Why the Dismal Swamp?

When we passed around Whitefish point on Lake Superior (also known as the Graveyard of the Great Lakes) we did so because we knew we had no choice. Whitefish Point is dangerous because a long shoal extends out from the point, the long fetch and prevailing winds can make sea conditions difficult  and a simple navigation error can be fatal. And it has been fatal hundreds of time.

On the East Coast of the USA there two similar points that are especially dangerous to the sailor. Cape Hatteras and the aptly named Cape Fear.  Boats need to travel a hundred miles offshore to safely round these points where they can be forced into Gulf Stream. The Gulf Stream is an extraordinarily strong current running north along the East Coast bring warm water up the from the tropics. The Gulf Stream is essential impossible to sail south because not only is the current fast, but northerly winds create steep seas. Most boats simply cannot maintain enough speed to travel south in the Gulf Stream, if they can, they are beaten up. This part of the Atlantic cost is known as the Graveyard of the Atlantic.

The Gulf Stream may also help explain why the South was so culturally different from the North. It was isolated from the North,  To travel to the South, sailing ships first traveled to Bermuda, and then south of the Bahamas where the crossed the Gulf Stream and traveled back up the south east coast.  This problem was exacerbated after the revolution when the British controlled Bermuda and the Bahamas and the British Navy harassed US shipping.

George Washington sought to reduce the distance and increase safe trade between the north and the south by building a canal through the Dismal Swamp to connect the Chesapeake Bay with the Carolinas. This canal was later superceded by the Virginia Cut, that follows a more direct (and deeper) path to North Carolina. To this day, both canals are used by recreational boaters to avoid the Graveyard of the Atlantic.

To pass through the Dismal Swamp left Norfolk for  Deep Creek which we tool to the Deep Creek lock. After we passed through the Deep Creek lock we tied up on the bulkhead on the other side of the lock surrounded by duck weed.

Surrounded by duckweed in the Dismal Swamp


We stayed the night here before continuing with a convoy of boats south at 5 knots, the speed needed to make the the opening of the second lock at 1:30pm.

The Dismal Swamp Canal

The Dismal Swamp Canal


The second lock connects the canal with the Elizabeth River.  Here the transition to the South seemed official. The wildlife and vegetation is becoming more sub tropical and less temperate.

The Elizabeth River

The Elizabeth River

And we have entered alligator territory.

Alligator Territory

Alligator Territory

We motored down the river, and laughed a little at the two boat ahead of us who seemed to race off down river.  It was not until we arrived at the Elizabeth City bridge that we realized they were rushing to make the 4:40pm bridge opening. We missed it by five minutes and had to motor in circles until the 5:30 bridge opening.

There are plenty of free places to tie up in Elizabeth City, but we decided to anchor out instead. There was plenty of room to anchor and we find anchoring both easier on us and the boat if it is possible.





One thought on “Why the Dismal Swamp?

  1. Mark Newhall

    Good pics and interesting commentary. Thanks for taking the time to put it down. It was all news to me.

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