Through the heart of the beast to the Great Dismal Swamp

In our ongoing quest for a warm beach, we have endured cold and rain, long days steering the boat without an autopilot, bad nights sleep for weeks on end, the New Jersey coast…in short we have faced trials and tribulations of many kinds. But today our journey towards the sun brought us to unknown land of the


And to get to the Great Dismal Swamp we had to pass through the gates of Norfolk. As mentioned in the last post,Norfolk is the center of the U.S. Naval Universe. Enormous warships loomed all around us, and a massive industrial complex was built up along the waterfront to service these giant steel monsters.


Seeing so many powerful ships up close is undoubtedly impressive, and we were treated to a view of the shipyards that I don’t think visitors passing through Norfolk in a car would get to see. But I couldn’t help being stunned at how much human energy, intelligence, and labor, natural resources, and money were being directed towards war and destruction. I love to imagine instead that we, as a culture, could put that energy, money and resources instead into creating a better world, into creating more beauty, into solving the immense problems that face us. I think that putting energy into these types of endeavors would have a greater effect on the freedom that the military is supposed to be “defending” for us.

Puttering along in our tiny sailing vessel, I felt like we were tiptoeing through the heart of the beast, hoping it wouldn’t awaken and devour us.

We made it through unscathed, but the next challenge lay before us….


What is the Great Dismal Swamp and why would we want to go there? In order to continue south from here, we could go around Virginia on the ocean, or take the Intracoastal Waterway, which is like a shortcut through Virginia to the North Carolina coast. Everyone that we have talked to, as well as numerous guidebooks, have advised us NOT to take the ocean portion of the Virginia coast, as it can be rough and dangerous and there are no harbors to duck into for safety if a storm comes up. So we are taking the Intracoastal Waterway, which is supposed to be safe and easy, and scenic…..but wait, it goes through the Great Dismal Swamp?!? That doesn’t sound appealing at all! What poor marketing team named that place? Well, as it turns out, it was named by Col. William Byrd in 1728, who explored the area with plans to make a canal to improve the shipping routes in the area, and declared it to be a dismal swamp. The canal was completed in 1802, and is the oldest canal in the U.S.
Today, the route is called “scenic”, and we were actually quite shocked to find that it was scenic, at least compared to the industry along the river in Norfolk. Trees decked in glorious fall colors line a narrow, straight canal, and the forest is thick and abundant with life.

Great Dismal Swamp Canal

Peak fall colors in the Dismal Swamp

But it does have the eerie, dark feeling of a swamp….the trees are close and dense, and you feel as if you could easily be lost like in the Blair Witch Project….
A sense of foreboding loomed….
Shortly after we entered the canal, we started to have engine problems. A that very moment, 6 vultures circled overhead. (at least they looked like vultures) The air was still. (no sailing here!) Would we be stuck for the night in the Great Dismal Swamp?

Once again our guardian angels stepped in and helped us out. After a little messing with the engine, but not really doing much to it, it started back up and kept going fine until we reached the North Carolina Welcome Center, where we are docked up very very closely next to about 6 other boats for the night. Oh, and as if on cue from the Dismal Powers that Be, the sky turned gray and it started to rain.

We made it to North Carolina, which we have held as our symbol of arriving in “the South”! Our goal now is within reach: the Outer Banks of North Carolina, a haven of long, endless beaches! But we are not out of the Great Dismal Swamp yet, and y’all will have to tune in tomorrow to our podcast that continues our dangerous journey through the perils of the swamp…..

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One thought on “Through the heart of the beast to the Great Dismal Swamp

  1. Holly

    Funny. The day you were in the great dismal swamp, so was I! It reminds me of something from a children’s board game. Go back 3 spaces. Here’s to some clear sailing for all!


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