Once inside the lock, I realized I had lines and fenders set up on the wrong side of the boat and had to switch everything around in a hurry. I was the only one there and with no wind to push the boat around, I was able to do it while floating in the middle of the lock.
It is said about the Dismal Swamp Canal that the name is rather unfortunate. It is actually a very green, tree-lined alley across the North Carolina Virginia state line. The Dismal part of the name is supposed to be one of the great failures of marketing, like Greenland or Iceland. It turns out they’re wrong. The swamp is dismal, but not because it’s not pretty.
This time, I never actually got to see the canal. Instead, I was in a mortal battle with swarms of horrible, vicious, biting yellow flies. I spent the whole time I should have been enjoying the scenery monitoring my exposed skin for flies. I coated myself in a thick layer of bug repellent, which stopped about half of them. The other half were ruthless in their persistence. Every time I let my attention lapse, I’d be punished with several painful bites. I could only look up long enough to check that I wasn’t drifting toward one bank or another of the very narrow canal.
By the time I made it to the other end, hundreds of swatted carcasses littered the cockpit floor. I arrived with another boat for the 1:30 locking down. We called the operator and were told there would be a delay while he locked a boat up. We tied up and spent the time swatting flies and cleaning the dead from our boats.
The up-going boat came through, and in no time we were free to join the Elizabeth River into Norfolk. As soon as we did, the flies stopped. I’ve always had this theory that there are few bugs in cities because of the air pollution. It was a welcome break from the flies, even if it’s not the best for my health.
I pulled into Ocean Marine for fuel. This is where Maryanne and I lived for almost five years as were saved and prepared for a life of cruising. It was strange. It looked so familiar, even though the staff and almost all of the boats were different from when we were there. Nobody recognized me at all.
I topped off the fuel tank and a jerry can. I was amazed that I made it this far under power on one tank. Footprint was faster under power, but would have needed at least twice as much fuel for the same journey.
I went to pay for the fuel and on the walk back to the fuel dock I had the strangest sensation. I had been through that routine many, many times before after a weekend of sailing and anchoring out. It was all so familiar that my mind just went back to that place. I walked back to the fuel dock on autopilot, habitually making note of the wind so I could figure out how to get into our dock adjacent. When I got to the fuel dock and I came to, I had about a half of a second of total confusion. The fuel dock was filled with this giant catamaran with a great big mast. What happened to our boat? When did this thing show up? After a couple of weeks aboard, I’m starting to get used to the inside, but I’ve only seen Begonia from a distance a few times. I’m still always shocked by how big she seems.
Of course, I didn’t have a dock to go to a few boat lengths over. We didn’t live there any more. Instead, I pulled out into the river and went a couple of stops down to the transient quay at the town harbor. Another piece of fancy two-engine manoeuvring slid me into a spot behind another boat. I shut down the engines and was tying up when Kate and Mark showed up!
They were excited to get the tour and I was dying to give it to them, but I still had to finish off the securing procedure, so I made them wait until I was done. I showed them around. They oohed and ahhed appropriately, and then we took a familiar walk through Old Towne Portsmouth to one of Maryanne and my old frequent haunts. It was also the same but different. No matter, the big event was getting to spend time with Kate and Mark catching up. We see them pretty often, but anything more than a couple of weeks seems like ages to me. It’s been a couple of months since they came to see New York with us.