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Old 03-24-2014, 08:49 PM   #1
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Dismal Swamp Canal

I'm planning a trip from Charleston SC to the Chesapeake Bay this spring/summer. I have a ton of books and a couple videos and I've been on Active Captain and Cruisers.net. Here is something I haven't seen covered so for those who have been there, I could use some information.

According to the information I have the locks and bridges are on a restricted schedule and open only four times a day. Also the same person operates the lock and bridge in each location. What I haven't been able to determine is:

Say you wait for and then go through a lock and lock up. Then you wait a few minutes for the bridge to open. Do boats traveling the other way go through the bridge and then into the lock to lock down at the same scheduled locking?

In other words, does the lock go both up and down four times per day?
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Old 03-24-2014, 09:43 PM   #2
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To answer your question- yes.

To make it through the Dismal Swamp in one day (and you may not want to- see below) you need to leave Elizabeth City early before the morning rush hour bridge closure (it is a very low bridge at Elizabeth City) to make it through the 11:00 AM lock at South Mills. Then you have to make the 3:30 lock through at Deep Creek.

Going south I leave Portsmouth early to make the 8:30 Deep Creek opening in the morning.

And I say maybe you don't want to do it in one day because the Dismal Swamp Visitors Center is a great place to hang out for an overnight stay. There is a museum and hiking trails there.

But the Dismal Swamp is now closed due to work on the foot bridge at the visitors center. Check with Cruisers.net for the latest.

David
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Old 03-24-2014, 09:52 PM   #3
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VA: Dismal Swamp Canal

Mar 20, 2014

AIWW Mile: 28.0

Reported by Tom Hale WWG Editor


UPDATE: The Great Dismal Swamp Canal had been closed to navigation due to a malfunction of the pedestrian bridge. Repairs were completed yesterday and the route has been reopened:

Waterway Guide | Waterway Navigation Updates - Chesapeake & Delaware Bays
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Old 03-24-2014, 10:11 PM   #4
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Dismal Swamp open and ready for action now, but if you want to do it in one day, then why not Virginia Cut? Seems to me if one wants the Dismal Swamp then they're also looking to see and explore it a bit and then it makes a nice two day trip.
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Old 03-24-2014, 10:42 PM   #5
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Last time we stopped at Elizabeth City Fred Fearing was still alive and we had the great honour of having dinner at his place. Have they kept up with the Rose Buddy tradition ?
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Old 03-24-2014, 11:28 PM   #6
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Last time we stopped at Elizabeth City Fred Fearing was still alive and we had the great honour of having dinner at his place. Have they kept up with the Rose Buddy tradition ?
Photo - Laura and Fred
The last I knew the Rose Buddies were still active there. I did understand it to be seasonal.
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Old 03-25-2014, 07:37 AM   #7
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I'm not leaving for over a month and I want to take the Dismal Swamp route to see the scenery. I'm not in a hurry.

My question was on how the locks and adjacent bridges work together to allow both north and southbound boats to pass.
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Old 03-25-2014, 09:15 AM   #8
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What's your draft? I came south through the DS last fall and even with a 4' draft struck at least a half dozen things along the way. I'm glad i did it once, but wont do it again.
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Old 03-25-2014, 09:22 AM   #9
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What's your draft? I came south through the DS last fall and even with a 4' draft struck at least a half dozen things along the way. I'm glad i did it once, but wont do it again.
Yep, I've been through a couple of times, and bumped something each time. Submerged logs seem to be a problem. No real damage as about 5 knots will probably be as fast as you will go. There is a canal that cuts off about half way. You could take a dinghy up there to look it over. Since we moved so slowly through there it was enough to see everything. One day is about all I want of it.
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Old 03-25-2014, 09:47 AM   #10
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Originally Posted by rwidman View Post
I'm not leaving for over a month and I want to take the Dismal Swamp route to see the scenery. I'm not in a hurry.

My question was on how the locks and adjacent bridges work together to allow both north and southbound boats to pass.
The one lock operator does it all. Example: we were goin south and hit the north lock for the first opening. The lock operator let the north bound boats in first. He went down and opened the bridge, closed it, let the boats in the north lock, let them out, let the south bound boats in, let us out going south, hopped in his truck and drove to the bridge and opened it for the south bound boats. It sounds like a lot but the bridge is very close and the whole process is pretty quick.
We missed the south lock opening by about 10 minutes, so we had to hang on the South Bridge fender wall all night. The lock operator would not open the South bridge so we could tie up to the much nice wall above the lock.
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Old 03-25-2014, 10:01 AM   #11
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it's been a few years but there was a free dock between the lock and the bridge in a nice little park. The lockmaster's name was Rob and he invites anyone on the free dock to the lockhouse to join him for coffee and donuts. He also played the conch (Stars & Stripes) pretty impressive. Apparently he is a National conch Champion... didn't know there was such a thing.

