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Driving down the ditch


The north lock to the Dismal Swamp
I've been struggling for some time with how to tell this story. You see, back in November I hitched a ride with a long time friend to help him take his boat south. This was his first "Snow Bird" trip. Full of excitement and a sense of adventure ready to take the Intercoastal and the Dismal Swamp after reading the travel guides telling of interesting people and places.

So on November 12th we left Annapolis for Norfolk and south. We were two couples that had sailed together many times before. We all liked each other and knew what to expect. The captain and I had spent many many hours racing my boat and worked well together.

There wasn't much wind on the Chesapeake Bay and it was on the nose. There is a rule on the Chesapeake Bay, wherever you go the wind is on the nose. So we motored all night and into the morning. Down below a cloud of steam led to the discovery that we lost half of the fresh water. This was a problem that the captain had seen before, but failed to correct. Fortunately a sailing buddy of mine is a diesel mechanic in Norfolk so I arranged to meet up with him and get the boat fixed, losing a one day of sailing.

The Dismal Swamp

The next day was thick fog and we waited a bit for it to burn off .... a little. Motoring again, fog and wind seem to be mutually exclusive. The captain took the helm and I maned the bow, watching for all manor of things you wouldn't want to hit, deadheads, navigational aids, boats and stuff. Eventually the fog lifted and we made it all the way to the north lock of the Dismal Swamp. One of the travel guides said, "The Dismal Swamp is a trip everyone should do once in their life." I probably could have made it through my life without the Dismal Swamp, but the north lock keeper was funny. He gives you a little speech about the canal to pass the time while the water rises. The lock keeper also operates the bridge just south. Go slow and let him get there first so you don't have to wait.

Shrimp Boat off N.C. shore

Now I want to tell you about the abysmal Dismal Swamp. It's just a ditch, 50 ft wide (mostly) and 6 ft deep (mostly). The trees grow right over the canal and smack your rigging if you're not careful. The highlight of the trip was the drainage conduit on the left. I guess you could say that I wasn't impressed.

After you lock out of the canal you find more ditch, maybe a little wider but still only 6 feet deep. Ok, ok maybe 7 feet deep. More trees, more motoring, more trees and oh, did I mention that it was the coldest November anyone could remember. It seems the further south we went the colder it got. And more trees....

There were some highlights along the way. The restaurant in Elizabeth, the couple we met in Oriental and the bridge keeper at .... where was that? I don't remember.All the little towns we passed through have blurred into one confused memory. There was adventure too! My buddies boat was nearly creamed when a big steel trawler crashed into our bow and slide off the port side. Yea, you're right, we could have done without that. So could the owner of the trawler, I believe his life passed before his eyes in those few seconds. The last we saw he was aground somewhere in the Intercoastal. We were debating if we could pull him off when we heard a tow boat service on the radio, coming to the rescue. So we went on, and on. More trees, more motoring, more trees.

I don't know what the final bill was for this trip, the captain didn't say. It certainly wasn't cheap. How much would it cost you to motor for say 30 days and stay at a marina every other day. I'm thinking my boat would cost about $3000-$4000 with food and such.

I argued that I would not do the Intercoastal again. I know a number of seasoned sailors that would help me with a delivery. I would go outside and avoid the whole mess. But since getting home and finding out that another boat from Annapolis went outside and had to be abandoned in 70 mph wind I've had second thoughts. Hmmmm, maybe I'll just stay in Annapolis and invest in Global Warming. Eventually Florida will come to Maryland.

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