Dismal? I Don’t Think So!

Dismal? I Don’t Think So!

At the beginning of the ICW we had to make a choice. We could have either taken the Albemarle & Chesapeake Canal (also known as the Virginia Cut) or followed the Dismal Swamp Canal. With a name like Dismal Swamp, it was an easy choice for us! 😉 At the beginning of this route there is a lock and a bridge to go through that only open a few times each day, so we had to time our arrival such that we didn’t miss the opening, but also so that we weren’t there too early. We ended up being the last of five boats to enter the lock, which worked a little differently than the ones we were used to on the Erie Canal. The lock-master told us to have a 30 foot line ready at each end of the boat, and as we approached the wall, he grabbed them from us and looped them around the bollards at the top. As we were raised up the eight feet to bring us to the level of the waterway beyond the lock, we pulled those lines in to keep us near the wall, while at the same time using boat hooks to push us away from the wall if we got too close.

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Sitting in the lock at the entrance to the Dismal Swamp waiting to be lifted up about eight feet.

When going through locks, there is a FIFO rule…the first one in the lock is also the first one out, which obviously means that we brought up the rear of the boat parade exiting the lock. The Dismal Swamp is very shallow and sometimes boats can stir things up off the bottom as they pass through, so we hung back from the pack for awhile as we didn’t want to be following too closely behind anyone. We still managed to bump what must have been a few logs floating below the surface of the water.

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Last one out!
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Lock gates closing behind us

About half-way through the canal there’s a visitor center (which is actually a highway rest stop) with a dock which can hold about three boats tied directly to it. We were the fourth boat to arrive, so rafted off the trawler at the front of the dock and made some new friends! In all our years of boating, this is the first time we have ever rafted off another boat at a dock. Kinda weird to have to traipse across their boat when we wanted to get off/on our boat, which we did in order to go check out the visitor center and state park which was also right there.

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Boats docked at the Visitor Center
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Another view of the boats docked at the Visitor Center taken from the bridge to the state park

The state park had great exhibits regarding the history and building of the canal, as well as local flora and fauna displays. The only problem was that learning the history of how slaves were used to build the canal, and the kind of conditions they were forced to work in, kind of had a negative affect on me. Up until that point I was in awe at how beautiful everything was in the canal and now I felt so bad for the folks who had built it that I didn’t even want to be in it anymore!

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The state park had more information on the horrible conditions in which those who built the canal were forced to work

In the morning, we were the first boat off the visitor center docks, so we led the caravan to the bridge and lock at the end of the canal which had a scheduled opening at 8:30am. We arrived at the bridge a tad early (8:15am) and had to fight the current to maintain our position in the narrow canal until it was finally opened at 8:33am. So nerve wracking! Then, once everyone was through the bridge, the lock master got in his pickup and drove down the road to the lock and met us there as we pulled in. We were dropped back down the eight feet we’d been brought up the day before and then we were thru with the Dismal Swamp Canal.

And now…for your viewing pleasure, a glimpse of what it looked like as the calm, tannin colored waters of the Dismal Swamp created beautiful early morning reflections.

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Train bridge on our way towards the Dismal Swamp which is held permanently in the raised position (as far as I am aware!)
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The Gilmerton Bridge in Portsmouth needed to be raised for several boats heading towards the Dismal Swamp
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The canal was narrow and shallow. Not only did we have to watch the depth, we also had to look above to make sure we didn’t hit any trees!
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Another view of the canal
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Distances from the end of the Dismal Swamp
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Mermaid sighting!

1 Comment

  • Evan Davila

    December 5, 2015 at 7:12 am Reply

    I love the way you guys began this post! That’s how all good adventures begin,…which way do we go!???
    It’s so sad to hear about the slave labor used to create the canal… We do have some ugly truths in this country.
    It’s good to see your having better weather for your adventure and I like that your only about 1000 miles away from entering international waters…. Be safe my friends… And have a safe Christmas!

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