Back          Home          Next

Doing the Dismal...Swamp, that is.

Here Galena sits, in the middle of the Great Dismal Swamp, I'm awake at 0300-hrs, the rain is pattering on the coach roof, I'm drinking hot chocolate and writing up my blog. Life is just so damned good.

I'm lying on the bulkhead of the North Carolina visitor center on the Dismal Swamp Intracoastal Waterway route. Here there is room for only 4 boats on the bulkhead. So we're rafted up four deep. We have 11 boats here for the night. Some of us will stay another day because of the forecast bad weather. My next stop is Elizabeth City. There have been 15 or so boats a day coming down this leg of the ditch. Most of them will be stopping in Elizabeth city. A crossing of the Albemarle Sound is not to be attempted in adverse condition. Conditions such as those forecast for the next few days. So I'll be staying here where it's quiet.

On the evening of 31 October I arrived in Solomons Island, MD, and anchored behind the little island (Mol's Leg?) at the entrance to the river. When I awoke (late) my neighbors were gone. I received an e-mail from Dave (s/v Phoenix) that morning. He used to be on O-Dock at Mears Point Marina with me. He'd moved his boat here some time last spring. He now lives aboard her. I called him and arranged to spend some time visiting.

About 0900 I moved Galena to a better anchorage up the river near the Holiday Inn. Then I dinghied over to Dave's boat. He's in Zahniser's Marina; one of the largest in the area. We visited a while.

Dave, working in his boat-home-office: s/v Phoenix docked at Solomon's Island, MD

Dave introduced me to Tom, s/v Star of the Sea. It's a 27' Island Packet. Nice little boat. Tom intends to sail it to New Zealand. He's already sailed it three times (Yeah, total!). He has a lot of learning ahead of him. Since he knows little about the ICW Tom said he'd like to follow me down to the Bahamas. He figures I know the way and can teach him a few things. Silly man.

Dave bought me lunch and then I got a call from Sarah and Bill (s/v Moonlight Serenade). They have their boat on the hard here and are doing some serious modifications before heading down to the Bahamas later this year. I had a great visit with them. Dave joined us as we had a late dinner at one of the many eateries in the area.

Bill and Sarah working on s/v Moonlight Serenade

Bill and Sarah taking a break

I also met Richard (s/v Wanderlust) on a Westsail 28. They are also 'heading south' and may cruise with me; on and off.

s/v Wanderlust

On Saturday morning, 01 Nov 08, I headed out of Solomons Island and toward Belles Creek. Belles Creek is a place I've almost always stopped on these trips down the Bay. It's 50 miles south of Solomons and 50 north of Norfolk. There is generally good holding and it's a secluded anchorage with reasonable protection. There's usually only one or two other boats there. This time I was the first there. Shortly after I anchored another boat arrived. s/v Turbulence is from Ontario. So of course they anchored right on top of me.

I had a quiet sail down the bay to Belles Creek.

01 Nov 08
Belles Creek
N 37-41.427 W 076-20.047
Trip: 48nm, Total: 97nm, Engine: 1912 hrs

I left Belles Creek very early. In fact I left earlier than I realized at the time. There was a time change during the night that I had completely ignored until I looked at my cell phone and noticed the time was different from that on my GPS. I didn't have the GPS time display set to Auto DST. So it, and therefore I, was an hour off most of the day. While I thought I was leaving at 0715, it was actually 0615.

Looking back at the Belles Crk Anchorage before dawn

Looking toward the Chesapeake Bay from the Indian River at dawn

Sunrise on the bay

Anyway, Sunday, 02 Nov 08, was a great day of sailing. The wind was out of the northeast and I was heading south. The wind was 10 to 15 kts and the chop was up to 3-ft. I had everything up most of the day and Galena was making over 6-kts. On occasion I had to drop the stay sail just to keep Galena from being overpowered. And for an hour around 1100 I actually fired up the engine because the wind just died. But soon I was back to hauling ass under sails alone! I even passed two boats which were also heading south. Galena never passes anyone and yet there she was: galloping along happy as a clam. The Aries wind vane steered well all the way so I just sat there reading a book and watching the bay roll by.

As I approached Norfolk I talked with Capt Ron (s/v Lastdance). He was sitting in the naval station's marina in Norfolk. He said there was room on the T-head next to him and I could just tie up there for the night. So I did. The wind came up and I was happy to be inside a marina's break water rather than on the hook at Hospital Point (which is what I had planned).

