Sunday, June 22, 2014 (Dowry Creek to Chesapeake, VA): We leave Dowry Creek at 06:30 in the calm after the storm.The mirror surface of the Pungo River and the Alligator-Pungo Canal is broken only by the occasional fish jumping. Captain Pilot Blackthorne (autopilot) at the helm is programmed to the entrance of the canal. He never makes a mistake. We enjoy a leisurely breakfast of toast and cheese washed down with rich cappucino while watching the scenery and the water ahead. Trees in the distance poke through a layer of mist on the water giving the waterscape an otherworldly sensation. The channel into the canal is serpentine due to the shoaling but the day beacons are well situated. Once into the canal we keep to the center only stubbornly yielding to oncoming traffic and only if they are bigger than us.
As we break into the open at the Alligator River, the weather changes abruptly. The wind is freshening from the northeast and the clouds are sinking lower. We see the swing bridge in the distance and raise the bridge tender on VHF. He will stop opening the bridge if the gusts exceed maybe 30 knots. He tells us to come on but asks if we really want to cross Albemarle Sound. We respect the bridge tender. We have options. Alligator River Marina is through the bridge next to the roadway (ugh). We can bolt the few miles across the sound to Elizabeth City and take the Great Dismal Swamp route to Norfolk; or we can be brave and go the 10 miles down the sound into the Albemarle-Chesapeake Canal. We choose the last option.
The exit into the sound from the Alligator River is badly shoaled. The temporary buoys that were there 2 years ago are still in the same place! The channel is very narrow, enough for two boats in places. Fortunately, the spot is deserted. Maybe this is not a good sign and it isn't. As we clear the trees into the open sound we get hit with a wall of wind and four to five footers bashing us from the northeast, our direction of travel. Although the ceiling is low the visibility is excellent and the rain is holding off. We set Blackthorne for the canal and trim Sequel out to do at least 28 knots. Speed is our stability but it is bumpy enough to rearrange the furniture below decks. We have what we hoped would be a minor mishap. We run down flotsam, which looks mostly like vegitation that high water has floated off the banks of the river behind us. Then a loud clunk and the starboard engine stutters for a second. Out the back pops a mangled piece of two-by-four but we have picked up a slight vibration. Did it bend a prop? Later, docked in Chesapeake I dive on the prop. One blade is slightly cupped.
The trees on either side of the canal block the wind. The open spots are quite sheltered, too. Our new vibration is not noticeable at waterway speed, less than 10 knots. We negotiate the bridges to Great Bridge bridge and lock and pull into Atlantic Yacht Basin in Chesapeake, VA, for the night. We call friends Judy and Mike in Virginia Beach and announce our arrival and desire not to fuss with bridges and locks into Norfolk. They drive over to Chesapeake where we dine ashore.
A word about Atlantic Yacht Basin. Their dock is on the canal but there is no nighttime traffic to disturb the moored boats. Their services are excellent. Diesel is competitively priced. The place is secure.