The very straight dismal swamp canal

Entering NC via dismal swamp canal

More boats than docks here for the night

I admit I was confused here
 

Elizabeth City welcomes boaters
 

The much more user friendly Alligator Pungo Canal

Sunset at Pantego Creek off the Pungo River in Belhaven nc

"Southern Grace"our private tow boat on not so Deep Creek

Approaching Alligator River bridge

Our day off in Elizabeth City


November 10, 2014

Monday: Well the big blow is over and today the sun is shining again and the marina is "a-bustling". There is a flurry of activity happening early. It appears a gaggle of boaters are anxious to get going. After adding up that there are about 15 boats headed south out of here, we decide to stay to see some sites. All the boats going to the same place (South), except for the choice of "route" (Virginia cut vs. Dismal Swamp) and the weekend weather created a backlog of boaters. We take the ferry over to Norfolk and walk around downtown doing a little shopping. We take the ferry back about 4pm and pick a Portsmouth restaurant we can walk to in 19 minutes, according to the phone navigation. We heard it was good and our dock neighbor Phil from Montreal (headed to the Bahamas, he thinks) walked with us, leaving his Yorkie named "Cricket" behind. Not Anchor, she's in the bag. Anchor liked Cricket a bit. Same size, I guess. Done, gone, over, walked back, and poof, Tidewater and Portsmouth are going to be history.

Tuesday: Oh boy, election day! Nope got other things to do. I will listen tonight. We walk the Anchor, pay the bill, crank her up and bid farewell to any three day friends we made that were still dockside. An easy out and we are in the Elizabeth River again headed South. Bridges. Now it's bridges. Two RR Bridges, always open ,and the Gilmerton lift bridge will get us into "Deep Creek" to approach the "Great Dismal Swamp" Canal. Crap. It's apparent they're not always open because a radio transmission comes over advising RR Bridge #5 will be closed for 15 minutes. Stop, hover, wait...train goes over and it opens. About a ten minute wait. A couple miles more and the Gilmerton bridge is there. Some boats are calling. A lady bridge tender voice advises she can't open the bridge because a car is disabled within the confines of the bridge. Wait again. In about ten minutes the bridge opens up. Now two other sailboats, we watch, as the cut for the dismal swamp is to the right. We think that's where they go. Our digital charts do not include anymore of this, so it's binoculars, paper charts, (ha) dead reckoning and directions from the "Admiral" (Lisa). Wait! Why is the waterway so wide. Look to the right, there is another set of Red and Green. That's got to be us, but it is so narrow. Really? What ever a "U-Turn" is called in boating, we did it, and down this narrow corridor we go. Dang, the depth is looming as an issue. Okay, we keep making way, and there are big sweeping curves in this "Deep Creek" channel. Did I mention it is low tide? It's worse and worse for depth, and two little private fishing boats are in the middle of the channel. I try to nudge to port to get around them and now to get back in the middle, but the curve is tight, the bottom is feeling close, real close, and yep, we are stuck. Dang. Ok, we'll eat lunch. A good solution to a problem is get some food and wait for the water to rise. But before we do that, I'll put a long line on the bow cleat in case some good Samaritan comes along. I'm standing on the deck with a coil of line in my hand, and lookie here, a little trawler is putting nearby, views me, and steers to me. He catches our long bow line, cleats it to his stern and seconds later we're floating again. I offer as profuse thanks as I can verbally, but our helper wants me to go ahead. He says he draws four feet and is worried about himself. So if my "five" hits first, he'll pull me out again. It works (no more hitting) and we get to the Deep Creek lock to enter the Dismal Swamp Canal without further ado. Much worry and consternation, but no "ado". Some radio instructions and small ordeal and were in the lock and going up. Not quite as modern and smooth as the Erie Canal Locks, but all good. Depth is an issue. A boat on the radio wants "out" of the canal saying their six foot draft is too much. uh-oh. Now a bridge is up for us. Now sirens are blaring. Now the lock tender/bridge operator is going to close because the sirens are police and fire vehicles. Now there is anxiety everywhere. But we are through and out of danger, but the six foot draft boat is going in and the lock tender is going to lower the bridge for the police cars! Oh boy, is that bridge coming down on the sailboat trying to get out? I guess the tender is waiting for the boat, which makes the emergency vehicles all wailing. Like, three sirens all wailing and sitting still. Oh, it's good to be through there and off into the canal. Wait: again! It's only 4 foot deep now! Crap. There's the scenario for the next 16 miles on the Dismal Swamp. We were floating, but not by much and I would bet our keel was doing a little plowing once in a while. No issues other than constant worry, but we are now used to that. We keep making way at 5 knots and by the time we get to the free visitor center dock it is full of boats. There is room for four boats on the dock. There are now, with us included, nine vessels. We don't know that yet. We just want to stop for the night. So, HEY, there is our private tow boat friend and it looks like we can slowly pull right up on his side to raft off him. It works, he's there for us again and we are tied off his starboard side. Now we have to cross two boats to get ourselves ashore. No problem. We meet Paul and JoAnn in their 35 foot Nordic Tug while walking through their cockpit going ashore. They are super nice too and all is well. Upon our return we present our "towing friend George" a bottle of "Hazlett" wine from the Finger Lakes region!! All is quiet and everyone here is a "poof" dreaming of deeper waters ahead. Oh yes, I did take time out for the election coverage on satellite radio.

