Cruising the circlePublished 8:35pm Saturday, August 4, 2012
By Billy Webb
Special to the News-Herald
Many people who enjoy cruising (water, not vehicles) dream of embarking on a cruise of “The Circle.” When leaving from Tidewater, this usually this means north to New York, west to the Great Lakes, south down the Mississippi and other waterways to the Gulf, east to Florida, and back home.
But Tidewater has its own circle, shorter and more doable. The route encompasses the two branches of the Inland Waterway that connect the Elizabeth River and Albemarle Sound. It includes a trip up the Elizabeth River to Great Bridge, south through the lock and many bridges, eventually down Currituck Sound to Coinjock and continuing to Albemarle Sound. Turn west to the Pasquotank River, then north through Elizabeth City, narrow waters of the Dismal Swamp Canal, the locks at South Mills and Deep Creek, past several bridges, eventually emerging back in the Elizabeth River.
One intrepid Suffolk 3-year-old, Logan Gillespie, invited five aged local men, Billy Chorey, Jack Leach, Johnny Leggett, Dick Pond and Bill Webb, to accompany him July 25 on an abbreviated version of The Tidewater Circle.
Because of timed bridge openings, lock schedules and no-wake zones, it is almost impossible to complete the entire route in one day, so the plan was for the two boats to leave Centerville Marina, two miles south of Great Bridge when the Centerville Bridge opened at 8:30 a.m., and stop at the bridge at Deep Creek late in the afternoon. That was good enough for the crews since they often ply the remaining three to four miles in search of trout in the fall.
The group stopped in Coinjock to fuel and enjoy the cooling breeze. Albemarle Sound was comfortable, the Pasquotank River delightful, and about noon, the bridge at Elizabeth City was in view. A chicken lunch was served by Johnny Leggett, a far cry from what he delivered when he was Suffolk’s purveyor of gourmet seafood. “Sorry, but no shrimp and crabs today boys.”
No chicken was left over.
They caught the 1:30 opening at the South Mills lock, were raised eight feet, and proceeded into the Dismal Swamp Canal. Most of that narrow waterway still parallels Route 17 and includes long stretches of no wake areas and also an interesting museum at the welcome center in North Carolina. (If you have not seen the museum, it is a good attraction for an educational visit, and the trail is well used.)
Late that afternoon, the vessels arrived at Deep Creek, and the task of recovering cars and boat trailers in rush hour traffic began. By 8:30 p.m., everyone had returned home. Logan is already planning the next cruises to explore the York and Rappahannock rivers.