After a few days in Hampton, we were itching to leave. While Hampton had provided awesome opportunities to have dinner with cousins Anita and Warren, hike 8 miles round-trip to where Cheryl’s parents spent their honeymoon, do more boat projects, and become acquainted with Dick and Mary on Heinsite, it was Day 11 and time to begin traveling down the ICW.
For those of you who don’t know, the IntraCoastal Waterway extends from Norfolk to Miami (officially from Boston to Brownsville as part of navigable inland passages along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts), and is 1,098 miles long. Norfolk is Mile 0. Cheryl really wanted a photo of Red Nun #36 at Mile 0 but there was so much commercial maritime traffic that she had to yield to safety. Besides, we were actually sailing in good winds for about thirty blissful minutes, and that added to the obstacle course challenges. We’ll just have to get that photo next time.
Once past Norfolk, there are two canal choices along the ICW. The Virginia Cut is often chosen by deeper-draft boats, since it’s both wider and deeper, but it has more commercial traffic and is not as scenic. We opted for the second route, the Dismal Swamp, hoping that our 5’6” draft would be okay. The official controlling depth is 6’ and can be shallower in drought conditions (this autumn has NOT lacked from rain). Friends had passed this way before and had been successful, so we decided to go for it. We are so glad we did. The Dismal Swamp is anything but dismal!
But before beginning the Dismal Swamp, we had to wait for the Gilmerton Bridge to open— the first of many ICW bridges that must open for our tall mast. Some have opening schedules, and others will open upon radio request. Our mast is 59’ high but an antenna extends our total height to 62’. The fixed bridges on the ICW (the ones that don’t swing, draw, pivot, or raise) are mostly 65 feet so we can pass under (okay, yes I know, there’s a bridge in Miami that is only 56’). It does take one’s breath away to look up and see your mast that close to the underside of a bridge! Gulp!
The Dismal Swamp was absolutely glorious with its autumn color, warm breezes, and sunshine. Not quite the canals of France, but still peaceful and lovely. We did our first lock, and managed to get all the way to the the Dismal Swamp Welcome Center, in North Carolina by mid-afternoon.
By 5 pm, five other boats were rafted up with us at the wall, so we invited all to cocktails in our cockpit. Great fun!
Met new friends from Canada, Maine, Indiana, Galesville (Maryland- where we used to have a slip!), and Oriental NC. And small world— one woman was raised in Ellicott City and practiced as a commercial interior designer—unbelievable!