Position: N 36 50.742 W 076 18.044
With the wind vane steering a good course on a close reach, we have a lovely, silent sail in 10-15 knots across the Albemarle Bay to the Pasquotank River and, finally, Elizabeth City.
On our way up the river we notice a huge building on the western shore. Later we look up and see a blimp hovering near the building.
Julie: “I wonder what that could be?”
Mark: “Maybe it’s a blimp factory.”
Julie: “Ha Ha. Yeah, right.”
Elizabeth City provides 14 free slips and a couple of bulkheads to which visiting boaters can tie up for two nights. If there are more than 4 new arrivals, the “Rose Buddies” put on a free wine and cheese reception! This has been going on for over 25 years – what a nice town!
We pick a slip, tie up, and go for a nice, long walk through the commercial district and the nearby old neighborhoods. Four more boats arrive, so at 4:30 we meander over to the Rose Buddies reception. There, we learn that the big building we went past earlier is, indeed, a blimp factory! All the blimps in America (except the Goodyear blimps) are made here!
We visit with the other boaters who have arrived then head back to the boat. When we get there, a voice message tells us Mark’s brother and sister in law are on their way to see us. We have a nice couple of days visiting with them, checking out the blimp factory, going for a sail, getting stopped by the Coast Guard for our first ever boarding (a random safety check – we passed), and catching up with each other – we haven’t seen each other since Mark’s dad’s funeral last fall.
Saturday morning we get up and walk about 50 few feet to the farmer’s market at the park behind the free slips. We buy four tomatoes, a bag of green beans, some zucchini, and some yellow squash – all for $4.00 – a good deal on some great vegetables. We say our goodbyes and head up the Pasquotank River toward the Great Dismal Swamp Canal.
The Pasquotank River above Elizabeth City meanders and narrows but retains plenty of depth. We pass logs covered with turtles, spot lots of different birds and trees, and watch the swampy bits slide past. Surprisingly there are no bugs. The shore closes in on us and soon we’re negotiating the turns with only 20-30 feet between us and the log and stump strewn banks on either side.
We reach the lock up to the canal a few minutes after it closes so have to wait a couple of hours for the next locking. We drop the anchor on a short rode, sit back, and relax. That’s when we see it – a huge mottled snake thicker than Mark’s arm lying on a stump sticking out of the water only about 20’ from the boat. Another boat arrives and we point it out – the captain says “That’s a cottonmouth.” Wow. Poisonous!!!
The lock opens and we enter and loop our lines around the bollards. The water begins to rise and we’re lifted about 8-10’ up, taking up the slack in our lines as Rachel rises to the level of the canal. The lock opens and we’re presented with a 100’ wide arrow straight strip of water. We pass a small town and tie up for the night at the Dismal Swamp Visitors Center – the only visitor center in North Carolina that services both auto and boat traffic. We have a nice short walk around the immediate grounds, then retire to Rachel for dinner and a quiet night.
In the morning we go for a longer walk on the board walk through the swamp, a winding trail through the woods, and along a dirt road that parallels the canal. It’s beautiful here, but we’re ready to get going again. At about 9:30 we release the lines and have a nice leisurely run up to the next lock.
As we’re locking through, dropping 12’ or so, the lock keeper walks by and spots Mark’s conch horn. He asks Mark to play it for him, then disappears for a second. He reappears with a colorful painted conch and proceeds to give Mark a series of lessons guaranteed to make him a better, more versatile conch player. “Conch Horn Bill” has a well deserved reputation for being one of the best conch horn players around, and Mark appreciates being “schooled”.
A few more hours and we’re anchored at Hospital Point on the Elizabeth River, Mile 0 of the Intracoastal Waterway with only another hour or two to go until we’re on the Chesapeake Bay.