Thursday, October 6, 2022

The Horror at South Mills Lock

 Hi everyone,

Apologies for the scary title! We are fine! Furthermore, the sun is out for the first time in a week. Emily and I are tied up at the Mid Atlantic Christian University in Elizabeth City. They have a free dock and are super welcoming.

Yesterday morning we bade adieu to the visitors center and continued on our southerly trek. I was delighted to see the absence of duckweed, which should have triggered alarm bells. It was only 4 miles to an opening bridge, which works in conjunction with the lock. We raised the operator on the radio and he warned us of a massive buildup of duckweed at the lock. He said it would take some real work to get thru. Well, I certainly had no intention of turning around. The bridge was easy, and we began motoring the quarter mile to the lock. As we got closer , we could see what the problem was. There was a literal wall, a sort of miasma, that had backed up in the lock entrance. It was a stinking, fetid mass, of duckweed, pine needles, branches, and trash. We hit it at a good clip and came to a complete stop, about 75 feet from the lock entrance. Cooling water for the engine stopped completely, so I shut it down. The green mass was about 2 feet thick. The strong north winds of the previous week had blown everything to this choke point.

Getting in the dinghy, I managed , with considerable difficulty, to get ashore with a long anchor line. Pulling hard, I managed to pull the 2 boats about 10 feet thru the mire. The lockkeeper used the motorised gate to pull Emily's boat another 10 feet. I then ran the line to a bollard in the lock chamber and was able to eventually pull her in. I then made my way back to my boat, and led the anchor line to my cockpit winch. Eventually, I was able to muscle my boat into the lock. The water was then lowered and the other gates opened. But we were still encumbered by the slime. And everything was covered with this disgusting, stinky duckweed. We somehow managed to extricate oursselves from the lock, and make our way to the clear water below. The rest of the way was uneventful, and really quite scenic. The locking process took 2 hours of hard work, and then it was another 2 hours to clean up the unbelievable mess on the decks when we arrived at Elizabeth City. You just never know what might happen when traveling by boat. In 60 years of boating, that was a first!

Cheers, Charlie


  1. I'm surprised the Army Corps of Engineers didn't shut the canal down.

    1. Kind of surprised they didn't as well. But according to recent arrivals here at Elizabeth City it has improved dramatically.

  2. Wow! One adventure after another!! Glad you are safe and all cleaned up from the muck! It's mystery why they let that stuff accumulate - don't they have a way to clean it out? Love, Annie

  3. It appears they just let nature take its course. Each locking sequence lets a bunch of it through and it dissipates in the river below the lock. It seems as this was an unusual event caused by the days of very strong northerly winds caused by Ian.