All of the Whos in Whoville Flock to Top Rack Marina

We spent two nights at the Top Rack Marina (ICW Statute Mile 8.8) in Chesapeake, VA.

Top Rack Marina Life Ring
Top Rack Marina – a nice stop along the ICW

What a great place to stop. When we arrived at the marina, Ben was there to catch our lines and greet us with a some Virginian southern hospitality. Top Rack Marina is a “dry rack storage” marina. These style of marinas store their customer’s boats on indoor racks rather than floating in a traditional “wet slip”. Customers simply call and request their boat dropped into one of the dozen or so wet slips in the marina’s water edge.

Top Rack Marina Kelly in Slip
Kelly relaxing in the cockpit
Top Rack Rack Indoor Racks
Indoor racks hold boats like a grocery store shelf
Top Rack Marina Outside Racks
Outdoor racks act as staging locations as boats are washed, flushed and prepped

Their giant fork truck moves boats effortlessly and can be intimidating as it whirls around with a boat high in the air.

Fork Truck John
Driver John alongside for a visual comparison

YouTube Video – Hauling Boat Up and Out

We decided to stay for two nights and re-provision the boat. Usually we would have to grab a Uber to a nearby grocery store but we have found that grocery delivery services are a much faster, cheaper and a far simpler way to restock. When we were in Brick, NJ we used Peapod from Stop & Shop but here in Chesapeake, VA we used Farm Fresh Supermarket.
Jaquay was our designated shopper and he would text us with pics of substitutions for any out of stock items on our list. Jaquay picked our order, drove dockside and was kind enough to help carry our groceries aboard. Thanks Jaquay.

Jaquay
Jaquay

The marina has a great ship store and Deli and as I checked in with Brian at the front desk, Brittany was there to help me select a local IPA beer called “El Guapo IPA”. El Guapo is brewed locally in Norfolk, VA by O’Connor Brewery

El Guapo IPA
In Spanish El Guapo is a beautiful guy, a well looking male

Then it was on to dine at the Amber Lantern Restaurant. We stepped out of the elevator and hostess Courtney warmly greeted us. We got an early start at the docks and by the time the restaurant opened at 4PM, we simply poured ourselves into seats at the bar. Bartender Sydney kept us smiling the whole night.

Sydney
Sydney’s smile could warm the heart of even the crustiest sailor
Sydney and Courtney
Dynamic Duo: Sydney and Courtney

Being first into the restaurant, we had the chef to ourselves and the food was amazing. We had our fill and retired back to the boat only to wake up at the witching hour of 3AM and sing along with YouTube videos from artists in the “Forever 27 Club”. I recall some Janis Joplin was echoing out over the river… “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose”…

We awoke to a ghostly fog creeping down the river and we quickly shoved off to race and catch the Great Bridge Lock opening at half-past-every-hour.

Top Rack Marina Fog
ICW fog

Once at the Lock we tied up to the Southern wall, waited for the lock doors to silently close and watched as it lowered us gently down to the height of the water on the Albemarle Sound side of the lock. I find it interesting that while the Elizabeth River side of the lock is tidal and varies about 2.7 feet the Albemarle Sound side varies only due to the winds that drive water up or out of the river. Equally as amazing is the age of the machinery that drives these locks. You watch as giant gates and machinery, built using simple principles of engineering mastered many years ago, silently close.

YouTube Video of the Great Bridge Lock’s Gates Closing

Lock
Lock gates silently shutting behind us
Lock - Life Jackets Required
If you want to walk the dogs while in the lock you’ll have to don a PFD

The opening of the lock is timed to match cruiser’s expected arrival at the Great Bridge’s on-the-hour openings.

Great Bridge Bascule
Great Bridge – a bascule bridge

The Battle of Great Bridge was fought December 9, 1775, in the area of Great Bridge, Virginia, early in the American Revolutionary War.

We kept the ICW-bridge-list.pdf displayed on the iPad we’d have the requisite knowledge at our fingertips. As you pilot the ICW you will want to be aware of such things as… What bridges are around the bend? Can you safely pass under their vertical height? Are they restricted in opening times? How to contact the bridge tender on to request an opening?

