We marked our
arrival at mile zero of the Intracoastal Waterway on Thursday 11/6, passing
through Hampton Roads then down between Norfolk and Portsmouth, VA. This is an
extremely busy commercial area with many giant cargo ships and is also home to
the largest naval base in the world. Navy patrol boats followed alongside as we
passed aircraft carriers and destroyers. We had heard tales of other cruisers
being stopped by the patrol boats for getting too close and taking photos, so
we played nonchalant and powered through without taking out the camera. The
night before we had heard the Coast Guard announce the enforced 500 yard
security zone around Navy ships over the radio, adding that deadly force may be
used if any vessel were to get too close. 
After a few miles
and several bridges we made our choice at the fork in the road, turning toward
the Dismal Swamp. We had been told that the alternate route through the Dismal
Swamp is well worth the trip providing your draft is not too deep. Minimum controlled
depth is six feet throughout the canal so we figured we would be safe enough
with our five foot draft. Though it got a bit dicey at times, we assumed
correctly and didn’t have any issues. Once that right turn was made the scenery
quickly changed from very industrial to tree-lined and secluded.
 
The Dismal Swamp
route includes two locks. A new experience for us. After passing through the
first lock we tied up to the free docks for the night. Everyone there was
invited by the lock operator back the next morning for doughnuts and coffee and
to watch the next group of boats pass through the lock. Because the ICW is made
up of many narrow canals, rivers, and inlets, cruising boats converge and we
were enjoying the growing trend of seeing familiar boats from previous ports
popping up next to us. Flocking south together lends itself to easy comradery
and we were eager to chat with any boater that wandered into our vicinity. I
guess being limited to conversing only with each other is the perfect antidote
for our usual shyness, but probably doesn’t do anything for the awkwardness.
Still, we convinced another young couple with no permanent address, Ben and
Beth, to be the guinea pigs
for our first attempt at entertaining on our small boat. Though I didn’t think
so when we bought it, I’ve come to realize after a scant number of visits to
other boats that ours is well named with the inclusion of the word “baby.”   

 
After leaving the
Dismal Swamp Canal we entered the Pasquotank River on the way to Elizabeth
City, NC. We wound our way down the Pasquotank on a crisp, clear morning,
through what was one of the most beautiful areas we have seen so far on our
trip south. And not at all dismal.
 
 
Elizabeth City was
an excellent stopover point. The town is extremely accommodating to boaters,
offering free dock slips and greeting every boat that pulls in. It was a
beautiful weekend and the free slips quickly filled up, giving us a great
opportunity to meet several more cruisers and make new friends. There also
happened to be a beer festival with live bands taking place in the park right
next to the slips. It seems that each time we pull in somewhere we have just
missed such-and-such wonderful festival. But we timed Elizabeth City just right
for free entertainment and had a great time listening to the bands play from
the top deck of Mark and Laura’s trawler, Osprey.
In fact we had so much fun with all of the activity around us that we made it
far beyond our usual bedtime of it’s dark-I’m bored-lets go to sleep, staying
up until a respectable midnight.

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