THE C&D CANAL
YOU HAVE A CHOICE… take the long, arduous outside route around Cape Charles, Virginia to head up the Chesapeake Bay, or hop a ride on the fast-moving currents of the C&D to the headwaters of the bay.
The 19.1 official miles of the man-made C&D Canal were governed by locks from the early 1800s until the 1920s when the Army Corps of Engineers took over from the canal’s private ownership. They improved upon the hand-dug ditch by 1927 and again in the 1940s, creating a 450-foot-wide, 35-foot deep and easy passage to and from industrial ports north and south.
The idea of a shortcut between Baltimore and ports east became a reality in 1802 when the private C&D Canal Company was formed, and over 2,000 men were hired to dig the ditch with picks and shovels. Giant waterwheels, powered by steam engines, filled the 100-foot long locks that gave early commercial shipping enough depth to proceed through the canal. Today, at the C&D Canal Museum, you can see the original wheel that fed the Chesapeake City locks, with all its operating paraphernalia — including one of the largest and oldest steam engines in captivity.
While the C&D is currently the busiest canal in the United States, and the third most-used canal in the world, it remains one of the best kept secrets to the general population. Tugs and barges, freighters, cargo ships, tankers, cruise ships, tall ships, and recreational boaters from around the globe all travel together to ride its 2- to 5-knot currents. Commercial shipping and cruise ships come from Baltimore to head for the ports of Wilmington and Philadelphia, or down the Delaware Bay to New York, the Hudson, and the Northeast Atlantic coast. But ask a non-boater about the C&D, and they will mostly say, “Never heard of it.”
Quaint harbor villages, seemingly untouched by time, inhabit each end of the canal: Delaware City, which fronts on the Delaware Bay, and Chesapeake City, which sits on both sides of the canal, in Maryland. Each was a major center of commerce and stopping place along the first version of the canal, and both suffered economically as the canal was improved and boats became bigger and faster. Today, these pocket-sized towns have come back to life welcoming visitors to artsy boutiques, galleries, antique shops, restaurants, Victorian B&B’s and a wealth of history to discover.
Want to know more about the C&D Canal? Click here to view the full C&D informational brochure.
EXCERPT FROM NORTHEAST BOATERS ALMANAC published by Carla and Bill Miners
M/V BAY BREEZE BOAT CRUISES