Dismal Swamp Canal, Intracoastal Waterway

16 November: Before departing, we made a brief foray to the Dollar General in Portsmouth, VA for food (quality, always), then left North Landing en route to the Dismal Swamp Canal. We joined a long line of boats exiting Norfolk and making the turn for this portion of the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW): a long, narrow (man-made) waterway between Norfolk, VA and Elizabeth City, NC.


First stop: the Deep Water Lock, my first lock experience(!!), and the first of two locks along this stretch of the ICW. Several boats lined up in front of the lock before the 1:30pm lift and the radio chatter was priceless. Really, it was superfluous boat banter at it’s finest. For example, in response to a question from one of the sailors in line, the lock attendant replied over the radio (for all to hear), “Actually, that is the exact opposite of what I just said.” Alex remembered this same attendant from his last trip through the Deep Water Lock five years ago. This guy’s a lock All Star.

Once in the lock lift area, we took the first position on the right side, which the attendant told us was the worst possible location. “Let me tell you, I will be releasing a million and a half gallons of water directly at your bow.” Yessir, I’ll be careful haha.

Before the lock lift:



After the lock lift:


The Dismal Swamp Canal is actually far from dismal. It’s slow going, but oddly magical, surrounded by deep woods, snarled roots, and twisting vines. You feel like you’re taking a walk in the southern woods (and you’re going about that speed as well haha). Today was overcast but warm, and the trees were in full fall colors the whole way. Birds in the sky overhead and floating branches in the murky, brown water below.


… Okay, sometimes it looked dismal:


We crossed the North Carolina state line, and headed to the Welcome Center for the night, which provides free docking for cruisers. Naively, I thought that one or two other boats would tie up there for the night. But when we arrived, it was a nine-boat party, with people rafted up three boats deep in the middle. Woo! We came alongside a young couple from Denver in a junk-rigged schooner, who had sailed from Nova Scotia. (We had actually passed them as we left Annapolis earlier this week.) Since leaving Maine all those weeks ago, we have found that the vast majority of sailors are older in age. So, when we meet other young sailors, it makes for a celebration.

The lighting of the picture doesn’t do justice to the Welcome Center crew last night:


17 November: Being on the outside of the Welcome Center raft, and eager to get to Elizabeth City, we left before any of the other boats in the morning.



We motored to the second lock and tied up in front of the drawbridge. To get the dogs off the sailboat for their morning walk, we had to lift them over the 5 foot wall that we were tied to. I don’t think Piper will ever get comfortable being lifted over somebody’s head. While we were doing our doggy lifts off and on our boat, the other vessels started to arrive. As always, we must have made for quite the spectacle!

By 8:30am, six boats had arrived for the bridge lift and lock drain, exiting the Dismal Swamp Canal, and entering the Pasquotank River. Several of the boats we’d met at various stops in our travels were converging in this lock at once: Ally Cat, we’d met yesterday at the Deep Water Lock; Makana from Georgetown and Deltaville; Falcon from the Welcome Center. All headed south! What a silly, yet vibrant, cruising community. (And to think, until a few months ago, I had no idea this lifestyle existed.)



The Pasquotank River is another beautiful, narrow waterway. The sun came out and we got to shed a few layers for the first time in weeks! (Can you tell we’re eager to get to warm weather? haha) At the end of the Pasquotank, we passed under a drawbridge and into Elizabeth City, NC for free dock space at Mariners’ Wharf. Just as we arrived, a surprise rain/wind shower bombarded the Abby B. while we scrambled to secure our lines to the pilings (pilings are the worst…). A nice gentlemen later informed us of a tornado warning in effect until 6pm. Welcome to Elizabeth City!

imageA long dog walk (in shorts!!) all around town led us to the fast food capital of the region, including fast food chains I’d never even heard of. In all, we counted at a dozen different fast food restaurants in a mile long stretch of road. Impressive and obese are the only two words that come to mind.

For dinner, we decided to skip the menagerie of fast food options and dine out at the Toyama Japanese Restaurant for sushi. Our appetites far exceeded our stomachs, and we committed the usual error of ordering far too much food. However, we are proud to say that while it was a struggle, we managed to finish everything that was placed before us. Good sushi can’t remain on a plate. Who knew Elizabeth City would be an acclaimed sushi destination for travelers?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s