Lastdance and Galena in Norfolk

02 Nov 08
Norfolk, VA
N 36-57.18, W 076-18.55

Ron and I were up at 0600 and departed the marina at 0700. We wanted to make it to the Jordan Lift Bridge for it's first opening at 0830. But the bridge opened at 0820 instead. So we had to mill about with 5 other boats waiting for another opening. We hurried and had to wait.

Ron and I had discussed taking the Dismal Swamp route to Elizabeth City rather than the usual Virginia Cut route to Coinjock. I'd already done both. And while the swamp is something everyone should do at least once, once is enough. Ron hadn't. So we turned left and left the pack. Most of the boats in the group that came through the Gilmerton bridge with me headed down the normal, deep, Virginia Cut route to Coinjock. Only a few ever take the Dismal Swamp route. Mostly because the ditch is only 6-ft deep in many places. It's also very narrow.

Just at the start of the Dismal Swamp cut there's a lock. A matching lock at the southern end help keep the swamp water from emptying into the sea. When I arrived at the lock I had about an hour wait until the next locking. They only lock boats through four times a day. I was going to go through on the 1100 locking. So I dropped the anchor and waited with four other boats. Ron rafted up on me and we had a mid-morning snack while visiting. Just before the lock opened a gaggle of other boats arrived. Ron was concerned that they would cut in front of us and, being faster, would get to here, the visitor center, before us and take up all the dock space. I said we would just raft up to them. Ron still had concerns. I suggested that if we couldn't raft up at the center, I'd just drop the hook and we'd raft up in the middle of the canal. Once the last locking takes place there would be no more traffic to worry about.

The lock opened and we started in. "Five boats on the starboard wall," the lockmaster said. Lastdance was number 5. So I rigged for port side tie-up as I headed toward the lock. Then the lockmaster said, "Green sailboat: don't enter the lock!" I hit hard reverse. The boat behind me did the same. As I struggled to keep Galena under control the lockmaster said to bring her in right behind Lastdance. So I quickly switched all the fender's and lines for a starboard-side tie up as I headed into the lock. Then the lockmaster said, "Green boat: head to the far end of the lock and tie up port-side-to. So I maneuvered through the lock and, at the same time, repositioned my fenders for a port-side tie-up. All very frustrating.

All told, we put 13 boats in the lock. Five on each wall and three in the center. We took all of an hour to move move into the lock and then out after locking up twelve feet.

The Deep Creek Lock

Since I was moved to the port-side front, I was in front of everyone! And the swamp is far too narrow to pass. Sure, it's all a no wake zone. But I could just see the powerboats behind me fuming at having to motor along at 5.7 kts.

Looking aft at the powerboats following me

Once Galena was tied up here at the visitor center I had the pleasure of meeting Jeff and Julie. They are on an older Westsail 32 (s/v Oo La La). This is their first trip south and they are heading over to the Gulf Coast of Florida.

03 November 2008
Dismal Swamp, North Carolina Visitor Center. ICW milepost 28
N 36-30.394 W 076-21.352
Trip: 34nm, Total: 180, Engine: 1923

Galena and others at the Dismal Swamp Visitor Center.

So here I sit. Still raining and cold outside. And I'll probably sit here for a day or so.

Comments from friends

Nov. 4th, 2008 12:08 pm (local)
How Dismal Is It ?
Capt Bill & Capt Ron,
Glad to hear you guys are sailing together, makes it more better-er. Nice photo's Keep them coming.
Sail On Sailors

Capt John

Nov. 4th, 2008 12:22 pm (local)
Great Start!
Bill -
Sounds like a great start to your trip! Glad you met up with Ron.


Nov. 4th, 2008 07:35 pm (local)
Sunday's Wind
I was hoping you were making good use of that NE wind on Sunday. George, Gene, and I had a great sail back to the marina in it. You're definitely heading in a better direction though. I winterized. I know you don't know what that

Rising Tide

Nov. 5th, 2008 01:57 am (local)
Great pictures,thank you. Have a great trip and sail safe always. Esther
[info]bpinker wrote:
Nov. 13th, 2008 02:17 pm (local)
Nice to see you again
HI Bill,
Larry and I met you when you were in Marsh Harbour last winter with Tom and Joyce Meers. Love the photos and your commentary. I really liked the Ditch and Elizabeth City. Rosie made dozens of new friends there. Hope your trip down is enjoyable and if you get this far (Hollywood Marina 2 bridges south of the Port of Everglades inlet) you are welcome to stop by.
You can anchor in North Lake. We are the 41 ft Irwin Ketch on dock B-11. The Larua-Mae.
Come on down!

Back          Home          Next