The so-called “Carolina Loop” cruise consists of a journey north on the Dismal Swamp Canal, to the Norfolk, VA area. Most cruisers stay here for night or two, then cruise south via the AICW principal route, alternately known as the “North Carolina – Virginia Cut” and the “Albemarle – Chesapeake Canal.” This latter passage flows through a lock at Great Bridge, VA, then down the North Landing River, across a dredged passage bisecting northern Currituck Sound, through a canal bisecting the marina rich, but tiny village of Coinjock, NC, down the North River to a short hop west on the Albemarle Sound, and finally north on the Pasquotank River to Elizabeth City, NC. This latter community is a SALTY SOUTHEAST CRUISERS’ NET SPONSOR, and has the deserved reputation of being one of the most cruiser friendly stops anywhere.
Of course, you can start the loop at any convenient place, and there are variations, but the account above lays out the general route. It’s a great trip!
I did the Carolina Loop last year from up in the Chesapeake to Norfolk then to Coinjock, Elizabeth City, Great Bridge, Norfolk and home. It was a total of 245+/- miles. It is a wonderful short trip with a lot of wilderness and undeveloped river country. It was not a difficult trip from a navigation or logistical point of view but a nice introduction to canal, river, sound and swamp cruising. I recommend it as a test cruise and short adventure for anyone in the Tidewater area. There are three locks (Great Bridge, South Mills and Deep Creek), a few bridges and some open sound to traverse. The only real issue is the limited opening times of the locks. That changes from time to time based on water levels so check before you leave as to what schedule they are operationing on now. In Coinjock there are two marinas for fuel, food and lodging. There are many in Norfolk and Portsmouth and Elizabeth City has free docking at the town docks but not power. Water depth was never an issue but be alert to snags in the Dismal Swamp part and the North Landing River sections. Have a good time.