Departing Elizabeth City on the Pasquotank River, I enjoyed the continual narrowing while paddling past cypress swamp and islands of pine above tidal levels. The cloudy skies eventually blew out offering me mostly dry and comfortable paddling weather.
The protection of the cypress forest kept the gusty winds from becoming too much of a nuisance and by days end I happily settled in at a raised camping platform off Northside Rd. The disrepair and neglect of the camping platform evidenced by the accumulation of leaves, downed trees upon it and holes of rotten wood made portions dangerous. After dragging the kayak up to the 4ft decking, I was content to have all my gear high and dry rather than trying to fish it out of a floating kayak.
The intracoastal waterway travels through a rich history of America’s earliest canal projects. Begun in the 1700s and surveyed by none other than first homie George Washington, the first canal was dug with slave labor. I cannot imagine the challenges of digging the mud, chopping stumps and battling the hoards of insects for these unfortunate souls. Continual widening and dredging over time has made it a dream to paddle.
The name may be misleading as the Great Dismal Swamp is a true natural paradise for kayaking. The swampy areas depicted on older maps were marked as “Dismals”.
The Lake Drummond Reservation has an excellent paddle in campground with screened shelters and a boat tram that, when working, electrically ferries canoes to motorboats from the canal feeder ditch up to the stunning cypress lined waters.
A stunning landscape by which to enjoy the skies.
The tanin rich waters that pour through the dam form a frothy layer of foam. In the freezing morning air, the foam grows thicker and extends almost a half mile down the ditch. A reddening sunrise warms my soul as the coffee vapora swirl from my metal cup.
Where roadways or railroads cross the canal, low bridges won’t let much through other than a kayak.
The commercial and industrial area after the Deep Creek canal blossomed into the Norfolk Naval Yard and Portsmouth watetfront. The din of diesel equipment and shipbuilding echoed off the steel superstructure like waves off the rip rap shore. Tug boats maneuvered the large cargo ships through the narrow corridor as Marine Patrol boats with 50 cal machine guns kept a close eye on the goings on. Armed guards atop the battleships seemed to be looking only at me, the yellow plastic boat bobbing in the waves. The water taxi came barreling down on me between the pier and the ship pictured below. A quick sprint to safety allowed me to just barely escape his swamping waves and I offered a friendly salute as the captain waved.
Passing the Norfolk waterfront, I continued on toward the mouth of the Elizabeth River where the swell had already built to 2 – 3 ft with a stiff 20kt NE wind. Conditions were forecast to be rainy, cold and windy for the next days. Out at Fort Henry the buoy reprted 5ft seas and the winds hadn’t even freshened to strength.
Reflecting on my trip so far, I had to weigh the choice of tackling the open and exposed coastline of the Chesapeake or culminating my journey in safety here in Norfolk. After all, I had made it back to VA and was content with the scope and completion of the trip. A call to my buddy Loftus found me at his waterfront condo and a warm and safe hermitage from the wind. It just happened that he was planning to drive back to the Shenandoah this weekend so I offered to pay gas to haul me and the kayak. Wisdom got the better of me as I chose the path of least resistance and safety by not tackling the Chesapeake.
Thousands of miles have passed beneath it’s hull and I intend to add many more in the coming years.