The weather was damp and dreary on our last morning in Elizabeth City. We casted off at 2 pm to mosey up the Dismal Swamp, where lock openings would be added to bridge openings for determining our schedule. Magnolia was ahead of us with plans to pass through the South Mills Lock and tie up on the north side before the South Mills Bridge. Due to our late departure, we would need to tie up on the south side of the lock in order to wait for the first opening the following morning. We had a delightful trip north, despite the grey day. The canal was lined with green lush foliage, and every now and then a pop of color from a waterfront home would catch our eye.
Pairs of Canadian geese swimming ahead of us would squawk as we got closer, eventually rising into the air to fly a few hundred yard ahead, only to squawk at us again a few minutes later as we approached. Water lilies, not yet in bloom, edged the canal and would gently flutter their pads as we passed by, a reaction to the slight breeze and water currents made by our 5 knot speed. We kept an eye overhead as well, being careful to avoid arching limbs that were heavier due to recent rains. Occasionally our shrouds would brush a branch that pitter-pattered a few drops of water onto our bimini and decks. It was a peaceful and scenic journey, quite reminiscent of the fall but with longer days in which to stretch the trip.
We arrived the South Mills Lock at 4:30 pm and tied off on pilings just a few yards away from the heavy gates.
Up ahead, we could see Magnolia’s mast on the other side of the lock. So close and yet so far! A slight opening between the gates provided an unintentional but welcomed waterfall, an added feature of our overnight accommodations. We grilled burgers for dinner and enjoyed the quiet setting, commenting that it was surprisingly one of our favorites of the trip.
The next morning we were the first through the lock at 8:30 am, with one boat behind us. We dropped about eight feet, and then followed Magnolia through the bridge opening.
The lock operator is also the bridge tender, and drives his truck between the two passages several times each day, hence the specific posted times of openings. It would be our first of two lock/bridge combinations on Day 199.
Magnolia only ventured a short distance since they planned to tie up at the ever popular and fun meeting place, the Dismal Swamp Welcome Center, that welcomes both boat and car traffic along a stretch of Route 17. We had received texts from Annette and Anthony that they had a “gift” for us, and would like to “hand it off” as we passed. We were curious as to how this would actually occur, but it became apparent quite quickly. LOL!
A&A had managed to buy some treats at the Little Bitty Bakery near the South Mills Lock, and graciously gave us a loaf of walnut raisin bread. Yum! I mean, really yum! Note to self: stop there on our next trip through the Dismal Swamp! The next bridge and lock also had some shops nearby, so I walked to pick up carry out Chinese for our lunch before the 1:30 pm opening of the bridge.
Again, bridge tender and lock operator are one and the same. In the spring, operator Robert had entertained the cruisers with his larger than life personality and conch shell blowing. We were actually relieved to see that we didn’t have Robert this time since we were in a hurry to catch the Gilmerton Bridge before it closed to boaters between 3:30-5:30 pm. Robert can be long-winded, though fun. Phew, we made it, despite a train passing on the Gilmerton Railroad Bridge just as we approached.
There is a perceptible raise of the heart rate when one exits the Dismal Swamp and rounds the corner where the Virginia Cut ends and the two routes become the ICW once again. There’s so much traffic in Norfolk, from small fishing boats to pleasure boats to barges to navy ships, with accompanying VHF chatter. It’s quite overwhelming, actually. I was on a mission to photograph Red 36, since we had missed it coming south, presumably so focused on the busy traffic that we didn’t note the significance of the red nun that marks Mile Zero of the Atlantic ICW. Yay! Found it!
And apparently it, or something close to “it,” found us as well. Our friend Curt texted us this photo snapped by Marine Traffic as we came through Norfolk. Cool. And creepy too.
After racing a navy ship that appeared to be a nuclear powered aircraft carrier, we turned up a small channel to dock at the Hampton Public Piers. Last fall, we purchased their $75 annual plan that offers inexpensive dockage for a year, and it was time to take advantage of it. The weather forecasts were looking grim and we’d be there for a few days so we’d easily get our money’s worth. We revisited a few shops and restaurants on Queens Way, but otherwise hunkered down to get some writing done and a few boat projects.
One bright spot was a reunion with landlubber friends Steve and Donna on Day 201. Steve and I had met in first grade, went to high school together, and later hung out at University of Maryland before Steve transferred to NC State, which happens to be Dudley’s alma mater. We had not seen each other in about fifteen or so years. It was great to show them the boat, and then look at the memorabilia that Steve had brought from our high school and college days. He had a photo of the interior of John’s 66’ Chevy van, a poster of a poem that I had written and calligraphied, and a framed photo from John’s “black Jack” series. Wow! Talk about memories! We had lots of time to catch up, on the boat, and later over dinner at the Conch and Bucket.
Finally, the grey days lifted but they were replaced with high gusty winds. I found a nice coffee shop, Caffeina Bistro, in which to sit and write, and get off the boat. We went to the town’s Saturday night block party, but the music wasn’t our cup of tea. We were anxious to get going, but we remained yet one more day to wait for more optimal weather for a long run up the Chesapeake. This extra day, however, had an unexpected bonus: Magnolia had arrived at a marina nearby and A&A met us at the Conch and Bucket for an early dinner on our last evening in Hampton.
From treats to reunions, this last stretch has been a good one. But we are looking forward to returning to familiar waters, and reuniting with lots of Maryland friends soon.