Wednesday: Up out and heading down the still shallow canal at 7:45am. A few boats left earlier. The lock at "South Mills" opens at 8:30, 11am, 1:30pm and 3:30pm. We try to make the 8:30 but miss it and have to wait until 11, by first tossing out the anchor in the canal, then realizing we can approach a wall and tie off. Our buddy George approaches behind us and rafts off us also waiting. Soon, here comes Paul and JoAnn too and the bridge opens, lock opens, and we are in and soon to be off the Dismal Swamp. While tied up Lisa scurries off to let Anchor check the quality of grass, with permission, of course. Now Anchor is not too happy about the "hurry up" concept, so the boat is starting down as the girls have to use the top of the pilothouse to board. Ooh, that was a little close. Off we go, letting the the powerboat guys go ahead and into the waterway called "Tuners Cut". It's deeper wider and very relaxing compared to the last 24 hours. Finally, this turners cut becomes the "Pasquotank River". It's wide, curvey and, yep, shallow again in intermittent spots. Anxiety once more. Lots of curves, some navigation aids but not many. As the wide snaking river makes its path we see some civilization developing. We have only seen "desolate" since leaving the Elizabeth River. It's nice, and soon we are at the "Elizabeth City Bridge" and the tender says "Bring it on" upon asking permission to open. Bang! We are on the free docks at "Mariner's Wharf" Elizabeth City, North Carolina. Not Bang, like I hit something, but I was confused. The docks are little triangles that two boats per dock snuggle up to, with spring and stern lines just on aft pilings, and you have to climb your bow pulpit to get off and on. It took me three approaches to figure that out. It just looked crooked to me. We are tied up and there is a big sign here that says, "Welcome Boaters". We're staying. A fellow named "Gus" was there to help us and greet us and also a man with a monkey on his back. No, I mean a real monkey. It was his pet and about two feet tall. The monkey's name was "Ozzie", quite the mover and jumper. We ate boat food, are tired of course, and no sense fighting it..."poof".

Thursday and Friday: Exploring our area in Elizabeth City. A sweet little stop for sure. Free docks, and showers for five dollars. Stores close enough to enjoy by foot. Walking to a grocery store, taxi back. Also, good restaurants. Boaters coming in at dark and leaving at dawn, some we know from previous encounters and some are new, and to be encountered in the future. Some Christmas shopping too. On Thursday we are informed by "Gus", who comes here everyday to meet boaters, there will be a party at 4:30 for all boaters under the nearby tent. We go and discover about 24 people there all greeted by the ex-mayor, who talks about how Elizabeth City appreciates us and offers suggestions for places to shop and things to do. There are free bicycles nearby for any boater too. After the ex-mayor talks the boaters mingle amongst themselves. Our two days have been good and we are happy too try to leave early on Saturday. We have heard the Albermarle Sound can be ugly. Can wait for that! ..."Poof"

