The Dismal Swamp Canal route is my favorite. It is always a sweet anomaly to be in the middle of a jungle traveling serenely aboard an ocean capable vessel seemingly light years away from her natural element.
Ocean Gypsy passed southbound on this route last October, and it was perfect. We saw no snags, so no shoal spots on the depth sounder, and there were no mysterious bumping noises indicating an underwater snag. We anchored north of the Deep Creek lock the night before we entered the canal and locked through with half a dozen other sailboats. With the recent (since my last passage) widening and relocation of Route 17 in Virginia, one no longer sees much in the way of vehicular traffic, and I’ve always found that the sound of my boat’s engine masks any noise from the highway even where it closely parallels the canal.
The Welcome Center is even better than ever as there is a new Dismal Swamp museum located on the opposite canal bank. Access is provided by an interesting (and clearly very expensive) hydraulically retracted floating bridge. The museum itself is relatively small but provides a comprehensive history of the canal with many illustrative examples. When one views the panel about birds, the sounds of their varied and colorful songs emerge unobtrusively from the background. We stayed one night at the Welcome Center and were happy to become reacquainted with our friend Penny Leary-Smith who has run the the facility from its inception. We are always delighted to stop there whether by car or by boat, and always do.
Our half-dozen sailboats were joined at the welcome center by a 45 foot multi decked power boat. This is unusual, as most power cruisers prefer the Virginia Cut route where they are not limited to 6 knots and where the risk of hitting debris with their screws is less, or so it is believed.
When the Dismal Swamp Canal is open to traffic (it has to be closed when the level of Lake Drummond reaches a specific low level in conditions of drought) I will always take this route. To me it is the highlight of an ICW passage.
Ted Jones, S/V Ocean Gypsy (Freedom 33 cat ketch)
I have used the Dismal Swamp Route many times…the most recent in May of ’09. I have always found it to be peaceful and a really nice break from the Sport Fisherman and Delivery Captains on the Virginia Cut.
Capt Jock, formerly of DREAM MAKER, presently of HOME AT LAST
It IS a nice passage but I expected a few snags here and there but found DOZENS. I was dodging floating branches constantly and had loud thuds 6-8 times. There was a floating tree under the bridge at Deep Creek but was pointed out to lockmaster by northbound cruisers at the time of my passage so I avoided. I will do this passage again and recommend others do too, but with the caveat that floating debris is VERY prolific or was July 2009. Chase, s/v Anne Freeman (Cape Dory 30)
We cruised the Dismal Swamp Canal with another boat, south to Elizabeth City, on July 10th. It was a beautiful day, sunny and dry, with little wind. All the stories about the friendliness of the Deep Creek Lock operator are true, he is very courteous and helpful. We went along at about 5 – 6 knots. Depths were not a problem. We had a minimum of 6′ of water all the way, usually deeper. I lost count of how many times something bumped and hit the hull (or wheel/s) though. We have a twin engine power boat with a keel, but the wheels hang down on each side, unprotected. I was sure I had dinged one of the wheels, maybe both, and was expecting to have picked up some vibration. However, once we reached the Pasquotank and were able to get up on a plane, everything was fine, and we had suffered no damage. I guess the various underwater obstructions and floating objects were soft and came apart on impact. We had never done the Canal before, and are glad we did. It’s beautiful, but also rather tedious at the helm to keep it to the straight and narrow for nearly 4 hours. Traffic was light. We only met 2 or 3 northbound boats the whole way.
Bill & Claudia Bagwell
We like traveling the Dismal Swamp & yes you do bump things but you are supposed to be going slow. We had 3 or 4 “hits” between the South Mills lock and the Visitors Center this spring, two of them medium thumps but with a steel hull and protected prop they were not a problem for Legrace. There was a Corp of Engineer barge working the south section when we went through so things could have been “stirred-up” a bit more than usual. North of the Visitors Center to Deep Creek Lock we didn’t bump anything.
Bob & Lynn Williamson
On Legrace in the Erie Canal at Spencerport NY (enjoying this weekend’s
Dismal Swamp June 2009 – I did hit one small log but no big deal really. The upper reaches of the Pamlico are worse.
I enjoyed the experience – plus the Deep Creek Lockeeper Robert who is a very friendly fellow. I spent three peaceful nights at the Elizabeth Dock but on the fourth night was woken up at 4am by my cat yowling as if another cat was around. Then I heard a strange noise on deck – and another. I cautiously peered out my aft cabin hatch – there were two guys ON MY BOAT! I yelled at them to get off immediately or I’d shoot. I don’t actually have a weapon on board but it fortunately scared them and they jumped off and ran away into the night. I think they were teenagers and thought nobody was on the boat. They had already removed a half empty gas can from my dinghy but left it on the dock in their haste to get away! I reported the incident to Robert and he said he would ask the local police to add the dock to their regular night circuit.
The British Club Worldwide
We followed this route in early June of this year in our 32ft. sailboat that drafts 4 1/2 ft. Even with 8 ft. of water under us we ran across or hit what I assume were fallen trees 3 times and this definitely more to the center than right or left of center. For us, this was a route that we would not do again; in other words “been there done that “. Most interesting part was going through the locks.
As for the Dismal Swamp, we traveled north to Virgina. For the most part it was a great trip up from Elizabeth City. It was a little scary because we were new at this thing called cruising. We draw a little less than 3 ft. so we thought we would be all right. I found it easy to navigate w/ the Maptech charts I had, also the same charts on CD were loaded on our laptop. That helped a lot with giving us real time location. However there were times when we saw fixed debris in the cut and just crossed our fingers. Fortunatly with a cat we straddled some of these hazards. There was one time though, I felt we needed to go around a stump and the boat raised up as we went over what seemed to be a submerged rotten log. The boat rolled over it without damage to anything underneath. Going through the locks was a fun experiance. One of the lockmasters played a tune on a seashell for us while we waited.
Clif & Peta Lewis
The 1st day was great but the 2nd day…not so good. We hit 6 different ‘things’ that never showed from the surface. When you think of the intolerable conditions under which the canal was dug, offers and added appreciation of the privilege of cruising through there. Probably we won’t do that again, either, simply b/c of hitting objects—that’s always a nerve-wracking sound.
Bill & Laura Bender
M/VKindred Spirit III