Getting Ready The Chesapeake Bay The Great Dismal Swamp North Carolina South Carolina Georgia Florida

Roni Tails Sea Tales and Other Stories Pictures of Doublewide Mayaca Railroad Bridge

The Great Dismal Swamp

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May 18, 2004

Today is the day that I begin the journey of the actual ICW. I had passed mile marker 0 the night before and was about 1 mile inside the ICW at Ocean Marina, I count today as the start.

Up until now most of my sailing had lots of depth and lots of height. I hadn't passed under any bridges and tried (with some exciting exceptions) to stay in deep water. All that is about to change...


The ICW is littered with bridges, both fixed and opening ones. Since Doublewide's mast is 47' tall, she can easily fit under the shortest fixed bridge on our route, which is 50'. Still, I will be holding my breath as it is quite disconcerting to watch the mast as it begins to go under a bridge, even if it is 20' higher than the top of the mast it is disconcerting: Doublewide going under a Bridge

Many of the lift and bascule bridges open on a schedule or only between certain hours.

This meant that I had to wait at the first bascule bridge on the ICW until it opened for us at 8:30. I arrived there at 7:30, as that was the posted opening time, but they had changed it since the guide was written. Another boat was there waiting with me, so we slowly circled back and forth for an hour. We needed to get to the first lock on The Great Dismal Swamp before 11:00 a.m. as that was the last of two openings in the morning and it would allow us to reach the second lock at 3:30, in plenty of time for its scheduled opening.

After passing through a series of bridges, we came to the decision tree - the Virginia Cut or the Great Dismal Swamp Route. For me it was an easy choice. The Great Dismal Swamp was open, it sometimes isn't, and they may close it permanently. This may be the last chance that I have to see it. So I chose wisely...


Having never negotiated a lock before, I was a little nervous. I'd been told "Oh, they are hard! I can't believe you are going to do this single-handed!", and "Oh, no problem, you'll have an easy time of it!". One thing I did learn was to have dock lines handy so that I could toss them up to the lockmaster 11' above (could I toss a line that high??). But I arrived at the lock an hour and a half early and tied up to a 'dolphin' (a post sticking out of the water) and waited. The water was calm, there was a gentle breeze and we sat and waited, enjoying the scenery.

When the lock opened, one boat came out and it was our turn to go in. I hollered up to the lockmaster that I was singlehanding so he'd know I couldn't rely on a crew and he said "No problem, just point to the bow line" - which I did, I had led it aft - he reached down with a long boat pole, snagged it and snuged the bow up to a bollard at the top. He then reached down and picked up the stern line I was holding and - voila! We were made fast!

It all took less than a minute. These guys are professionals! When the lock was closed and water started in, I had to keep taking in the stern line, but the lockmaster watched my bow line for me. Thus we reached the top safe and sound. We had about 10 minutes to play around on shore at the lock. Roni had some fun chasing a frisbee and I stretched my legs too. We still had a long ways to go but this eased my mind about the rest of the journey.

Straight as an Arrow

Inside this part of the ICW, between the locks the canal runs straight - and narrow. There is barely enough room for two boats to pass each other and two sailboats in particular as there are some trees overhanging a bit and you don't want to get rigging tangled in them.

The water is a deep rich root beer color - this is a result of the tanin from the trees and not from pollution, although I can see why people would be fooled. The smell has that same quality of home made root beer. There must be a lot of sassafras in the forest around here too. We used to dig up a root every so often and make some sassafras tea. Wonderful stuff and the exact same shade as the water.

We reached the second lock at about 3:00, but it didn't open until after 5:00, which put me in a bit of a bind as I had to reach Lamb's Marina before it got dark to insure I didn't miss it! The entry to Lamb's is narrow and hard to see, and there is no place to anchor where I could take Roni ashore - everything around here is cypress swamp, so I didn't want to get caught out and make Roni suffer.

But we got through this inefficiently run lock (in comparison to the first lock) with no difficulty - I got no help at all from the lock tenders, but didn't really need it. We dropped the 11' we had been raised a few hours previously and we were out into the beginnings of the Pasquatank River, which winds along some of the most beautiful parts of the ICW.
There were 3 of us that went thru the locks together. One boat, a gorgeous Nordic Tug took off at about 8 knots and was well ahead of us as they wanted to reach Elizabeth City before dark. The other boat was a large sailboat, Drum Buoy. I had been following it (and thus not worrying about navigation!) since the last lock. It left to anchor and I travelled the last few miles alone in plenty of time to enter Lamb's Marina at around 7:00.

I had crossed two states and been through two locks and under multiple bridges that day and I was wiped out, and THIRSTY! The guys who showed up on the dock to give me a hand were welcome sights and they seemed to know I needed a little extra care. Doublewide was tied up nice and secure and I got a well deserved and needed drink, took Roni for a walk, visited for a while and then tumbled into bed...


I have been worried about Roni ever since the beginning of the trip, as she was sometimes deleriously happy, I had begun to think that things were going to be OK. But she was getting more and more remote from me. Finally, she refused to come into the bedroom to sleep with me and I knew there was something wrong... She had never not wanted to be with me every minute and now she didn't really seem to want to be near me at all. Even on walks she was distant... So when the next day I decided that she had to go home. As my observant friend Drew pointed out, "All of the good things that have ever happened to her have happened at her home. She is afraid she may never see it again."

So I made the decision. Rented a car and spent 3 days driving her back to Texas. I hate to leave her and go back alone, but this is what I must now do. The rest of the trip I will make by myself. It will be better for her but it will be lonely for me. I will think of her all the time and she will always be my Chief Pretty Officer

I know that she will learn to love the boat, particularly on our short weekend cruises when I get Doublewide down to Texas, where we go 'fun places'. She can spend time with the frisbee and sitting on the back of the boat watching the world go by and know that she will get to go home when it is over.

Roni girl, I will miss you on the rest of this adventure...

Click an image to see a larger version.

Approaching Rr Lift Bridge
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Leaving Portsmouth
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Barge Pushed By Tug
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Lift Bridge Mechanicals
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Dismal Swamp Virginia Cut Marker
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Dismal Swamp
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Waiting For Deep Creek Lock To Open
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Me Taking Picture Of Water At Deep Creek Lock
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In Lock Waiting To Rise 11 Feet At Deep Creek Lock
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In Lock Waiting To Rise 11 Feet At Deep Creek Lock
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Dismal Swamp Canal
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Water The Color Of Root Beer
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65 Foot Highway Bridge On Canal
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Dismal Swamp Canal
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Pasquatank River
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Pasquatank River
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Getting Ready The Chesapeake Bay The Great Dismal Swamp North Carolina South Carolina Georgia Florida

Roni Tails Sea Tales and Other Stories Pictures of Doublewide Mayaca Railroad Bridge