Pasquotank River, Dismal Swamp, and ICW Mile Marker 0

Pasquotank River, NC

Dawn, Pasquotank River, ICW North Carolina
Pasquotank River at Dawn
Majestic trees tower over the duck weed covered waterway. The scenery is some of the most beautiful we’ve seen on the ICW; I can’t imagine why we’ve been so focused on traveling far and wide - when we have America the Beautiful, right here. It’s profoundly still and peaceful, other than the calls the birds and frogs are making to each other. Then I see it. My heart stops as I turn and face Matt at the helm. Time to add our own unmistakeable call to the mix. STOP! I yell at the top of my lungs. STOP!

We would have spent the previous night listening to the owls and frogs of the swamp, but instead we listened to the glorious and much appreciated sound of our generator running our AC. The alarm went off at 5:30 - first light - and we pulled the anchor and headed up the Pasquotank River. It was surreal - we were all alone, leaving hull trails in the duck weed behind us, chasing a great blue heron swooping back and forth over the river.

Duck weed on the Pasquotank River
Hull Trails through the duck weed
Mirrored Reflection
I knew there would be logs in the river, but I was not prepared for hundreds of logs. Some as small as twigs, some very thick but cut short, some full size trees; all just below the surface and not discernible from a leaf until you smack into them. I helmed while Matt made coffee. Thank the Lord! I helmed while Matt checked his phone for warnings. I helmed while Matt took pictures. I helmed while Matt seemed to enjoy himself. At this unacceptable point, I demanded that he go forward and watch for logs. He stood there, and let me run into logs. He stood, and took pictures of the logs, without warning or instruction. He was recalled from duty and given a talking to. "What’s the point? We’re going to hit them anyway”, he said. We switch jobs, which makes no one happy.

Driving is stressful, but Hastings is ready to go back to bed. Also, shouldn't Matt be watching for logs instead of taking photos? 
Preparing to yell. 
So, we’re enjoying some of the most scenic waterway we’ve had all trip, interrupting the silence to scream at each other. Yes, at some point I wondered what all the screaming did, and considered Matt’s point that we’d be better off at ramming speed. Once a log was spotted, I’d do the yelling, but then have a second to decide which way for Matt to turn. If he turns to the left, he’ll run into a different log. There’s no space in this narrow canal, and who knows what lies beneath? We slow down. I try to tell myself that it’s not that bad, these bumps in the canal, but every bump sends my blood pressure soaring. Every leaf has my heart in my throat. I glance back at Matt. He seems happy, staring at the sky, looking at his phone, drinking water, enjoying the shaded position while I’m having a nervous breakdown in the full sun and feels like temps of 110.

Dismal Swamp Canal: South Mills Lock

Waiting for South Mills lock
The first lock appeared, finally. I thought this would be the first stressor of the day - but at 8:00AM, we’re both pretty much ready for the day to be over. We are 30 minutes early, but with no wind or current, it’s easy to hold our position. I’m glad we didn’t spend the night here - I simply can’t imagine either tying up to the dolphins or anchoring in this narrow area. The lock master answered my radio call and gave us instructions for the port side. Locks entering the canal lock through first. We hook our bow and stern lines on the lock tender’s boat hook, he wraps them around a bollard, and hands the bitter ends back to us. We’ll be headed up, 8 feet. By the time we got to the top, Hastings was besides himself. I see land! Grass! Let me off! It was really hard to tell him he’d have to wait. The process takes about 30 minutes, then the tender leaves to open our bridge. Boats leaving the canal start locking through at 9AM and are done at 9:30AM. For our late summer lock through, there were no southbound boats.
Getting ready to be raised 8 feet

Dismal Swamp Visitor Center

2 additional miles of fun and games, and we approach the Dismal Swamp Visitor Center and dock. Finally, we can offer Hastings grass and make up for that terrible incident at the locks.

Dismal Swamp Visitor Center docks
One of the many trails at the park
We press on and depart the docks. Immediately, a deep thump. A submerged log that we didn’t even see. Sigh. The canal gets narrower, and as I point out logs to Matt, I catch him staring at the sky. Must be nice. Is he on drugs? Why isn’t he sharing? I look up at the trees. They’re beautiful, arching tall and creating a canopy over the waterway. Oh for goodness sakes, our rigging is threatened by the canopy! Trees up above and trees down below.

Deep Creek Lock

Somehow, we arrived at the second lock. The boat is fine, but our minds are battered. Even though we are leaving the canal and should have to wait until 2 to lock, there are no southbound boats, so we lock through at 1:30, descending 10 ft. The sight of unattainable land again infuriates Hastings. You’d think all the water rushing out to lower you 10 ft would be terrifying, we’d be hanging on to our lines for dear life, but it’s just like nothing. I didn’t even notice we were being lowered until I was eye level with a dock that used to be at my feet. Fancy that. It’s likely that the heat and stress have fried my brain. I wasn’t using it anyway.
Lock Bridge
We're Up!
And We're Down
And...We're Out!

Gilmerton Bascule Bridge

It would be nice to anchor and de-stress but we've insanely burdened ourselves with more hurdles ahead. It’s 2:15 and we are racing to make a 3PM bridge 4.5 miles away that won’t open again till 7PM. We arrive in the vicinity of the bridge, but there’s already barges dancing and waiting. We join the awkward dance, we wait, we call the bridge tender, the barge coordinates with the other tugs and containers on the other side of the bridge and we wait. 

Gilmerton Bridge Traffic
At 3PM the bridge starts to open. At 3:07, it’s open and traffic on the other side slowly moves through. At 3:17, the southbound traffic is clear and now it’s our turn; we follow the barge that has to navigate the bridge while making a sharp turn. We go through at 3:25, the bridge starts closing at 3:30, and opens for vehicle traffic at 3:35. 

Gilmerton Bridge
I notice a school bus at the front of the line. I bet the driver enjoyed an extra 37 minutes of kids hitting each other! (The bridge had mechanical issues that mean it is being operated manually, hence the slowness and limited opening times. How does the manual operation work? Is it pulleys? A treadmill? How many people does it take? I have questions!) We’ve been up since 5:30AM, we’ve navigated hundreds of logs, overhanging trees, locks and a very busy bridge. But the day is not over my friends!

ICW to Norfolk

We had awoken to complete solitude, just a few frogs chirping in the bushes. Now we are immersed in the busiest section of waterway the US has to offer! Exciting! Navy war ships, aircraft carriers, Coast Guard helicopters, Navy police boats, sailboats, tugs, containers, barges, jet skis - everyone is here and jostling. The radio traffic is insane as everyone steps on each other - switching channels up and down, negotiating passages, take-overs and turns.

We arrive at our intended anchorage. Finally, we can all breathe a sigh of relief. I bet an anchor down beer is waiting. And what about the MM 0 champagne? (Oh wait, we don’t have any champagne). But first, first we must anchor. And this is our weakest moment that always seems to come at the end of a long day. We pick a spot and anchor. Matt doesn’t like it; we pull the anchor and circle back out to the channel. "You pick the spot and tell me when to drop the hook," he says, resigned. “OK.” I pick the spot. I tell Matt to drop the anchor. “What about that crab pot”? "This is the spot. Just drop the anchor!” MM0, baby!
Long Day!

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  1. Hmmm...I'm thinking Matt shouldn't be getting any brownies for a very long time as some sort of punishment for the whole log fiasco :-) Feel free to send his brownies to me instead.

    1. Poor Matt. I hope you like yours with walnuts!

    2. Ick. No walnuts. You can pick them out and feed them to Hastings before you send my brownies to me :-)


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