HIGH POINTS AND LOW MOMENTS
The Traveler who has sailed the waterway is likely to experience one of two sensations when he reaches his goal: relief at the trip being over, or regret. This is true of practically all boat trips, but the waterway, being somewhat longer than the average cruise, has a way of producing particularly intense feelings.
Take the first day. It is possible to get from Norfolk to Elizabeth City in seven smooth hours. It is also possible to take a lot longer, especially if you catch the keeper of the railroad drawbridge at the south end of the Norfolk Navy Yard on one of his bad days. He is one of the waterway's celebrated individualists. Therefore it is wise, after blowing for the bridge, to shift into neutral—if not reverse. After a considerable time the span may swing open. If it doesn't, resist the natural impulse to turn and wait out of the channel in the Navy berths on the starboard hand. The writer tried this a few weeks ago. In mid-maneuver there was a hoarse blast like one note on an old ah-ooo-ga Model T horn and a large life raft came hurtling off the end of an aircraft carrier and whammed into the water about 150 yards from the boat.
The carrier was testing its catapult. It worked fine.
Just below the Navy Yard is the Great Dismal Swamp, an extensive bog inhabited by deer, bear and catfish. It is not a good idea to run out of gas or break down in the Great Dismal Swamp. In the final 10 miles to the outskirts of Elizabeth City there are two houses, one at Possum Quarter Landing (no interest in passing boats) and one at Shipyard Landing (no shipyard). And the man who tows you into Elizabeth City—as the writer knows to his sorrow—charges $10 an hour, portal to portal.
Too many of these experiences can bend the spirit of even the most enthusiastic cruising man. It is, however, possible to sweep all the way to Miami without the smallest mishap—except the occasional running aground which is so standard on the waterway that it embarrasses no one.
You are likely to run into some characters—like the three ladies, none of whom had ever before owned a boat, who bought a cruiser and set out from Norfolk with no charts aboard but an automobile road map. Every time they came to a body of water they couldn't see across, they waited and followed the next boat that happened along. These tactics convulsed marina operators along the route. By all reports, however, the ladies reached Miami with no trouble beyond an occasional absent-minded running out of gas.
The marina operators also tell about the man in the converted landing craft who would get a local fisherman to tow him into mid-channel each morning, where he would flag a passing boat and get a tow as far down the line as possible while he sat in the stern of his barg watching television. He made it all the way to Morehead City before one of the tow boats found the barge's engine never did work and walked off with the TV set in payment for the tow.
Even without breakdowns and the characters, there is enough on the waterway to keep the yachtsman interested through a dozen trips. There is an extraordinary beauty to a Carolina salt marsh on a late fall afternoon, with the great barrier dunes in the background. And in the winding swamps below Bucksport the past of great plantations and pirate raiders hangs close to the live oaks and Spanish moss. In the towns, too, like Charleston and Savannah, there is a magnetic feeling of oldness. And during the last days of the trip there is, of course, Florida, where it might be possible for a yachtsman to become bored—but he would have to work at it very hard.