The passage down the Great Dismal Swamp Canal has its contrasts as well. I have often marveled that an ocean capable sailboat could cut through the middle of an impenetrable jungle — masts almost kissing the tree limbs overhead — in such surene surroundings far from her intended element. It is wonderful. Although we were second boat out of the lock, I let the faster boats go ahead, and after awhile we were alone on the canal. The State of Virginia has improved and moved Route 17 away from the canal, so there was virtually nothing to remind us that we were still in a populated area. We opted to stop at the North Carolina combined highway, boating welcome station and tied to the bulkhead for the night along with other cruisers, making new friends both human and canine as we all settled in for the night. I was pleased that my friend Penny Leary-Smith, long time manager of the welcome center was in her office. I reminded her that I had been present at the official innauguration of the center which she reminded me was 20 years ago.
The NC welcome center has recently opened a Great Dismal Swamp Museum which is located on the north side of the canal, connected by a floating aluminum bridge which is rotated 90 degrees to allow pedestrians (and mantanence vehicles) access to the museum. It contains quite comprehensive and well-done vingenettes which illustrate the various aspects of the swamp, its flaura and fauna. Danny and I wondered if the other had pushed a button to start birds to sing, but realized that it is triggered by a motion sensor when one is looking at the avian illustration.
Another new museum is located near the waterfront at Elizabeth City which chronacles the development of the Dismal Swamp from native american days to the present time with impressive life-size dioramas of life in the area including the history of the building of the canal and its strategic value as a transportation system from pre-civil war days through world war II. Both of these exhibits have opened within the year and appear poised to expand their offerings as time and money permit. Neither museum charges admission.
We all shoved off from the welcome station at 0800 to be ready for the morning lock opening. At this time the canal locks at both ends open at 0900 and 1500. A liesurely neander down the Pasquotank River brought us to the Elizabeth City Bridge (highway), and again we were “tail-last-charlie.” We were motioned into the last available spot along the steel bulkhead and were greeted by David, of the Rose Buddies committee who made us welcome and answered our questions. We had counted on obtaining provisions at Elizabeth City, and a call to the Fresh Food Market summoned a car, driven by the store manager, no less, whose name is Ken. His description of the market did not prepare us for the bounty which lay within the area’s newest supermarket, which is one of the most comprehensive food stores I have ever been in. When we had finished our shopping, Ken drove us back to the dock area and helped us unload out groceries.
I had just enough time for a quick look inside the large and impressive museum across the road while Jack and Danny went in search of hot showers (Ocean Gypsy has two — solar and engine heated water as well as an electric water heater when plugged in [no plug-ins at Elizabeth City] — but they were each hoping for more sybaritic luxury than these). I was successful, they were not, having been confused by second hand directions. Then it was time for the Rose Buddies wine and chese party. Original Rose Buddy, Fred Fearing, passed away recently, but there are many who have stood up to carry on the tradition, one of whom is the recently elected city mayor, Steve, who spent a few minutes welcoming us snowbird cruisers, telling us of his plans to expand the waterfront facilities (bathrooms with showers are on the agenda in the near future). All of this is free, BTW, including dockage for up to 48 hours! Alas, there is no marine diesel, water, or pump-out available, all of which we thought we needed. Jack and I walked two blocks to a nearby convenience store and filled our five gallon diesel can for insurance. We didn’t need the brush handle we had brought along to share the load coming back to the boat as we were offered a ride by a pleasant young man hanging out at the conveniece store. We tipped him accordingly.
After the wine and chese party I found Steve prowling the docks looking for space for new arrivals. Elizabeth City’s mayor is not above working the docks in his bretton red shorts and Topsiders as one of the Rose Buddies. Indeed, he is one of us, a sailor.