    We have an Hallberg Rassy 43 (44′ 6″ – mast :63’4″ – draft 6′ 7″) (Belgian flag).
    We cross the Atlantic in January 2017 and enter the US at Ste-Augustine in April. We will then sail North to Boston & Maine.
    We examine the possiblity taking the ICW trough the Virginia Cut from Beaufort to Norfolk instead of sailing offside this part of the Atlantic coast (Cape Hatteras, weather issues,….).
    *** Do you think this is feasible with the type of boat we have ??
    Another point : Regarding the validity of the US navigation permit (12 months) and due to the fact that we only go back to the Acores in May 2018, we will be obliged to go out the US at the Canadian boarder and then come back in the US with a new permit.
    *** Do you think the Chesapeake Bay is a good place to haul the boat out for the winter (6 months) ? Do you know any good place there or somewhere else ?
    Many thankks in advance for your good follow-up,
    Marianne
    S/Y POLLUX – 13 November 2016

  3. Pingback: Doin’ the Dismal | Kindred Spirit

  4. Great post..

    Appears you guys are enjoying yourselves. It is fun to randomly cross paths with others. Just hooked back up with a couple we haven’t seen since Utah in spring.

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