FNR Goes to the Dismal Swamp

We’ve all done it because it’s the polite thing to do. Ooh’ing and aah’ing over someone else’s photos even though we’re not really impressed with what we’re seeing. It’s hard for us amateur iPhoneographers to capture what we’re seeing on our screens. I know that’s true for a lot of the pictures I’ve posted on Zen on a Boat, and that is definitely the case for pictures I took as we traveled up the Dismal Swamp Canal. Still, please be polite and take the time to look at them. At the very least, I hope they will inspire you to make the trip yourself one day. It’s one of those places you just have to see to believe.

We leave Lamb’s Marina around 9:00 Thursday morning. Once in the river, we put both the tarp and the screen house up. It is supposed to be a hot and buggy day. Everybody’s been warning us about the flies. Steve just smiles at me as we watch them bombard the screen house.

We get to South Mills Lock around noon. The next opening is at 1:30. We’re still not very good at figuring out how long it takes us to get someplace. We call the lock operator. He says he’ll let the water out so we can tie up to the pilings outside the lock. A few minutes before 1:30, we see the lock operator in the lock house. We’re the only ones there. We untie and wait for the lock to open.

Steve spent the last hour and an half telling me what to expect when we enter the lock. It really doesn’t sound like a big deal. The lock operator wants us to tie up on the port side and all I have to do is hand him my bow line. Easy-peasy, I’m thinking. And then, the lock opens. I am concerned. Steve neglected to tell me that FNR was going to be about 10 feet below the top of the lock which is where the lock operator is standing.

M: How in the world am I going to hand that man my bow line?

S: You’re going to use the boat hook and once he has your line, you’re going to hand me the boat hook so I can hand him my line.

M: You didn’t tell me about this.

S: I didn’t know there was going to be an 8’ lift.

I am doubly impressed. One, I hand my line to the lock operator like I know how to handle a boat hook and two, our boat rises 8’ in the water in 3, maybe 4 minutes.

We continue up the canal to the Welcome Center and anchor for the night. The lady there is very helpful. She warns us about the flies and tells us a dryer sheet tucked in a pocket will help keep them away. She gives us two of them but Steve tells her that we should be okay because we have a screen house draped over our cockpit. She says we are smart to have one. Steve just smiles at me.

Fine. The screen house is a good idea. I never said it wasn’t. All I said is that it wasn’t a good idea to be sewing on it in 100+ degree heat. You can quit smiling at me now, dear.

A couple of thunderstorms come through and cool things off but, even so, we’re in a swamp and it is HUMID. We’re the only boat at the Welcome Center so we’re okay with turning on the generators and running the A/C for a while to cut the humidity a bit. We eat dinner in the cockpit, and since no one’s around, we hook the water hose up to the faucet at the dock and shower there, too. We get clean and so does the cockpit.

We decide NOT to get up early enough Friday morning to make the 11:00 opening at Deep Creek Lock. We figure if we leave by 9 AM, we can make the 1:30 opening. Surprise. We miscalculate. We’re there at 11:30 and we laugh because if the guys dredging the canal, moved their pipes when they saw us coming instead of waiting for us to call them on the VHF radio and ask them to move them, then we could have made the 11:00 opening. No worries. It’s a cool day on the swamp and the screen house is still up. Life is good.

We are joined by a catamaran around 12:30. We chat for a bit and learn they’ve been cruising full-time for 8 years and are on their way to Maine. They ask us to keep an eye on their boat while they grab a bite to eat at the nearby Mexican restaurant and then run across the street to the Food Lion. That couple has obviously traveled this stretch of water a time or two!

The water is in the lock when we enter it so we are close to the top of the lock. Instead of taking the line that I am confidently handing him, the lock operator grabs his boat hook, snatches my line off the deck, flings it around the piling, hands it to me, and tells me to hold on tight because FNR is about to drop 8 ½ feet. I am amazed and concerned. I look at Steve.

M: I don’t think my line is long enough.

S: It will be if you stand up.

M: Ohhhhhh, that makes sense.

Out of the lock, we make our way up to Norfolk. We are actually staying in Portsmouth which is on the opposite shore of the Elizabeth River. We see lots of shipyards, both military and commercial, and a few marinas before pulling into Tidewater Yacht Marina.

Talk about culture shock. This is a happening place. A little too happening for us though. We thought about staying a week but two nights is enough. The fireworks over the river are the best we’ve ever seen but for where this marina is located and what we are paying to stay there, we are disappointed. Oh, well. Live, learn and post reviews on Active Captain.

The free dockage at Dismal Swamp Welcome Center gets five stars.

The $2.00/foot plus electricity Tidewater Yacht Marina gets two.

Hopefully, the video will earn a star or two.  Enjoy!

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