Hampton, Virginia via the Great Dismal Swamp Canal

Phil & Nikki Hoskins
Sat 19 Jun 2010 22:50
37:01.50N, 76:20.42W
After a busy few days at Elizabeth City we needed to push onwards. It's so easy to spend two days here and three days there and then you realize that you are seriously behind on the cruising schedule. Maine, our target for this summer is still some way north, however, we did exactly the same again in Hampton!
First, The Great Dismal Swamp beckoned. The alternative route from the Albemarle Sound to Norfolk. It is considered to be one of the last pieces of wilderness left on the USA east coast. Unfortunately the canal lies on the eastern edge of this vast marshland and just yards east of that lies a main highway.  Any thoughts of actually being in a wilderness are occasionally shattered by the noise of traffic blasting through the trees and undergrowth. But it's a route we hadn't taken previously and we are spending this cruise northwards doing just that - visiting as many new places as possible.
The canal has a lock at each end and was surveyed in the early stages by no less a person than George Washington. It was completed in 1805. For us we will remember it for the surprise encounter with a boat from our past - the Heavenly Twins catamaran Terrapin in which we crossed the Atlantic in 1991 with its then owner Mathew Wilson who wrote a book about the adventure called 'Taking Terrapin Home'. The canal is quite narrow compared to the remainder of the ICW.  Meeting boats travelling in the opposite direction, especially wide boats like barges and catamarans, tends to attract some VHF traffic because venturing too far over to either side can bring about an avalanche of tree branches and leaves onto the deck let alone something that was attached to the top of the mast. Little Terrapin was heard to be heading our way a mile or so ahead and we had a short radio conversation with the new owners who apparently bought the boat off eBay! It was a shame we couldn't spend longer talking with them and looking over the boat again. We wondered if Mathew's lucky rabbit was still aboard!
 Terrapin heads off into the distance - still plying the east coast USA                            The Dismal Swamp Canal runs almost straight for 37 miles with just a small dog-leg along the way
At the end of the canal a lock drops boats down to sea level and the experience is made so pleasurable by the friendly lock & bridge tender and his dog, a Pit-bull/Sharpei cross which nature had made look like a short-nosed Labrador with thankfully the same temperament!  It strolled up and down the lock side sniffing the air at each boat looking for any morsels. But it was us that were offered the morsels as slices of cake and doughnut appeared on a plate, having missed the lock tender's morning offering to cruisers moored up just before the lock. We had chosen to moor the other side of the bridge due to lack of space available and so were parked next to a Mexican restaurant where we ate that evening with some cruising friends. But every morning around 0800 he invites cruisers to his lock house where they are given a treat of doughnuts and coffee. Such a nice gesture from a man who really enjoys his job.
Talking of dog-legs there goes the lock tenders dog named 'U-Turn'                            The lock tenders cottage with assorted shells and gifts from transiting cruisers
Having dropped down the requisite 8 feet we re-joined the traditional ICW route north a couple of miles down stream and commenced the long haul through Norfolk, stopping only to refuel at Tidewater Marina, Portsmouth. Passing the Naval Dockyard further north we were treated to the sight of the giant aircraft carrier USS Enterprise, the longest warship in the world, having just completed a 650 million dollar refit and now in her fiftieth year. Incredible to think we were just children when she was launched and is still such an impressive ship.
The 'Big E' as it's known in the fleet , powered by 12 nuclear reactors                         Into the distance - dwarfing an LHD assault carrier close by
We took the marked channel to Hampton as we'd heard from friends we'd last seen in the Bahamas that they were heading that way. They had also 'hoovered' up a Danish couple who had been bound for somewhere else.  Along with some more cruisers we knew we now had all the ingredients to make Hampton a party stop - thus delaying our progress north again but for all the right reasons!
Hampton has a nice boating waterfront edged with restaurants and set back a few blocks into the town some more watering holes for thirsty visitors. There's not much of historical interest as the town had been set ablaze and completely destroyed in the civil war to prevent it falling into Union hands. 
The Air & Space Museum building just off the waterfront is impressive and also houses an Imax cinema where we enjoyed a 3D showing of the final episode in the Shrek series. Sadly the Cousteau Society's museum at the Town Piers marina where we were berthed has closed, presumably through lack of visitors. One feature on show near the waterfront is a wonderful German built Carrousel with the prancing horses and Wurlitzer organ. This is housed in a custom built glass building and is one of only 12 working roundabouts left in the USA. It's restoration is immaculate and when open gives pleasure to many visitors. Another feature apparent around town are various murals painted on buildings by the same artist, bringing to life some of the dull frontages.
The window and shutter is real, and the drainpipe - the rest is mural                              A great bar scene, especially liked the dogs
Everything on this grey wall is mural                                                                               One of our favourites - even down to the newspaper in the letter box
On the first night a crowd of 10 of us had a great meal out at a local restaurant . The food was excellent although Nikki fell foul of local language vagaries ordering a Chesapeake Crab Burger. When it arrived it had the look and smell of good ol' hamburger with just a dollop of crab sauce topping. Phil managed a quick tantalising mouthful (as appointed food taster to her majesty) before the plate was whisked back to the kitchen with sincere apologies from the waitress who understood the confusion in taking the order. It was eventually replaced with something considerably less bovine in origin, leaving Phil regretting his own choice of Jambalaya.
10 'disciples of cruising' savour a great supper together                                             Ajaya berthed in Hampton. It wasn't too noisy despite the proximity of the flyover.
The following day Phil worked on blogs and other tasks whilst Nikki was whisked off in a hired car to go shopping in a local mall where the finances suffered a minor disturbance with the purchase of two pairs of natty new shorts and a toilet brush. Phil's reward for staying onboard and remaining calm whilst the 'Admiral' was on the loose with the credit card was being delivered the remnants of a pizza kindly donated by Chris on Polar Pacer whilst Nikki was still out shopping and awaiting pick-up. That evening we hosted drinks onboard after enjoying a fish and sweetcorn barbecue for just the two of us.
Day three saw us wandering in town where a Farmers Market was underway later meeting up in a local bar for Mimosas (known as Bucks Fizz in the UK). There was a special promotion on at $1 per glass, so needless to say the local cruisers had sniffed this offer out like bloodhounds on the scent of a criminal. Just before leaving the bar we were informed that the fresh fish stall at the market was selling off all their produce at cost so that provided the evening meal for us all, with everybody meeting up on Ajaya with their cooked fish offerings from the market whilst Phil amazingly managed not to incinerate some fresh tuna steaks as our part of the deal. After the meal we all ventured ashore to listen to a black and white blues band giving a live performance on the stage set up near where the market had been that morning. However, before we could purchase any alcohol at the event we all (yes all) had to prove we were over 18 years of age at the security desks. So, out came driving licenses etc and on went the sticky paper wrist bands so the staff serving the beer could make no mistake about our ages. The band were generally very good but an ear-splitting rendition of Jimi Hendrix's 'Voodoo Chile' had the less musically tolerant amongst us heading back to their boats.
We stayed one more evening before deciding that we were pushing our luck with getting northwards. The party sailed off in various directions - our next stop being Deltaville.