Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Duck Soup

Lots of chunks under the garnish
The Dismal Swamp Canal looked like a hearty green soup, complete with root vegetable chunks that tapped against Sweet Pea's keel. It was a duckweed stew. Definitely not the most appetizing concoction for a day's motor to Elizabeth City, NC.

Sweet Pea was lead boat in a flotilla of four. I had met the others at the North Carolina Welcome Center where we rafted four deep, forming a peninsula that nearly blocked the channel. The 150-foot dock wasn't that crowded. But despite some urging, a number of smaller vessels, who had arrived earlier and were spaced one deep along the rest of the dock, were curiously disinclined to raft up.

I could understand that since we four were leaving early to catch the first lock opening and the rest of the bunch wanted to sleep in. Still, rafting has always been a tradition at the Welcome Center. I hope that graciousness will persist rather than falling victim to using the right of first arrival to cling to the cleats.

Being perfect gentlemen we, of course, tiptoed out at 0700 to avoid any disturbance of slumber. Yeah, right. Varoom, varoom, varoom. Humm, engine sounds warmed up. "HEY, YOU READY? LETS GET A MOVE ON!"

Twitch marks the spot
I set off from the Welcome Center without too much thought about whether being the lead dog was a good idea. The Army Core of Engineers was said to have recently removed snags, deadheads, logs and other chunks, so what could there be other than water?

Well, there might be, perhaps, the odd SUV. Several years ago a boat hit a submerged vehicle that had been rolled into the canal the night before, just for laughs. That could hardly be the Core's fault. They weren't even invited to the party.

Now, for the first time in my four canal transits, I kept hitting things that felt substantial. I suspect it was only my keel doing the knocking but I was concerned about whether more sensitive parts were at risk. After each strike I would twitch the wheel to mark the spot in my duckweed trail and radio an alert the rest of the fleet.

In a previous trip the green soup had also contained a filamentous algae, which clogged an engine's raw water strainer as effectively as stuffing a pillow down a toilet. Every so often the lead boat would radio to announce a pause, punctuated by the scream of a temperature alarm. We would slowly pass the former lead as they threw green stuff overboard, leaving them to ride drag in a choking duckweed dust. Fortunately, this season's chef skipped the algae.

I was pleased that Sweet Pea's engine kept right on chugging until I reached Elizabeth City's free docks. I'll cling to these cleats until I get exactly the right weather to cross the Albemarle Sound.

2005 Crossing the Albemarle in exactly the wrong weather


  1. Great to meet you at Elizabeth City wine party. See have I will add your RSS feed to www.IPYOA.COM.

  2. Glad you are making your way home! Now you need to start thinking flight plans so you can be ready to come see your newest granddaughter when she arrives :)