We had a busy morning running errands in Norfolk. We started with a visit to a little marine store called WT Brownley’s a few blocks away from the dock. We went there to pick up a guide to the ICW. Mostly they had books and charts and a few marine instruments. Then we noticed the printer that they use to actually print marine charts. I guess this is the way of the future for charts so that they can be printed "real time" with all the updates included as marker buoys and things get moved around. We were talking to the lady there, and it was originally her grandfather’s store that he opened in 1932. After we left there, we took a cab out to a big shopping area where there was PetSmart that had Rudder’s special dog food. I had never seen so many different types of dog food in my life, including special food for Labrador Retrievers, and special food for Boxers – but we couldn’t find Rudder’s food. Eventually we asked where it was and the lady said – oh that’s prescription food, so it would be in the prescription food section (oh oh…) We went to check out and they asked for our prescription…. We pleaded our case and fortunately they let us get the food without a prescription. Then we stuffed the 37lbs of food into our big waterproof knapsack and headed a couple of blocks down the road to Walmart where we picked up groceries and a few odds and ends before getting a cab back to the dock. We packed away the groceries, filled up with water, had some lunch and then left Norfolk around 1:00. There are two different routes you can take for the first 90 miles of the ICW the Albemarle & Chesapeake Canal and the Dismal Swamp Canal. The first is still used for commercial traffic and is deeper and better maintained, but the Dismal Swamp Canal is more scenic and more historic as it was originally used by the likes of George Washington in removing timber that was logged in the area. We had opted for the Dismal Swamp route, and we were headed for the 3:30 opening of the lock that would lift us 8’ up into the canal. In order to get there we had to pass under 6 bridges, two of which we had to get opened for us to go underneath. We originally planned to go and additional 18 miles to the Dismal Swamp Visitors center, but some folks at the lock recommended tying up to the free dock just on the other side of the lock, so that is what we did. There were 6 other boats that locked through with us, and all of them stayed at the same dock overnight. Many of the boats were ones we had seen over the past few weeks including Estelle from Charlottetown that we originally saw in Cape May, Lap Cat that were tied up with us in Baltimore, and Calliope that we had passed going down the Chesapeake. We also met new some new people including Randy and Diana on Strider (a Tyanna 37’). When we checked Misty’s log we saw that we had left Norfolk on Oct 22 as well!
Oct 23 – Deep Creek
The forecast for leaving the Dismal Swamp doesn’t sound that great. It is very protected in here, but the wind is forecast to be really high so we decided to stay in this nice little place rather than get stuck down at the other end of the canal. The kids did their school work in the morning. We went on several nice walks through the park. Kristen and I went on a walk to take notes on all the birds, animals, insects, trees and plants we could find for her habitat lesson. It is amazing the diversity of trees and plants and how different they are from home. In the afternoon we walked to town and got a few groceries. This is a great spot!
Oct 24 – Dismal Swamp Visitors Center
This morning we left Deep Creek with the boats that came through the 8:30 lock opening, so we went through the Deep Creek bridge around 9:00. We had about 18 miles to go to the visitors’ center. It was a nice day in the canal. The canal is beautiful with trees and vines growing right up to the edge of the canal. In the 1800’s there was a desire to build a canal to join Abermarle Sound with the Chesapeake Bay so that shipping could be done safely between North Carolina and Virginia. George Washington was an early investor in a project designed to drain the 50,000 acre swamp to try to log the area and develop the land for farming. Beginning in 1793, the canal was dug by hand by slaves. It was miserable work with lots of bugs and snakes, and the slaves would be up to their waists in mud trying to dig. As slaves, they weren’t paid for the work unless they outperformed what was required of them. If they were paid, they used the money to buy blankets or buy their freedom. The canal was open to flat bottom boats in 1805. The water in the canal is a deep brown. It is so rich with tannin from the bark of the trees that bacteria couldn’t grow in it, so it was highly prized to take on sailing ships as it wouldn’t go bad.
We got to the Visitors center a little before lunch. There were already 4 boats tied along the wall so we had to raft (tie along side) with one of the other boats. By the end of the day there were about 10 boats all rafted together along the wall. There is a floating footbridge to take you to the other side of the canal, and we crossed the bridge to go for a short hike through the swamp land. The ground isn’t actually swampy, but there are so many trees and so much foliage it must have been really hard to try to cut a trail through the swamp. There is also a short footpath that identifies 10 types of trees native to the area including Sassafras, Hickory, Black Cherry, Virginia Red Cedar, Sycamore and Sweet Gum. It looks so different from Nova Scotia.
Oct 25 – Dismal Swamp Visitors Center
With high winds still forecast outside the swamp, it didn’t make sense to move today. We got the school work done, visited the Dismal Swamp museum and borrowed the loaner bikes and went for a bike ride in the pouring rain. There is a young couple on a boat tied up behind us and we had them over for potluck supper. Noah bought his first boat and sailed it from California to French Polynesia. He and Vicky are starting another adventure and hope to go back to the Pacific Islands and New Zealand. It was really interesting to hear about his adventures and about their trip north this summer.
Oct 26 – Elizabeth City (mile 50)
We left the Visitor’s Center at 7:30 with 10 other boats – only one boat stayed behind. We met with two other boats at the lock, so that 12 boats locked through the South Mills lock together. It was so calm in the canal that we passed our camera over to Serenus (Noah and Vicky) and Noah climbed his mast to get a really cool picture of Bird with the girls on the bow. We got to Elizabeth City around 1:00. It was a nice sunny day and we had a busy afternoon getting laundry done. Then Annie and I went to the grocery store, and Dave and Kristen went to the Abermarle Museum. They said it was really good, but it was closed by the time we got back from the grocery store. Most days, there is a "Rose Buddies" wine and cheese party for the boaters at the dock. The Rose Buddies started doing wine and cheese parties in 1983 after their wives died. They also gave a rose to each woman that stayed at the dock. Unfortunately, the original Rose Buddies have both passed away but the tradition continues. They don’t usually have a get together on Sunday, so the boaters organized their own party. After the groceries got put away we stayed out on the dock until it got dark and cold talking to the other boaters.
Oct 27 – Elizabeth City to Alligator-Pungo Canal (mile 113)
We left Elizabeth City at 7:00 as the forecast sounded pretty reasonable for travel today. Unfortunately the wind was right where we needed to go so once again we had to motor all day. We had planned to stop at an anchorage at the start of the alligator-pungo canal, but when we got there it looked really unprotected for the high winds that were forecast for overnight. We pressed on another 10 miles to a little canal near a bridge. The canal was about 100 feet wide and we ended up tying a line to a tree off the bow, and another line to a tree off the stern. It took us quite a while to get all organized and we were just going below at 6:00 when the rain started pouring down and the wind started howling. We stayed safe all night, and later we heard that a number of boats that stayed at the other anchorage had dragged their anchors overnight. It was another really cold night!
Oct 28 – Alligator Pungo Canal to Belhaven (mile 135)
It was really cold today, and really windy. Once again we weren’t able to sail. We got to Belhaven a little after noon and decided to call it a day and go to a marina. We went to the River Forest marina where we had stayed 15 years ago. Carpe Diem was there too! We hadn’t seen them since Staten Island. We borrowed a golf cart from the marina and went up to town to go to the post office and to the hardware store where we bought a little electric heater. It was great to plug it in and get the boat warmed up! After supper Chris and Penny came over to visit. Chris brought his portable picture printer and made some post cards for us from some of the pictures we had taken.