We didn't have to leave very early yesterday morning from the Dismal Swamp Visitors Center because the bridge and lock 4.2 nautical miles south has scheduled openings. We planned to catch the 11:00am one. We filled with water and said goodbye to Walkabout and then left just before 10:00am, leaving not much extra time.
About one mile into the trip the boat slowed from 5.2 knots to around 4, I think because we had passed through one of the mats of sticks, grass, and scum (duckweed) floating on the surface and it got stuck on the keel. So I reversed a little to see if that would fix it and then noticed a different sound coming from the engine. We stopped (just gliding to a stop in the middle of the very calm canal) and the strainer was packed full of duckweed. I think some of that mat got sucked in or else reversing caused us to suck in more duckweed than normal. With the clean strainer the sound went away so hopefully it was just the sound of the impeller sucking water really desperately or vacuum bubbles churning around somewhere. It's pretty crazy for that to be audible over the engine noises though.
I think one other possibility is that the speed loss was due to the engine losing power from overheating (if that is even a thing?). But then I would expect the interesting new noise to be from engine damage and to not go away. It would be nice to have an engine temperature gauge or even to know if the overheat alarm works; that is a significant source of risk when it comes to running our engine.
We cleaned the strainer a couple more times before the bridge and it was about 1/3 full each of those times. We cleaned it at the bridge and then went slowly through really thick duckweed to the lock a few hundred yards away. It was completely full when we emptied it there. I think our slow speed there was the major factor in causing it to fill up so fast, with the exceptional thickness of the duckweed contributing some.
We dropped about six feet in the lock which was pretty cool. Then we were out of the canal and into a winding river that gradually widened which was exciting because then I could use the autopilot. This was all very scenic, with trees (cypress?) right up to the edge. I saw something slink beneath the surface--it looked kind of long so maybe an otter? The strainer never took on much duckweed in the river here, and eventually the duckweed thinned out to nothing. It was a hard day for the impeller and it is right about at its scheduled replacement after 600 engine hours so I will be replacing that soon.
On our arrival at Elizabeth City we looked around for a while at the available docking options. There were some slips with pilings and tiny (almost useless for our boat) finger piers which would have been OK but there was a nice crosswind to make getting in there difficult. So we tied up to an available place at a bulkhead, met the neighboring Canadian boat, and went to check in (no charge) at the visitors center. Anna paid $5 to use their showers later and also found out about a nearby Dairy Queen, so we walked there with Louise. Anna is getting sick so the ice cream really soothed her sore throat.
Today we left at about 9:00am and it is a very nice day: sunny, 65 degrees, absolutely calm winds, and just ripples on the water. That's not good for sailing but very OK for crossing the Albemarle Sound as it is shallow, hence notorious for any waves being choppy and very uncomfortable. Also it is littered with crab pots and those become much harder to see in waves. In the Pasquotank River I spotted a massive floating stump that was right in our path...that would have been a bad one to hit! Sometimes we hear reports of hazards like that on the VHF so I reported it to the Coast Guard and a few minutes later heard them make an announcement about it. Maybe it will prevent a bad day for someone.
At the end of today's 45 mile trip we should be just past the end of the Alligator River. We won't anchor at the bottom of the Alligator River itself (its more like a 3x15 mile bay than a river) because around midnight the winds are supposed to start blowing from the north, straight down the length of it. We will go just around the corner and anchor there.