Monday, May 10, 2010

Back in Virginia

Last Thursday night, just before dinner onboard at the Dismal Swamp Visitor Center, four more sailboats arrived. They needed to raft up with us and the two other boats on this short dock. We finally got to meet Dwayne and Janet on Mystic Rose (after talking to them on the radio several times during the past few days) as they rafted up on our port side. Then we enjoyed happy hour with them and Warren and Patty from Warr de Mar. Those blasted no-see-ums and skeeters drove all of below after impromptu cocktail parties. It was really hot then. Thank heaven for fans.
That's a LOT of honeysuckle.
After awakening to a bird concert (there are 200 species here) and a cool morning, we enjoyed a “Honeysuckle High” as we passed through the upper half of the Dismal Swamp Canal the next morning. The honeysuckle (probably the invasive variety) was in bloom and covering the banks up to 30 feet high along both sides. Guess it’s better than kudzu, but it really chokes out everything, and the scent was almost overwhelming.

The canal is only a small part of the Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge’s 112,000 acres. We noticed that the trees immediately changed when we entered the manmade canal. Maple, oak, cedar, and the infamous sweetgum (Jeez, I hate those gumballs) joining the loblolly, tupelo, and bald cypress.

Bambi had to find a rare spot along the honeysuckled banks to get a drink.

A state park staffer showed us on a map where the 3-month long fires burned in the Virginia portion of the swamp bogs a few years ago. Nothing burned along the canal!

We really felt like we were getting close to home when we saw this sign. Goodbye North Carolina; you offered some great sites and sights.

After about 20 miles (and one thunk as we hit a small submerged log), we arrived too early at the lock and bridge at the north end of the canal, so Pete had “fun” keeping MicMac in the deeper center. Ever try to tread water with a boat?

The Dismal Swamp ICW passage cuts through the heart of the great swamp that straddles the North Carolina-Virginia state line. Part of the route is composed of the long Dismal Swamp Canal, which is situated between two locks, one at Deep Creek, Virginia, and the other in the small North Carolina village of South Mills. Both locks raise or lower cruising craft about 8 feet, and care must be taken when mooring to the lock walls. The locks currently operate four times a day, and skippers must take this schedule into consideration when planning their voyage.

Deep Creek lock is filling up.
The Deep Creek lock-tender (and bridge tender), Robert Peek, is a legend of sorts among the cruising folks. He can blow a conch shell like you've never heard. He can coax an entire song out of one! He has a "conch garden" (gifts from cruisers) and some healthy looking banana trees growing nearby. Our last look at tropical foliage for a long time as we waited less than 30 minutes for the water level to fall!

He easily fit all six of us boats along the sides of the canal. He's been at this job for 16 years. He told me had once fit 32 boats into the lock at once. That's gotta be tight!

The Dismal Swamp passage is definitely a treat for those interested in natural scenery and isolation. The canal allows a magnificent view of the swampy terrain, still for the most part in its natural state. The water is like strong coffee, although at this time of year, it has some pollen on top. We encountered very little boat traffic either. It's definitely the "road less traveled." Robert Frost would enjoy it.

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