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  We left the Portsmouth/Norfolk area today and headed south down the Elizabeth River only to be challenged by six bridges and the first lock we have ever had to navigate. The only bridges we’ve contended with on the Chesapeake Bay are “bascule” bridges. These are bridges that lift up by a counterbalanced weight that looks like a big hinge.

Just south of Portsmouth is a huge “lift” bridge; the likes of which we have never seen. A whole section of the bridge rises straight up horizontally into the air so the water traffic can navigate under it.

We obviously showed our ignorance while going through the first lock. We were the first boat into it and thereby had no one to observe as to proper procedure. Suffice it to say, we learned. It’s not difficult once you know the routine. We read in the cruising guide to call ahead on the VHF radio and ask the lock-tender which side to have the lines and bumpers ready before entering the lock. We did as instructed. Once inside the lock, the next step was to throw the lines up to the lock-tender. One end of the line is cleated off onto the boat; and we were suppose to hang onto the other end of the line and throw the middle of the line up to the lock-tender. Needless to say, we blew that our first time. It’s an adventure!!!

About the Dismal Swamp Canal:

The canal is actually in the middle of two natural tributaries, Deep Creek and the Pasquotank River. Deep Creek is a three mile stretch that is very pretty with wooded banks and small beaches. The entrance to Deep Creek off the Elizabeth River was a little challenging to figure out, but the GPS helped us and we managed it successfully.

The history of the swamp dates back to George Washington’s days. In the mid 1700’s he and other prominent businessmen purchased 40,000 acres to log the timber. Washington eventually sold his interest in the project to the father of Robert E. Lee. In 1909, a lumbering company purchased the swamp and continued to harvest the rest of the lumber. The Dismal Swamp Canal is the oldest operating artificial waterway in the United States. Since mostly slaves dug the canal by hand, and they were very familiar with it, they eventually used it for their escape to the north. The canal’s construction began in 1793 and was finally completed in 1805, taking 12 years to complete. Today, it is maintained by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. We saw a couple of their vessels and their station as we went down the canal. In 1973 the swamp was donated to what is now the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge. We tied up for the night at the North Carolina Visitors Center where the park for the Wildlife Refuge is, but we did not visit it this time. Hopefully, we’ll have the opportunity another time.

The Dismal Swamp Canal is quite narrow and we had to stay in the center of the channel for fear of running over tree stumps and causing damage to the boat’s prop or hull. We made it through successfully… YEAH!!! SEE PHOTOS IN “PHOTO GALLERY”

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