ICW Bridge List
ICW bridge list for all 1,243-miles of  ‘inland’ waterway

As you make your way down the Albemarle Chesapeake Canal you can’t help but notice it’s as straight as spaghetti. The Canal was originally conceived of in 1772 but had to wait until technology advances (circa 1856) that allowed steam-powered mechanical dredges to cut through the land. While the canal is over 70 miles long, there is only 14 miles of excavated land. There are really two different “cuts”. The 8.5 mile long Virginia Cut which connects the Elizabeth River with the North Landing River in Virginia and the North Carolina Cut which is 5 miles long and slices across the Currituck Peninsula at the village of Coinjock to enter the North River, flowing south into the Albemarle Sound.

Albemarle_Chesapeake_Canal
Historic chart denoting the Virginia and NC cuts

This canal is a wonderful part of American history. During the U.S. Civil War, when the Union Army commandeered the canal, nearly 9,000 vessels made the transit. After the War, traffic continued to increase as the waterway took over practically all of the trade passing between the Albemarle Sound and Norfolk, Virginia.

As we meander down the ICW at a leisurely pace of 6 knots (4.5 MPG) we noted the passing from Virginia into NC. Then just a short while later, we were stumped to explain why this looping side canal was littered with wrecks? How did this happen?

VA NC State Line
VA / NC State Line – ICW statute mile marker 34
Ship Wreck Alley
How did this happen?
Ship Wrecks
Gently used boat for sale
Cannon
Maybe this cannon we passed was responsible for the wrecks  😉

The scenery at this point in the ICW is amazing! The waterway is lined with tall grass and you’ll watch as the local duck hunters race by you in camouflaged flat bottom boats. We’d pass the occasional duck blind hidden in the grass and Kelly & I would jabber about the moral issues of tricking ducks with decoys into becoming dinner. I’m always intrigued by the human race’s dilemma between a desire to coexist peacefully with all the other animals on planet Earth and our need for subsistence.

We soon arrived at Coinjock Marina where dock hand, JD quickly moored us to the wall and we scurried off to the Sand Bar for an IPA, some buffalo wings and a filet mignon for Kelly.

Sandbar
A typical sailor bar along the ICW
Coinjock Marina Kelly
The restaurant is known for their amazing prime rib

Inside the bar we met Bartender Jason and shared stories with other cruisers going South down the ICW. The three captains of a brand new 45′ Hatteras sport fishing boat that was making its way South sat next to us. They showed us video of their 30 knot trip South and we joked about their 80+ g/hr burn rate vs. our 1.2 g/hr rate. “Time is money” said one of the captains as they hurried out of the bar joking that they would not wake us at sunrise as their sprint South continued. Well it’s 6:30AM and we just watched them depart silently. I’m sure today will be another fun time here in Coinjock, NC.

 

Entering the ICW

Norfolk Leg
Route from The Great Machipongo Inlet to Top Rack Marina, Chesapeake, VA

Well we woke up early and left The Great Machipongo Inlet. The dolphins once again escorted us out and I turned South with the sun streaming in the port side pilothouse windows so hard I had to close the curtains and use the radar alone to tell what was on that side of the boat.

The sea was as flat as a model’s tummy so I lowered the RPMs on the diesel to get 2 MPG rather than 1 MPG. Simply by slowing the boat 1.3 knots we double our fuel efficiency! Don’t you wish that were the case for your car?

Thimble Shoal Light - Norfolk VA
Thimble Shoal Light

In a few hours we had snuck through the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, past Thimble Shoal lighthouse and we were approaching Norfolk Navel Station.

 

 

 

 

What an amazing sight to get to these American Navy ships up close.

Warship 19
USS Mesa Verde (LPD 19) – Amphibious Transport Dock Ship

You can see the barrier fence that they stretch across the opening and that fence line is protected by a Navy Patrol boat with a machine gun on the bow.

