Friday, May 3, 2013

We're In Virginia Now Via The Dismal Swamp

We ended up spending 4 days in Elizabeth City.  It is a nice town and the folks there love boaters. We were pleased to run into the crews of Bucket List (Larry and Cindy) and Blue Heron (Craig and Barbara) again and to meet a new couple who just started The Loop at Myrtle Beach - Jeff and Grace aboard SeaGlide.  We visited awhile aboard Bucket List and then went out to dinner.  Here's the whole crew (except Craig taking the picture).  I think Rhonda and Grace are looking at a car about to run over him standing in the middle of the street to take the picture!  Apparently no one else was concerned.

The last couple of days there were pretty windy so we took advantage of the time to get a new addition done to the boat.  It increases our flexibility and electrical options as we continue moving northward.

As a reminder (covered this in detail many posts ago) we have to plan and monitor electrical usage on the boat.  Shorepower is normally available in marinas but anchoring out, cruising during the day, running lengthy slow speed areas, and docking at no-shorepower locations like Elizabeth City require generator and house battery options.  We have a 7.5 KW stand-alone generator, a 5 KW generator clutch-belted off of the port engine, a 3000 watt inverter system, and now we have added a 2000 watt portable Honda generator.  It increases our flexibility when you need power for just a couple of items.  It's very inexpensive to run - it will run 15-18 hours on 1 gallon of gas compared to the 7.5 KW gen that burns 1 gallon per hour.  It's also very quiet. Anyhow, it took most of one day to get the generator on board, buy some portable gas tanks, and run some new cords/wiring for the items that we want the Honda to support, primarily the refrigerator and TV.

The weather was still dreary and windy but we decided to press on for our next stop - The Dismal Swamp.  Here's a short history.  In the 1700s there was an interest in connecting the deep shipping waters of Norfolk with the coastal waters of North Carolina.  George Washington had a business interest from that perspective and also considered it a "glorious paradise."  He bought 40,000 acres with plans to drain it, dig a canal, harvest the lumber, and turn it into farmland.  He only got 5 miles of the canal completed before abandoning the project.  There were other characterizations of the swamp such as one from an early surveyor calling it "a vast body of mire and nastiness."  Regardless, some lumber companies pressed on with the project using slave labor and completed the 22-mile canal.  Eventually, the US government decided to preserve about 100,000 acres as a unique and protected environment. The canal is the oldest man-made canal in the US today and is primarily used by recreational boaters.  Lots of Cypress trees line the southern end in NC and the water is very dark.

This stretch of the canal winds around the countryside in contrast to the more northern stretches that run as a straight line.  Don and Judy aboard their sailboat "Suite Endeavor" followed us through this area.  

Not only is the swamp "dismal" but our early morning trip through it was also "dismal" - cold, drizzly rain, and windy.  Here's where the canal straightens out.  As you can see, it is very narrow as well.

There are locks on both ends of the canal that raise and lower you 8 feet.

The canal gets a little "tight" occasionally. 

There was not much wildlife out on this stretch but Rhonda did get a shot of a couple of Canada Geese.  I have always called them Canadian Geese but the correct name is in fact Canada Geese.

Lots of turtles sunning on the logs along the way.  Normally turtles will head back in to the water when we pass by but apparently many of these, particularly the older ones, have gotten used to the boat traffic through here.

The NC Department of Transportation maintains a visitors center on the canal for vehicles traveling Highway 17. Right next door is the Dismal Swamp State Park maintained by NC Sate Parks.  I don't recall ever seeing that particular combination before - it was a bit unique with vehicular traffic pulling in for a "rest stop" with boats docked on the other side of the parking lot.

Paul and Judy aboard their sailboat "4-Cs" were also with us at Elizabeth City.  Most everyone travels separately but you keep running into many of the same people since everyone is generally traveling the same routes and schedules.

There is a pontoon bridge across the canal to a museum, walking/bike trails, and a boardwalk.  Yes, the bridge swings open for boats traveling through!  Since the locks open only 4 times a day, most of the boats come through at the same time so it's not a frequent opening/closing.

We were able to satisfy our grandson Bryce's request for a picture of a bear.  These two were not still living and breathing and that was actually our preference!  But with the help of a taxidermist it was pretty close to the real thing.  The Dismal Swamp is a natural habitat for bears and is home to many of them.

And if you also recall, our granddaughter, Alexis, wanted us to get a picture of an elephant.  We were not expecting to see one on this trip but here you are and here's the story.  We were chatting with the supervisor of the welcome center and asked where we could expect our best chance of sighting a bear and she obviously sent us across the canal for the picture above.  Then we mentioned Alexis' request and she said "I can help you with that one also!"  Apparently someone somehow acquired a headless elephant close to her home and placed it at the edge of the woods so only the rear end is visible from the road.  She went to the trouble to take a pic and emailed it to us. It's the best we can do and technically it is an elephant, so we appreciate her help.  Voila!  

We grandparents can be pretty creative at times, huh!  Connor wanted alligators (remember the Everglades), so there you are - alligators, bears, and elephants.  Mission accomplished.  Many thanks to Donna Stewart at the welcome center for her assistance!  Here's a shot of the grandkids also.

Back to the Dismal Swamp tour - here's the boardwalk through the dense forest and swamp.  We cannot imagine the task of clearing the area and digging this canal by hand.

We had a beautiful day for our exit through the northern end of the swamp.  Check out the reflections on the water and our welcome into Virginia.

This is not an upside-down picture of the sky - all reflection on the water! 

Lots of water lilies and other interesting vegetation along the way.

A farmer with land on both sides of the canal has "bridge rights" across the canal when he needs it.  The bridge is on rollers to extend it across to the other side.

I love the humor of the US Army Corps of Engineers here.  They have placed an official government sign in front of this old dilapidated home designating it as "The Superintendent's House."  

And another local resident has designated himself as the "Swamp Commander."  Hey, maybe it is actually the ACOE superintendent's new home with a new title! 

It is not unheard of for boaters to get blocked on the canal by fallen trees, especially after windy storms.  There are many trees along the banks with lots of the root system exposed and hanging out over the bank.  The thought of one of these monstrous trees falling on the boat did cross my mind a couple of times.  Here's one that has recently fallen - the Corps has come in and at least gotten the upper limbs cut to keep the passageway open.

We had other travelers accompany us for much of the day.  This heron would fly ahead of us a few hundred feet at a time, then wait for us to catch up so he could do it over again. We had a bald eagle fly in front  for just a short time - not long enough to get a picture.

As we neared the end of the canal, there were lots of posts along the right bank, I assume from some sort of retaining wall from the past.  These two birds posed for me to get a nice shot of them.

These posts have definitely been here a while.  Many of them had small trees growing out of them like the one above.  This one has a nice covering of grass. It looks like the "troll" dolls of the 1980s.

The day turned out to be very long and tiring.  There was a delay at the exit lock, then delays at bridges arriving the Norfolk area.  There was an immediate stark contrast as we left the remote areas of The Dismal Swamp and entered the massive shipping and industrial areas of Norfolk.  

We finally got docked at Ocean Marine Yacht Center in Portsmouth and will probably be here a couple of days for weather, mostly strong winds again.  We have to really plan carefully now - the Chesapeake Bay is a huge body of water that we must take seriously.  But we are glad to be in a new state with new water to travel and new sights to see.    

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