We’re here! I’ve been looking forward to this for a long time, having heard about it for decades. We had to time it right to arrive at the southern lock at opening time, since the two locks that book-end the canal open on a schedule. We traveled in a parade of three boats…Nordic Tug in the lead, Mainship (us) in the middle, and a catamaran at the end. We slowed as needed to time our arrival at the lock, and Jeff said it was “slowest 23 miles we’ve ever done.” I didn’t mind! We successfully navigated the peculiar lock and successfully dodged storms — happy to let Yooper Too (the tug) take the lead, as he’s done this run before — and tied up at the Great Dismal Swamp Visitors’ Center (free dock) at Intracoastal Waterway Mile Marker 28 (ICW MM28) in North Carolina before 1 p.m.
It’s an unusual stop for boats. The busy Highway 17 runs alongside the canal here, so the Visitor’s Center is also a kind of truckers’ stop and roadside park. But it’s not noisy, and we have access to the clean bathrooms. The folks staffing the center are helpful, as the reviews suggested they would be. (It’s always nice when reviews are accurate.) We’re disappointed that the state park right across the canal, and its trails, are closed now but made the best of a relaxing afternoon and evening, in between bouts of rain and wind gusts – grateful that the most extreme winds and thunderstorms passed just north of us.
Construction of this canal began in 1793. (!!!) It took 12 years to build, through hand labor, provided mostly by slaves. It’s the oldest operating artificial waterway in the U.S. and is rich in both history and folklore. The Underground Railroad ran through here, and the swamp thus became home for escaped slaves who created communities called “maroons,” safe (mostly) from discovery by the surrounding swamp. The 22-mile canal is still maintained by the Army Corps of Engineers at a 6-foot (minimum) depth — although we saw mostly 7-7.5 feet. This depth is the reason why Looping boats with a deeper draft than ours generally take a different route. The Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway splits in Albemarle Sound, where bigger boats take a more easterly route and we lucky “small boys” get to head directly north. Into the swamp. Norfolk tomorrow!! Photos and captions below.
PS: The word “dismal” is an old word for swamp. But one can imagine the earliest explorers also found it dismal, especially in the summer. Bugs!
Update: Added a few photos from 2nd day. (Sun! Yay!)