Saturday: We are up at dawn and quick, quick get chores done and we are off the dock by 7:45am, a new record! Our digital screen charts are back in fashion and we are on "easy street", so to speak. This "Albermarle Sound" shall turn into the "Alligator River" in about 15 miles, if we make the right turns. To add to the excitement, the "Virginia Cut" route will join the "Dismal Swamp" route, so the population of boaters going south should increase for us now. No issues, we get through into the Alligator River, call the upcoming bridge tender and this bridge is open without hesitation. One catamaran ahead of us is held up with a crab pot line in his prop. There are about seven boats ahead of us we notice via binoculars. It is a long slog to the end of the day straight down this river. Nothing. No local anything. Even if there was, the river is too wide to see shore lines very well. Now darkness is beginning, and we want to quit. Hey, there is Richard and Katie in their Cape Dory. This is the boat in the picture tied to the flooded dock in Portsmouth. A nice "young couple" on an adventure too, instead of all of us old geezers. Well, quitting means anchoring as we are still in "nowheresville". Previously, we picked four different potential anchorages and I'm sure so did all these others boats ahead of us. Coming into the mouth of the "Alligator/Pungo Canal" are all our anchorages. It's dusk and yepper, there are all the boats that were ahead of us all splattered here in this area, now anchored. The early boat gets the anchorage? No, there is plenty of room but not plenty of depth. We try to find a spot that will afford us the ability to walk our "Anchor" but it does not work out. We drop the boat anchor in about 6 feet of water and try to dinghy to shore but it's a failure. It's way to mucky to walk and Anchor is merely confused about our intention to have her step into this soft stuff. This is called Tuckahoe Point, but it is not solid ground and it is getting dark. We go back and explain to Anchor the issue. She indicates she will try to go on deck later. Later never comes. We eat, rest, and sleep in this erie, extremely quiet, remote place surrounded by 11 other vessels. A great sunset. Any night noise wakes you. The anchor chain links rattle and the sound travels up the chain into our sleeping quarters. A strange noise at 3:15am makes me peer out via the pilothouse. Wow. A sailboat slowly underway, lit up properly, going by and down the canal we intend to use in the daylight. Can you imagine doing this at night? Must be "Captain Confidence" running that boat. I suppose with digital stuff working it wouldn't be that bad. Anyway, we sleep through the rest of the night nicely. Anchoring out, it's hard to remember..."Poof", as the day merges so tightly with the night, no time period ever seems done and over with. It's just a continuum.

Sunday: Yes Sir. It's Sunday now, I think. Coffee, up with the real anchor and off we go. At the crack of 9am, we are gone. The second last boat to leave our crowded, desolate spot. Almost everyone always leaves before us. The dog Anchor never performed on deck. Just stared at us upon attempts. The boat anchor chain is very mucky too. We are underway and we have twenty miles to go down this canal to get into the "Pungo River". It's a nice ride without anxiety and the depth is a constant 12 feet, oops, sometimes 8 feet and variable. Okay, a little anxiety. Getting to the "Pungo River" brings us just five miles from Belhaven, NC. We pick a marina out of the guide book and make a call and it all works out. It's 2:30 and we are at the "Forrest River Marina". Now, in the book, it described one marina and we ARE at the right place, but somethings funny here. Not bad, it's just a little run down compared to the way it sounded in the guide book. A new owner has taken over here and renovations are in progress. The courtesy and helpfulness makes up for the work in progress feeling. I am able to get tied up, fueled up, and pumped out, in about 45 minutes, and we are walking the streets of "Belhaven, North Carolina". Very quiet, very nice and we find our eating spot right away, which we will return to after a little more of a breather. Anchor used the "facilities" (grass) here 15-2 times, if you know what I mean, after not going for 24 hours. We do go back by foot to "Jack's Tavern" and have a splendid meal. Still very quiet all around us...easy to differentiate now between daytime and pooftime...we're gone.

Monday: It's another Monday and we're going to sit still. Forty four miles to Oriental. A Monday ago we were sitting at Tidewater Marina in Portsmouth, mile 0 of the ICW. Now we are at mile 136 of the ICW. Averaging less than 20 miles per day. I think "Lewis and Clark" were faster than us. But who's counting. It's a nice temperature here and we'll see if we can git-r-done tomorrow. Dennis is still in Annapolis and has taken the shuttle to Washington DC a couple times. Still says he is going to keep plugging in due time down the Chesapeake Bay.

Stay tuned for the adventures and misadventures of the LeeSeaAnne!!

Terry

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