On our way north on the ICW, we had to make a choice between two routes as you leave the Albemarle Sound on your way to the Chesapeake Bay. Route 1 is through the Virginia Cut and Route 2 is up the Dismal Swamp Canal. Since the guaranteed depth of the Canal is only 6 feet, many deep-draft boats elect to go Route 1, missing the historic and scenic Canal. Fortunately, our draft is only 3’9”, so Stel and I made the decisions to go through the Canal, knowing we had two fair weather days ahead of us. George Washington and Patrick Henry were both partly responsible for the concept of connecting small inland towns of NC and Virginia with larger cities for the purpose of trade and extraction of valuable lumber within the swamp, mostly cypress and juniper. In 1793, construction began on both ends of the Dismal Swamp Canal, and was completely dug by hand. As we cruised through the 22-mile canal, barely wide enough for 2 boats to pass, it was amazing to think that most of the labor to dig the canal was done by slaves hired from nearby landowners. The 2-day adventure reminded me of the Disney World wilderness riverboat yep rides, especially with all of the wildlife that we enjoyed along the way.
Stel and I have always heard about the lock systems that are common to this part of the country, and more frequently found in river systems of the northern states and Canada. We had never been through a lock until we entered the Dismal Swamp. The lock tender made the new experience easy and fun for us, with clear instructions and assistance with our lines. After entering the lock with 2 other trawlers, they flooded the lock and raised the water 8 feet in a matter of 15 minutes. Before we finish the Loop, we will have gone through over 150 locks. One down, 149 to go! We spent the night at the Dismal Swamp Canal Visitors Center, which is part of a national park. By the time we got there, we had to raft our boats, 3 deep, to accommodate all the boats that wanted to spend the night. Unfortunately, we were on the outside, so we had to crawl over other boats to get to the dock. This was another first for us, but we found all the other cruisers to be very friendly and helpful. Within an hour of arriving at the park, all 16 of the cruisers met up in a picnic area for shared refreshments. A shared love of boating, nature and adventure makes it very easy to experience a sense of camaraderie with others in a very short period of time.