Navy Patrol boat

A local news story revealed just a few months ago there were six bomb threats called in to the naval station and you can call NCIS if you know anything. I wonder if you can call and ask for “Leroy Jethro Gibbs” or “Tony DiNozzo”?

Jethro and Tony

USNS William McLean (T-AKE 12) - Military Sealift Command
USNS William McLean (T-AKE 12)
– Military Sealift Command
USS Leyte Gulf (CG-55)
USS Leyte Gulf (CG-55) – Ticonderoga-Class Guided Missile Cruiser
USS San Jacinto CG-56
USS San Jacinto (CG-56) –  Ticonderoga-Class Cruiser
MH-53E Sea Dragon
MH-53E Sea Dragon Buzzed Us From Overhead
Dangerous Target
AIS (Automated Information System) Alarm on my Chartplotter warning of other AIS traffic that has a narrow CPA (Closest Point of Approach)

As the Sea Dragon buzzed us my navigation system popped up forcing me to ACKNOWLEDGE the fact that there was a “Dangerous Target” nearby. The Helicopter was not alone and there were a pair of jets making that deafening sound that seems to well up from a simple background rumble to a roar.

Jet
McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet – Screeching Across the Sky

I believe that is a McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet? Maybe one of our military aficionados will comment if I got any of this incorrect?

DryDock 2
Norfolk Virginia Dry Dock

 

Dry dock ship
I Believe this is the Stern of a Amphibious Transport Ship?
Medical Ship
USS Jason Dunham (DDG-109) – Arleigh Burke-Class Destroyer Alongside The Hospital Ship Comfort

The Hospital Ship Comfort made it’s way down to Puerto Rico as part of the relief efforts.

News Story about Hospital ship and it’s relief efforts.

So after navigating past all the warships and being careful to keep our distance it’s on to the Norfolk International Terminals and the Virginia Port Authority.

Star Wars
Star Wars AT-AT Walkers were all I could think about.
Crane
Large Cranes Loom Overhead
Hapag-Lloyd Passing By
Hapag-Lloyd Container Ship Passing By
North PBL RR Bridge and Jordan Fixed Bridge
North PBL RR Bridge and Jordan Fixed Bridge, ICW’s First Set of Bridges – Many More to Come
Norfolk Southern Railway Bridge 36 Feet
Norfolk Southern Railway Bridge @36 Feet – Room to Spare
Paddle Wheel James C Echoles 2
Paddle Wheel James C Echoles 2 Passing us By

You can’t help but notice that everywhere along the shore seems posted “WARNING – US Government Property – Restricted Area – KEEP OUT”

Tower
US Gov Manned Towers with searchlights Guard Wharf Entrances

Finally, we arrived at our chosen destination, Top Rack Marina.

Top Rack Marina setting sun
Top Rack Marina in the Setting Sun

I promise to post more about this terrific marina and the on site restaurant called the Amber Lantern that we plan on having dinner at tonight.

Great Machipongo Inlet – Anchored For the Night

This morning started with a great breakfast on the griddle. I have always loved breakfast  diners so having a griddle onboard is perfect for corned beef hash with eggs on buttered toast, cheese and BBQ sauce. I love this exact breakfast and for me, it’s cook, eat, repeat day after day. Why change what makes you happy?

Breakfast 1
I need the egg rings because as the boat rocks the eggs would run away

We did not leave our anchorage till almost 10AM and while I was still dying to drop the dink and make a run around the island to find the wild ponies, I told myself I’ll come back for the ponies!

So I weighed anchor and got underway. The trip was a simple one, South down the coast. I had plotted a short 37 nautical mile course that took me from Chincoteague Island to the Great Machipongo Inlet in Virginia. Even with the late start I was not in danger of having the sun set on me so I slowed down and trolled a line…

Trolling 1
Deep dive bill mackerel lure @5.8 knots – me thinks 4 knots would be better.