South of the bridge you can stay on the wall with a 30 second walk to the grocery store, hardware store and a pretty good Mexican restaurant.

Photo - on the wall.
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Old 03-25-2014, 10:17 AM   #12
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There's a 6 smph speed limit I'm pretty sure...that's why the times for openings are limited and timed to distance.

I was through last April and this December with 4 foot draft and no bumps and usually 7 feet on the sounder...but water levels will vary seasonally. I don't have a lot of company the time of year I travel so I don't have to worry about passing situations...but in some areas the trees overhang so much, a sailboat is going to be in the center without choice.

Also the visitor lady was very interested in snags and fallen trees so she could notify them to be removed...they don't want to lose travelers.

The bridges and locks seem to be a very relaxed operation as there is virtually no commercial traffic...so who cares about strict procedure is probably their attitude.

I was early enough in December to make the early opening until a train bridge caught me at the last minute...I called and the lockmaster said as long as I made it within 45 minutes he would open for me.

I'm sure depending on how much and what direction traffic is moving drives the bridge tender/lock masters decision as to what opens first and who goes first...they seem pretty laid back.
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Old 03-25-2014, 10:59 AM   #13
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I try to keep my cruising as "laid back" as possible. It's the cruise more than the destination for us although the destinations can be fun too.

I've watched one video probably 50 times and read the books over and over. We would much rather cruise where we can see marine and wildlife than just take the fast route.
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Old 03-25-2014, 11:32 AM   #14
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rwidman, Like you we & about 5or 6 other boats from our marina are planning the Dismal Swamp cruise the first weekend in May. We are doing the "loop". Southbound down the canal to the Albemarle, hang a left, come back up the ICW thru Coinjock (stopping of course) for one of their Prime ribs,then on back to Hampton Va. From what I read about the swamp, as long as you make the morning openings on either of the locks, with the 6mi speed limit, it should be no problem making it from one lock to the other.....
You have a great trip, we are looking forward to ours...

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Old 03-25-2014, 11:38 AM   #15
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This is a great video on the Dismal Swamp
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Old 03-25-2014, 02:53 PM   #16
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It's pretty interesting and I watched it but I've seen it before. There are dozens of videos on youtube some worth watching, some not.
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Old 03-26-2014, 04:55 PM   #17
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What's your draft? I came south through the DS last fall and even with a 4' draft struck at least a half dozen things along the way. I'm glad i did it once, but wont do it again.
Great.....this answers the question I had about the DS as an alternative route. A friend was few days behind me last year, he got stock at broken Great Bridge Lock. When I asked about DS option, he didn't even wanted to consider it due to the shallow depths.

Bumping things with displacement or semi-displacement hull where props are protected by the keel is one thing, but bumping the same objects with planing hull vessel with half of the props exposed is totally different outcome.
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Old 03-26-2014, 05:00 PM   #18
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Great.....this answers the question I had about the DS as an alternative route. A friend was few days behind me last year, he got stock at broken Great Bridge Lock. When I asked about DS option, he didn't even wanted to consider it due to the shallow depths.

Bumping things with displacement or semi-displacement hull where props are protected by the keel is one thing, but bumping the same objects with planing hull vessel with half of the props exposed is totally different outcome.
As long as you are 5 foot draft and less...I wouldn't have a problem with it....maybe even 6 foot if I called ahead and checked water levels..

With a protected prop....no problem whatsoever....

I'll be going through again within 10 days...ask again or send me a PM.
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Old 03-26-2014, 05:22 PM   #19
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All our strikes were logs and branches, I expect, not groundings. All the time I saw plenty of depth for our 4' draft, but things still went bump and clunk way too often for my liking. Maybe its a personal problem, but I have a thing about boats floating and running gear free of debris.
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Old 03-26-2014, 05:44 PM   #20
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My draft is 40 inches, more or less. I've seen advice to stay well behind another boat because it may bring things up from the bottom. Allow time for them to sink again.

It can't be too bad or nobody would use it. I've heard it suggested to do it at least once. Remember, you'll be going pretty slow through here.
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