"Maverick too" motor through the Dismal Swamp Canal
It's the end of October and it's raining. Somehow that sounds suspiciously familiar to me, from last year. Twelve months ago we were lying in autumnal Galicia with a melted exhaust system and the rain wouldn't stop for weeks. Now we are in the US in the state of Virginian Land, and here too the weather is getting uncomfortable. And something else is the same: Again, our thoughts revolve around the engine. But this time entirely voluntarily - we will exchange it.
Saying goodbye to our last berth in the sparsely populated part of North Carolina was anything but easy for us. We spent three months there in a small marin and made friends. I really didn't have to worry about Johannes' social contacts during my visit to Germany, because in the first week he was invited to a big American barbecue. We even attended a wedding reception. We spent most of the time with our jetty neighbor Jim. Jim never tired of pondering the differences and similarities between Germans and Americans or learning funny German words. He also soaked up all the stories about cruising and life on board like a sponge. Because although he has been living on his "SeOtter", a Cape Dory 28, for two years, he has never sailed on the open sea. Time and again, Jim had questions about how to make his ship more ocean-going. He had put a lot of thought into it, and accordingly his relief was great when we could confirm his ideas. Jim is also extremely good at handling wood and in two days he made a great seat for us on the "Maverick", so that we no longer have to sit on our diesel canisters when driving the engine.
"Mavericks" berth for three months, next to the Cape Dory "SeOtter"
We were faced with such a long motorized journey: while we were towed by a rescue cruiser after three days of crossing Biscay last year, this time one of the most charming landscapes on the American east coast lay ahead of us: our route to the shipyard in Deltaville in Virginia led us through the "Dismal Swamp Canal", which can be translated as "Canal through the dreary swamp". Why it got this name is hard to understand today. Especially in autumn the narrow canal with its colorful trees is hard to beat in terms of variety.
On the way to the Dismal Swamp Canal
As early as 1763, the first American President, George Washington, was of the opinion that the swamp could be perfectly drained. So a canal could be built that connects the great Chesapeake Bay and the Albemarle Sound. Thirty years later, the construction of this canal actually began, which was dug entirely by hand. The bone-sapping work was mainly done by slaves who, despite inhuman conditions, were able to complete the canal in 1805 after about twelve years. This makes the Dismal Swamp Canal the oldest canal still in operation in the US today. For comparison: the Intracoastal Waterway, which we traveled many miles, did not open until 135 years later. Since then, the canal has been the scene of a wide variety of historical events.
But not only the history of the canal has inspired writers, but above all the beautiful landscape and the diverse fauna. We saw many turtles and swimming snakes, and of course tons of birds. There is even said to be a species of crocodile in the area, and our navigation program has warned of bears several times.
Today, up to 2,000 pleasure craft use the Dismal Swamp Canal as an alternative route to the Intracoastal - provided the draft is right. The canal is only six feet deep.
Dilapidated houses on the canal bank
The main section of the canal lies between two locks, incidentally the only ones on the way from Florida to Virginia. On the way to the first lock, a road leads in parts directly along the canal. Our friend Jim could therefore comfortably drive alongside and take great photos of our ship in the autumn landscape. And then we had to say goodbye for good, but probably not forever. During our time in North Carolina, Jim made the decision that he wanted to head south with his "SeOtter". In fact, he left little Marin two days after us. Since then we have received text messages almost every day with his current position, and we are incredibly happy for him that he dared to take the step. In addition, of course, the anticipation grows to see us under sail again as soon as possible.
Cati at the locks. The first lock on this trip
Our friend Jim on his self-built campervan. Half car, half boat
Although the core of the Dismal Swamp Canal is only 35 kilometers long, we decided to sail the route in two days, mainly because the locks are only operated until the afternoon and we should have started in the dark. Because of the many tree trunks, some of which swim close to the surface in the Dismal Swamp, we did not consider this advisable. There are also free walkways in the middle of the forest along the route. We wanted to moor here and spend a night at Dismal Swamp.
Free berth for the night
We have often heard beforehand that it can get pretty tight in the canal when two boats meet. That's also true, there is seldom space to evade. However, we were still on the road too early in the year to have oncoming traffic all the time. Most yachties head south in November when the hurricane season is really over. So we had no difficulty in finding a free landing stage for the night. You can well imagine that it looks very different at peak times. So we had this utterly dreary swamp almost to ourselves.
The green tunnel
The Dismal Swamp Canal ends at the second lock just before Norfolk. The really special thing about the lock is the lock keeper, who obviously enjoys his work a lot. While we are still occupying the bollards, he says to Johannes: "You go to the other lock house. When I hold my thumb up, you press the two left buttons from above. Or do you know what? Press all four. Then you go quickly back to your boat. This will trigger the lock! " While the lock keeper was still busy with the gates, Johannes has already started to feed water into the lock chamber. "With two people you save about ten minutes," he explains to us afterwards. I think Johannes had fun too. During the lock, the lock keeper gives us some background information about the canal. Then he asks us to bring him a nice conch shell from the Bahamas. He uses the mussels as a horn, which he shows us directly. I didn't even realize how loud these clams can be.
Aircraft carrier in the Norfolk naval port
After a night at anchor, our old Volvo has to run again: the Chesapeake Bay is slack. When we arrive at our boatyard in the evening, there is no one left and all the jetties are occupied. In our navigation program, an anchorage is shown between various marinas. It seems a bit strange to us when we drop anchor in the middle of the harbor, but the locals seem to be used to it.
John on the Chesapeake Bay
The next morning, shipyard owner Doug lifts us ashore with his travel lift. We are quite relieved when we see "Maverick" from below. Hardly a pock on the torso, no vegetation at all. We could already see in the clear Bahamas water that the underwater hull looks quite good and that our lamination work from the osmosis treatment is obviously holding up. However, we didn't move the boat for three months after that, and the water in the North Carolina area was the color of coffee. Pretty opaque.
"High and dry" in Deltaville, Virginia. The shipyard period begins
So we can now fully concentrate on replacing the engine. After a week on land, the old engine is out and the new Vetus is already in the boat. Now we still have to make some changes and adjustments and wait for parts from Germany, because of course all attachments on our boat - shaft bearings, shaft and propellers - are metric and therefore difficult to get in the US. Once again we couldn't have chosen a better place to swap because the area and the people are really great. The small town of Deltaville is firmly owned by the yachties, here boatyard after boatyard. And tonight we're invited to dinner again. We can't be distracted by the little autumn rain.
Further information about the trip: www.zu-zweit-auf-see.de