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Dismal Swamp Canal Reopened: Photos and Video

We were super excited to attempt the Dismal Swamp Canal, a beautiful and slow going secondary Intracoastal Waterway route. It had been closed for over a year since being damaged by Hurricane Matthew in October 2016. Hundreds of trees were downed and the canal shoaled to 1 ft depths in some areas.

Since the canal had only been opened a few days, I called the Corps of Engineers in Norfolk. They reported that a catamaran had gone through already and if we went slow we should be able to make it just fine. And why not try? It's an adventure!
Boats at Portsmouth, VA town docks at high tide
Portsmouth, VA, being overtaken by the sea
Boats heading south from Norfolk on the ICW
Lots of boat traffic heading south
It was a relief to leave all that traffic and noise behind and turn off into Deep Creek, which leads to Deep Creek Lock and the start of Dismal Swamp Canal. 
Deep Creek
 We arrived at Deep Creek lock at 10:30, ready to lock through at the scheduled 11AM lock. The lock had a power issue and we anchored and waited until 12:15 to finally enter the lock. We totally thought we would be alone of have one other boat with us, but we had 5 other boats join us! 
Deep Creek Lock
Deep Creek Lock, Dismal Swamp Canal
Deep Creek Lock
Tending lines
We were raised 8 feet, and set off into 67 billion tons of duck weed. This floating green stuff threatens to clog engines that like clear cooling water and cause engine overheating and shut downs. Immediately, the boat behind us overheated and turned around, ready to lock back through. They headed for Great Bridge lock on the regular route, which then closed due to high water. Boating, it's the worst. 
Boats approach Deep Creek Bridge during fall
Deep Creek Bridge 
Sailboat leaves Deep Creek lock heading south on the Dismal Swamp Canal
Leaving Deep Creek Bridge
After traveling Deep Creek Bridge, there is a shoal area at MM13, just before the Big Feeder Ditch. It is marked by stakes with "Caution" tape. This was the shallowest area we saw at 7.1 feet.  
Dismal Swamp Shoal area at Feeder Ditch
Feeder Ditch Shoal area
We were most concerned about the 25 foot wide channel at MM 22, but it was totally fine. 
25 Foot Wide Channel, Dismal Swamp 
Watching our mast for overhanging trees
There's plenty to see and do on the Dismal Swamp route - we watched for logs, duck weed, and overhanging trees. We hit a few of each, just for fun. Then, there's the overheated boats to overtake, while they drift in the bushes and clean their intakes. Why do it? Because it's absolutely beautiful! 
Fall Colors
North Carolina state line, Dismal Swamp Canal
Entering North Carolina, our favorite state! 
Not everyone loves the Dismal Swamp. Power boaters don't like the slow speed (we were going at 4 knots). Most boaters are rightly afraid of trees, above and below. Now there are reported shoal areas and engine clogging duck weed, this alternate route seems like too much trouble. The regular route boasts marinas, gas stations, wide canals, and most importantly, a famous restaurant serving 32 ounce prime ribs. Hastings would agree; nature is boring, give him 2 pounds of steak! 
Fall Colors!
Whew! We travelled 28 miles on the first day and were ready for a break. Thankfully, Dismal Swamp Visitor Center has a roadside rest stop for drivers and a canal side dock for weary boaters. We met with our fellow boaters and bemoaned the duck weed. We'd kept passing them, in the bushes, cleaning out huge clumps and cursing. We had barely any - our sail drives are 18 inches below the water line and below the evil stuff. 
Dismal Swamp Visitor Center Dock
 The next day was dreary and overcast, but it was still beautiful.
Leaf tannins stain boat hulls, Dismal Swamp Canal
Leaf Stained Water
Lagoon 380 Sailing Catamaran drives through the Dismal Swamp Canal
Pressing on through the duck weed
Matt at the helm
 We approached South Mills Bridge, ready for their 11AM opening. Here, northbound boaters lock through first. A huge rush of water is forced by us as the lock is filled, causing us all in jostle together in an alarming fashion. Then, the lock tender drives to the bridge and opens it. Southbound boaters head through the bridge, which the tender closes, before driving to the lock, tying us all up, and opening the lock. It's a slow process! The bridge opened at 11:25, and we were out the other side by 12Noon. 
South Mills bridge opens
Hastings finds this boring
Boater transits a staked channel, Dismal Swamp, South Mills area
Final staked channel just south of South Mills
Boaters leave the Dismal Swamp Canal on a fall day
Dismal Swamp Canal: that's a wrap!
Boater encounters a log leaving the Dismal Swamp Canal
LOG!
Entering the Pasquotank River, red markers should be on the port side for south bound boaters. Usually ICW red markers are on the starboard side... here the ICW is marked by a square sticker on the red marker. It's confusing, but we have to pay attention.....one of our party took the marker on the wrong side and ran aground (he did manage to extricate himself). After surviving all the hazards of the canal, the wide open river is also available to inflict pain and suffering on us poor boaters. 
Red river marker, ICW square marker, Pasquotank River
Red River Marker (looking back)
But wait, our boating troubles aren't over! We have to get through this narrow railroad bridge! 
Narrow railroad bridge, Pasquotank River
Well, it was another long day. We travelled an entire 22 miles and were very grateful for the free docks at MidAtlantic Christian University. Poor Hastings couldn't find a 2 pound steak, though. I think he's still harbouring resentment. 
Elizabeth City, Harbor of Hospitality
Free Dockage in Elizabeth City, NC 
Tied to a tree, MidAtlantic Christian University
Check out our 5 minute video of the Dismal Swamp Canal Transit:

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7 comments

  1. It does look beautiful. Love Hastings sweater - he looks adorable in it.

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    Replies
    1. The sweater is so cute! I think we're all ready to get to Florida and put away the sweaters though!

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  2. Replies
    1. Thank you, Christopher! It was a great trip!

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  3. Boating among the fall colors sure is different than driving a car. Very pretty. But, yeah, that green stuff is nasty. Glad your engines are OK. And, so nice that there were so many free docks available. A treat, especially for Hastings. Happy Southing!

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    1. We were lucky with our timing for the fall colors and the free docks!

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  4. Why is it called dismal? There's nothing dismal here if you don't count the green stuff. Lovely trip. I'm glad you got to do it. Say Hi to Hastings from me!

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