Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Dismal Swamp October 15 - 16, 2011 Mile Marker 7 to 70

Leaving Norfolk at 7:30 meant we caught an 8:30 bridge opening. Immediately after the bridge you make a right to enter the Dismal Swamp. We caught the 11 AM lock opening, what an experience. You tie your boat up, work to keep it off the lock wall and monitor the boat as water rushes in the canal. Fifteen minutes later, we and two other boats are on our way to the North Carolina Welcome Center with free dockage for about four boats. All was good until Rick went to the center, I went below to make dinner, and three more boats came in to tie up. Tradition holds that you raft together, a new thing for us. Everyone gathered at Promise and bonded over plans for the next day which meant a 7:30 departure to catch the second lock. There the water was let out of the lock and required the captain and mate to ease the lines out for the fifteen minutes. Whew!
The swamp was at once incredible and disappointing. It was beautiful, going from a narrow passage through hardwoods in a misty morning fog, to a wide stretch of true cypress swamp. While we counted egrets, turtles and bald eagles, we never saw a reptile or anything larger. The swamp opens into the Pasquotank River and that was breathtaking, lots of wide turns and autumn color.

We spent the night in Elizabeth City at the free docks. Despite the claim to hospitality, no stores were open on a Sunday save one: Page after Page Bookstore, heaven! Basically, we geared up for Monday's run on the Albemarle Sound, something we have dreamed about for a long time.

October 17 and the sound was Rick's last chance to set the sails for a few days. Winds were out of the SE at a steady 20-22 all day with lumpy seas again. We got out of the wind at Alligator Marina just before we entered the Alligator River. (The alligators do not come this far anymore. Whew!) Remember the great food we had in Norfolk? Our option here was limited to whatever Ms. Wanda has in the kitchen at the Shell Station, which runs the Marina.

The great news is we were safe, out of the wind, with shore power. The bad news is that the winds made getting into our slip quite a challenge and we incurred some damage to the stern pulpit on Promise. For a captain with a stellar reputation for docking skills, this was a huge blow. Oh, well, we hear there are great repair facilities in Oriental and further south.