Our ship's radio came alive in The Great Dismal Swamp.
Robert said: “Welcome to Deep Creek Lock. I'll open at 1:30. Please put your fenders on your starboard side. Proceed in slow and easy, half-way up when you see the green light. You'll need long lines, one on forward, one aft. The water level goes up four feet. Stand by Channel 13.”
Aboard catamaran Salty Paws, we were ready to leave the salt waters of Deep Creek behind, and enter the fresh water of the historic Dismal Swamp Canal.
Robert Peake is the lockmaster at Deep Creek Lock. He has been on the job, operating the lock and warmly welcoming boaters to the Dismal for 24 years. During one of our winter trips, Robert treated us to hot coffee and bear claws inside the station house. Just outside the lock's station house, shells from Queen Conch and Triton's Trumpet line the walkway to where vessels tie up. These shells are gifts from grateful boaters.
Coming south from Norfolk, Virginia, we left the Elizabeth River, motored west along Deep Creek, and arrived at the lock, after passing through the cypress-lined canal. Our boat was one of several hundred vessels that make this passage annually between the Elizabeth and Pasquotank Rivers. In operation from 1805 to 2020, The Great Dismal Swamp Canal is not only the oldest continually working canal in America, it has a superb name.
Dismal is a historically accurate name, but does not fit the areas wonders. Each trip we've taken through this complex natural area offers a variety of thought-provoking sights: a black cow bathing in the canal and bald eagles and vultures soaring overhead. One consistent experience we've had each time: a warm greeting with hospitality from the lock masters.
Any traveler in this region will have a desire to learn more. A few facts about The Dismal: for millions of years the region was seabed; the canal area is one of the few areas of the North America where peat forms; canal waters are fresh and fed by aquifers from Virginia and North Carolina watersheds; the operating budget of The Dismal Swamp Canal is between $1 million and $1.9 million each year.
Lockmaster Robert also championed a successful email-campaign. In 2017, his efforts to keep the canal open involved boaters who wrote 35,000 emails in protest. The protest succeeded and The Dismal Swamp Canal continues to welcome travelers.
Thanks to all these efforts, in September 2020 we took The Dismal Swamp Canal route again. To depict the wilderness, we marked our passage with photographs in black and white. With the continual dedication of the lock masters, we may be lucky enough make a few more pictures, and leave only a gradually disappearing wake on these wild waters.