We had heard so much about this canal! Dan spent a few years in the Navy in Virginia Beach and other places. He tells stories about riding up and down highway 17, which runs parallel to the canal – he remembers seeing those old rich guys in their big boats cruising up and down. Well, hey, those ‘old’ and decidedly NOT ‘rich’ guys are us!
The canal has an old and interesting history. Back in 1723, the swamp was first surveyed. The idea was to dig a canal that would join the Chesapeake Bay and the Albermarle Sound. One thought was to drain the swamp, harvest the lumber, and farm the land. That turned out to be an impossible task. George Washington surveyed the land for the canal and oversaw its completion. Of course, it was improved and widened over the years. We took a short walk on a boardwalk through a few acres of the swamp. Just to imagine those men making their way through that swamp is overwhelming.
The swamp and the canal were privately owned until 1973, when the land was donated to the Department of the Interior to form the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge. All of the virgin timber was gone by the 1950’s.
All that said, our cruising down the canal was such a pleasure! There are two locks, each fronting a drawbridge. Each lock and bridge is operated by one guy! So, he lets boats through the lock, jumps in his car, and goes the half mile or so to the bridge, opens the bridge, and repeats!
The first full day on the canal, we didn’t meet one boat. We were leading two sailboats, who stayed way back. I think they wanted to enjoy the uninterrupted view for themselves! The water was so still, it was a mirror. The canal is about 50-55 feet wide, wide enough for boats to pass, but not a lot extra! Looking down the canal, it looked very narrow, because of the trees on each side reflecting their image on the water! We saw lots of birds, turtles, several deer, but no bears. Sometimes, the larger birds would take off from a tree alongside, soar along the canal for quite a ways, then light in another tree.
After a full day, several hours, we came to the visitor’s center. We tied up for a quiet night, and then took a leisurely departure the next morning. Towards the end, the dug canal ended to put us in the river and then to Elizabeth City. There started our “Albermarle Loop”.
Here are some more shots of our time on the Dismal Swamp Canal. The last two shots are from my phone - my talents on blogging can't tell me why these pictures are long and narrow....oh well!
|Hard to pick the best one, but doesn't it look like we're cruising in the sky??|
|just a dock and stairs to the road|
|We could see the bridge up ahead|
|inside the lock|
|bridge going up|
|you can see the water boiling into the lock to raise us up to the top of that wall!|
|just waiting for the water to start coming in....|
|I just love the trees' reflection in the water|
|At one bridge, we had to wait about 2 hours, drifting around, with our bow in the bushes!|