Today’s journey requires a full day’s worth of effort to achieve a meager 28 nautical miles. We are up and out of the South Municipal Boat Basin in Portsmouth and headed south on the Elizabeth River at 7:30 AM.
Our first timed arrival of the day is a scheduled opening of the Gilmerton Bridge at 9:30 AM. We arrive early. Soon there are 15 pleasure boats jockeying for position to be the first vessel under the bridge when it opens. The wind and current are moving all of the boats towards the bridge which makes it next to impossible to hold one’s position in the River. We reposition Cutter Loose near the back of the pack to avoid the fray. When the bridgetender finally raises the bridge, there is little semblance of order in the processional queue. We steer Cutter Loose along the centerline of the channel because of her 62 foot mast height versus the 65 foot vertical clearance at the center of the bridge. Rather than proceeding under the bridge one vessel at a time, the armada of boats pass under the bridge three abreast.
Once under the Gilmerton Bridge, there are two alternative waterway routes. The first is the Virginia Cut which is preferred by commercial traffic and most pleasure boats. The second is the Dismal Swamp Canal, which is a slightly longer but more scenic route. We choose the latter.
Construction began on the Dismal Swamp Canal in 1793. The Canal was dug manually using slave labor. Today the Canal is a national historic landmark. Upon entering the Canal, the industrial character of the Elizabeth River becomes transformed into a narrow, pristine, tree-lined ditch about 40 feet in width and 9 feet in depth. The water in the Canal is pitch black.
Our second timed arrival of the day involves transiting the Deep Creek lock. Again, we arrive in the company of seven other vessels seeking to enter the lock at its 10:30 AM opening. The lock operator is very efficient in organizing the movement of vessels into and out of the lock. It is a two hour process to enter the lock, close the lock doors, raise the water level seven feet and exit the lock when the doors are open. Naturally, we are in the back of the pack, having underperformed in the battle of the bulge at the Gilmerton Bridge.
At 3 PM, we leave Virginia and enter North Carolina. The final timed arrival of the day is at the South Mills bridge and lock. The last opening of the day is scheduled for 3:30 PM. But our progress is slow…delayed by boats ahead of Cutter Loose in the Canal. By the time we arrive at South Mills, we have missed the final opening of the day. Cutter Loose is tied alongside the walls of the South Mills Bridge for the night, awaiting the 8:30 opening in the morning.