Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Blackwater Creek, Along the Virginia Cut

We resumed our journey south this morning after a few days in Portsmouth VA during which I made a surprise birthday visit to my mom who lives in Loudon County, a three-and-a-half hour drive away. It was great to see her, my brother Phil, his wife Pam and their new dog Mia.

We left the marina just before eight a.m. in dense fog, barely able to see the opposite bank of the Elizabeth River a quarter-mile away. We took the southern branch of the Elizabeth to join the Albermarle and Chesapeake Canal about 10 miles south, known as the Virginia Cut route. The fog cleared to a grey overcast sky that persisted all day. Along the way we passed under or through seven bridges and stopped to top off with diesel. The diesel was the cheapest I have ever purchased at $1.89 per gallon.

On the way north last year, we took the Dismal Swamp route along the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW). I decided to take the Virginia Cut this time to see what it is like and because it brings us closer to the route I want to sail on the inside of the outer banks of North Carolina.

We entered the Albermarle and Chesapeake canal through the Great Bridge Lock. The lock is very long and wide and can accommodate dozens of pleasure boats, raising or lowering them just a couple of feet. We shared the lock with only one other boat, tied along the south side of the lock against a really nice rubber rendering system. We barely noticed when the water rose in the lock and then the gates opened and we were on our way.

We continued along the canal, with wide expanses of scrubby woodlands and marsh to either side. We didn’t see much in the way of wildlife or waterfowl, though we were treated to a close sighting of a bald eagle which flew over the boat to perch on a tree and preen itself.

We navigated through another five bridges. A couple of the bridges are fixed with the 65-foot minimum ICW vertical clearance, which is a tight fit for Intermezzo’s mast. The opening railroad bridges are normally left in the open position, but the highway bridges only open on the hour and half-hour, so we had to hover and wait 10-15 minutes a couple of times to get through. This will be what it will be like for us taking the “inside” route south for the next couple of weeks.

The south end of the canal joins the North Landing River which we continued along for about 9 miles to Pungo Ferry. Here we turned off the river into narrow, winding, shallow Blackwater Creek where we dropped anchor in a wide oxbow for the night. We could have continued further down the main river, but that would have required us to tie up (and pay) for the night in a marina.

We are nestled in a huge expanse of marsh grass, the air and water perfectly still. Fish sporadically pop above the surface with a small splash and occasionally a duck quacks. It’s very pretty and peaceful, though reminders of nearby civilization are ever-present, the dim sound of traffic, a dog barking, lights glowing off in the distance.  I’m glad to be here in the cooler weather as I can imagine the mosquitos and other insects could be fierce in the summertime. Funny how after complaining about cold weather I am now lauding it.

Fog lifting at the Glimerton Lift Bridge, with the Norfolk and Southern Railroad Bascule Bridge beyond

The Great Bridge Lock