Free & Dismal (in Norfolk, Virginia)

North Carolina — and, as it turns out, Virginia — has this AMAZING little cruiser-friendly thing going on. It’s called, “the free dock”.

Elizabeth City, North Carolina - Start of the Great Dismal Swamp and a Free Dock!

As far as we understand, it’s a small town effort to attract cruisers to spend a night or two. Elizabeth City calls itself “the harbor of hospitality” and we found that to be quite true 🙂 I mean, come on! What’s better than a FREE DOCK?!?!

Elizabeth City - Free Dock for Cruisers

As we pulled in to this free dock (beside our great friends on “Sea Major”), Jon and I realized that the last dock we stayed at was in Bocas del Toro. Panama. Almost 2500 miles ago.

So to say that docking skills were a little… rusty? …is a very nice understatement.

Thankfully we didn’t know about this (slightly creepy but very cool??) webcam at the time, so nobody got to witness the docking fiasco except the good folks of Elizabeth City 🙂

Webcam in Elizabeth City

Brio and Sea Major on a rainy day in Elizabeth City

We spent 2 restful nights in Elizabeth City, soaking up the good life (and the free wifi), and then it was on to a stretch that we’d been anticipating for quite a while: “The Great Dismal Swamp”. You can’t make a name like that up 😉

Elizabeth City

The Great Dismal Swamp started out with these amazing swirling patterns of green on the surface of water that is absolutely BLACK. Like, tall bold bitter Starbucks coffee black.

The Great Dismal Swamp - Green Stuff

The Great Dismal Swamp - Leah

The Great Dismal Swamp Scenery Cloudy


The Great Dismal Swamp

We *thought* it was getting quite narrow …but it turns out we hadn’t seen anything yet!

The Great Dismal Swamp

There were 2 locks (up and down) on the Dismal — a nice benign 8′ lift and drop that required minimal line-handling and no tires 😉 Quite a nice change from the Panama version!

Jon in the lock The Great Dismal Swamp

And in the middle of the Great Dismal Swamp? You guessed it: Another free dock. This one attached to a highway rest stop (very convenient) and a State Park (good for stretching the legs).

The Great Dismal Swamp

The fog came out for the second half of the Dismal…

The Great Dismal Swamp - Foggy

Absolutely creepily beautiful 🙂

The Great Dismal Swamp - Foggy

And *very* narrow! We knew that the Great Dismal had a controlling depth of 6 to 7 feet (meaning if your draft is more than 6′ you really don’t want to try this route!), but we didn’t know it was going to be quite so tight on the beam.

The Great Dismal Swamp - Fog

So I was taking amusing photos of the mast to show how much the trees lean in over the canal…

The Great Dismal Swamp - Mast Before

And the necessary early-morning selfies…

The Great Dismal Swamp - Us

Not knowing that a mere hour later, I’d get to take this picture:

The Great Dismal Swamp - Mast AFTER

We hit a tree. The tree won. The windex *definitely* lost.

But “the windex points the way” is a common refrain around here, and the mast is coming down for winter anyways, so we just have to remember to point directly into the wind and we’ll be set 🙂

At this point we’d also crossed in to a new state — Virginia! And yes, I’m continuing to learn my US Geography the slow way 😉

The Great Dismal Swamp - Lock Down

Locking down – in Virginia!

Sun came out in Virginia - Heron

Cruising in Norfolk, Virginia

The Great Dismal Swamp spits you out in Norfolk, Virginia. This is a *serious* navy town, with warships and battleships and aircraft carriers every which way you turn…

Cruising in Norfolk, Virginia - Bridge

Cruising in Norfolk, Virginia - LMK


Norfolk, Virginia

Norfolk, Virginia

And, wait for it: A free dock.

Free Dock in Portsmouth Virginia

A very nice free dock (technically in Portsmouth, VA which is directly across the channel from Norfolk, VA) that is also right beside the $1.50 ferry to Norfolk. And in Norfolk? A free art museum. Can you tell I love free??

Free Dock in Portsmouth Virginia

Okay, I’m almost done here… the last thing I want to say is that Jon and I had our first double-date (with the special bonus of Mitchell’s mom) in I think-maybe-ever, to an awesome 1940s restored movie theatre (complete with velvet chairs and a table with a phone on it for you to place your popcorn / dinner / drink order) and we watched “Guardians of the Galaxy” (which I had VERY low expectations for… but actually loved???) and it was fantastic.

So a big thanks to the crew of Sea Major for being our social life for the week 🙂

Friends! Cruising in Norfolk, Virginia

I call this a self-timer win



Free & Dismal (in Norfolk, Virginia) — 4 Comments

  1. It was deja vu reading about the Intracoastal after just finishing “Narrow Dog to Indian River” They hit many of these places and loved Elizabeth City too. You must read this book now that you’ve been there too – it was an entertaining, quick-read but would be a lot more meaningful to the experienced ones.
    I did notice you love FREE, (so do I as you already know)

    • Darrell mentioned that one — I’m gonna have to find a copy!! How did you end up reading that anyways?? It’s pretty cool that you were reading that at the same time!! 🙂

  2. Hey You Two,
    So I am listening to the surf against the breakwater and “surfing” the net, came across your blog. Well done! Referring to both the blog and your trip.
    You may recall that our boats seemed to be quite attracted to one another (ok, I anchored too close. Twice.) in La Cruz and we were hauled out and prepping together in San Carlos. It’s Ichi Ban John here.
    All’s well, I cruised Mexico until Mid April and then sailed over to Hawaii. Have been cruising the islands very actively since and am about to “hunker down” on Oahu and attempt to get some work done on the boat. Headed somewhere South next spring, all going well.
    Browsing your blog brought back many fond memories. Enjoy!
    Aloha, John

Leave a Reply