Two months later, we’ve passed mile zero.

I forgot to mention in the last post that on our way from Deltaville to Hampton, a yellow warbler came and joined us for a little while.  The winds were in the high teens and all of a sudden this cute little bird landed on our coaming next to where I was sitting.  We figured he was looking for a break from the wind.  He hopped off the coaming and onto my leg, and then onto my arm.  I don’t think he realized that I wasn’t a piece of furniture, and I stayed stock still.  

He flew inside the cabin, much to our dismay, but then a few minutes later he flew out and tried to land on the engine shift lever.  That didn’t give him enough grip, so he headed for the other coaming when – WHOOSH! – he got a bit too close to the wind and he blew away.  Poor little thing.  I wish I had my camera.  He was really quite cute.  Now back to our regularly scheduled programming.  

We had a good trip to Connecticut, albeit a long drive.  Jeff received a six month reprieve from the cardiologist assuming nothing changes, and we had a great time visiting my aunt in Charlottesville and several friends in Connecticut.  I was a little concerned that after sleeping in a queen size bed, enjoying daily unlimited hot showers, and hanging out in something larger than our Pegu Club we might be reluctant to go back.  That didn’t happen though.  We missed her and the lifestyle that we are rapidly adjusting to, and were quite excited to be heading back on Tuesday.  After spending one additional day in the marina, we were off bright and early on Thursday to officially begin our journey down the ICW.  

The Atlantic Intercoastal Waterway runs from Norfolk, VA to Miami, FL along a series of rivers, bays, and canals.  It is substantially slower than sailing offshore, but the tradeoff is it’s more protected and there are many towns to visit along the way.  Boaters don’t have to commit to the whole thing once they’ve entered.  There are inlets where you can hop out, go offshore for a night or two, and then hop back in, and many people do that.  We may find ourselves doing the same thing if it starts getting really cold!  

The ICW is something that we have been very much looking forward to.  Several years ago we rode our bicycles down the Erie Canal from Buffalo to Albany and we really enjoyed the slow pace and little areas to explore.  We are hoping that the ICW will provide a similar experience.

With a small craft advisory in place and winds in the high teens/lower 20’s, we knew it would be a sloppy ride from Hampton to Norfolk, but once we ducked in it would be significantly more protected.  Fortunately the wind was going to be mainly behind us, so we dove out, rocked and rolled our way across the Elizabeth River, and as we had hoped things settled down as we rounded Sewell’s Point in Norfolk.

There were a variety of ships in Norfolk.

We complain when they get the weather wrong, but we’re sure glad we have NOAA!
The Norfolk Naval Shipyard is one of the largest in the world.

The ICW is measured from marker 36 in Norfolk, representing mile zero.  For some reason miles are statute miles instead of nautical miles.  Around mile 7 boaters have to decide between two options: the Dismal Swamp Canal or the Virginia Cut with both routes rejoining at mile 79.  The Dismal Swamp is prettier but more shallow, with not infrequent floating logs and stumps, and there are two locks that boaters need to go through.  The Virginia Cut is faster, being wider and deeper (so fewer floating obstacles) with only one lock and few speed restrictions.  

Here we go!

We had wanted to take the Dismal Swamp but had read many reports this season of people hitting submerged logs and branches, causing boat damage in some instances.  Which route to take was a frequent topic of conversation on Pegu Club for several weeks, and we changed our minds repeatedly.  Our friends on S/V Lone Star had even texted us while we were in Connecticut telling us that they had hit an underwater log and damaged their propeller, necessitating slower travel and a haul out further down the road.  Despite this, we ultimately decided the night before we left Hampton to opt for the prettier, slower, Dismal Swamp.  

The Dismal Swamp Canal’s two locks open four times daily, and we had hoped to catch the 11:00 a.m. opening but we were held up (along with several other boats) for around 15 minutes while we waited for a railroad bridge to open.  This was our first time that we’ve encountered a bridge that was too low for our mast.  I had read about boats occasionally having to circle while they waited for bridge openings and I wasn’t sure how difficult that would be, but there wasn’t any problem.  We simply hung out in neutral, occasionally going in reverse or turning a bit.  I’m sure it helped that there was plenty of room and only about six other boats!

With the delayed bridge opening there was no way we were going to make the 11:00 lock so we puttered along somewhat behind another sailboat.  As we got closer to the lock I noticed several masts, and I said to Jeff that it appeared that the lockmaster had waited.  At that point I heard the boat in front of us radio the lockmaster, letting him know that there was one more boat (us) behind him, so we increased the throttle and zoomed towards the lock.

This was our first canal lock we’ve ever gone through, but I was so surprised that we were going to make it (it was already almost 11:30) that I didn’t have a chance to get nervous.  Robert the lockmaster is famous among boaters for being extremely friendly and knowledgeable about the Dismal Swamp’s history.  People who arrive early actually get to hang out and talk to him, but our late arrival had us missing out on that.  We did get to experience his notorious friendliness, and when we told him this was our first time in a lock he clearly explained what we needed to do.  All went well, and the next thing we knew we had risen eight feet and were heading out the other side!

Our first lock – a completely different experience than watching an Erie Canal lock from above on our bicycles!


The locks close behind Pegu Club.

Robert does double duty as the tender for the bridge that is 3/10 of a mile farther down, so we all puttered along while he hopped into his truck and drove to the bridge.  The bridge was being a bit stubborn, but Robert did a great job keeping us all updated on the radio with his fine sense of humor, and a few minutes later we were all continuing our journey, taking note of a last minute tip from Robert about a submerged tree around mile marker 20.

Entering the Great Dismal Swamp Canal.

Typically boaters stop for the night at the Dismal Swamp Canal Visitor’s Center.  The docks have room for several boats and rafting (where boats tie up to each other) is expected.  I was unusually tired, however (I blamed the flu shot I had received at CVS the day before), so we decided to stop about 10 miles early at Douglas Landing which had a free 100 foot bulkhead.  With no current and virtually no wind it was easy to slide right up to it, so by 2:30 we were tied up, relaxing in the cockpit, and enjoying the quiet solitude all around us.

Our free dock for the night in the Dismal Swamp Canal.  We had it all to ourselves.

8 thoughts on “Two months later, we’ve passed mile zero.

  1. What a sweet report, and good on you for taking the Dismal Swamp route which you have now encouraged us to do some day. The submerged logs and junk sound like a real hazard, but then it’s one more reason you chose the Bristol keel/prop protection (in addition to the northern traps), eh?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, John! The Dismal Swamp was definitely worth keeping a heightened lookout ahead. We would do it again next time, even if there is a bit of luck involved in not hitting anything. We did say to each other that we are glad we have a skeg! Kimberly


  2. Nice.

    In Seattle, one must have three bridges raised (four if you are on Lake Union) and go through a lock to reach salt water.

    What we enjoyed most was the transition from being a tourist watching the boats go through the locks, to being the attraction that the tourists watch.

    The empty dock looks wonderful.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, John. We enjoyed a similar transition the first time we went to Noank. Instead of watching the boats go down the Mystic River from Abbott’s Lobster in the Rough, we were one of those boats! 🙂 We definitely enjoyed the empty dock. I suspect that’s one of the few benefits of being so far behind everyone else who is making the journey south this fall. Kimberly


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