My Dad took me fishing off Sandy Neck beach as a child.  I recall sitting by the Colman lantern and just loving it as beetles and moths bombed in from the darkness only to slam into the lantern and spin around in the sand. When I got older, Dad entered me in the MBBA’s (Mass Beach Buggy Association) casting tournaments on Scusett Beach. My Dad would let me use his prized 13′ surf rods with weighted sinkers. He would show me how to put everything I had into the perfect cast and how to release the line at the perfect flex point in the rod. I  won trophies and was hooked. My first summer girlfriend came after winning a trophy 😉 We flew kites, it was pretty simple back then.

If I wasn’t fishing on the beach, I was down the Cape Cod Canal as a 20-something fishing for stripers with Timmy & Tommy or Greg (AKA. Maca, Gratty and Rooster). Growing up, we never called each other by our given names.. I’m assuming it’s like that everywhere. Anyway… I outfitted Simple Life with plenty of rods and fishing gear for times like this cruising down the coast. Problem is.. I never seem to catch anything.. It’s kind of a running joke. I need to up my fishing game. Anyone want to come South and show me some pointers? I could use some. My friend John has a great Cabo sport fishing boat and if I was not so preoccupied with taking my own boat out, I’d have spent more time learning on his. Well, needless to say.. No fish.. But I’m committed to catching something great SOON!

On our way into Machipongo Inlet we were visited by dolphins. It did not take them long to come over and start rubbing our bow.

 

I reconfigured my Raymarine E140 chartplotter’s page to display 3 different windows. I chose a half window of charts, a two quarter windows, one of a camera feed behind me and one of the depth sounder readout (see pic).  I did this because as I am traversing these tricky Atlantic inlets which are full of shoals and sandbars, it makes you want to see the depth trend. I mean having a history of the last few seconds of bottom depth gives you a much better clue that you are running up the slope of a shoal. While the water around the shoal may be deep as you approach,  you can see the steep upward angle of the sea floor. When I was entering the Great Machipongo Inlet there is a horseshoe shaped bar that blankets the inlet.  (see pic below)

Sandbar1

I plotted a course (the red line) that allowed me to approach straight on through the deeper sections and wasn’t really surprised that the depths did not match my 2012 Navionics chart chip bathometric data.

I use many charting tools to navigate and the chart chip in my chartplotter has data from 2012. So believe it or not.. I’m staring at my iPhone NOAA raster charts which are more up to date as I enter.. That said,  the GPS location accuracy of an iPhone is not the same as my Raymarine GPS. You really have to be careful when you enter an Atlantic inlet like this .. Look at all the green (land that is exposed at low tide). While I came in at high tide and it was water everywhere, just wait till low tide 😉

Great Machipongo Inlet

Well I read all the Internet reviews I could (only 2 of them) to gain some kind of local knowledge before entering this inlet. One review said it was horrible and the other said it was OK. So far I have no complaints. After all look at this sunset video I took once I anchored. It’s just peaceful in here.

I’ll end with this sunset video. There is something great about finishing a journey, dropping the hook and enjoying an IPA & sunset. I think it’s what humans were supposed to do.. OK after cavemen figured out the whole boating thing.

We Anchored on MARS!

Sitting here on anchor at Wallops Island you can’t help but look out at the few structures on shore. I thought they looked kind of “military” and figured Norfolk Naval base is just a bit South down the coast. However, after pulling up Google Maps you find MARS! OK it’s the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport.

Launch Pad
We are Anchored Right Next to this Launch Pad

I now see we are anchored off a Virginia space center with a rocket launch pad. Vector Space Systems has teamed up with MARS and is comprised of many folks from both the aerospace (SpaceX cofounders) and tech industries (Shaun Coleman – VMWare VDI/View & Cofounder of CloudVolumes)

vector_at_mars640
Vector Systems Vector-R Launch Vehicle

I think we may have missed an earlier rocket launch on Nov 11th. Too bad, We would have stuck around to watch that. Kelly & I talk quite a bit about the cosmos and we both believe that the human race’s primary purpose should be to explore the cosmos.

01 Cosmos Consciousness

We are all conscious (some more than others). Last night standing in the cockpit and looking up at the stars you can’t help but feel small. My visual view of the world is centered from inside my own head. We are all aware that we walk (or boat) the surface of this planet with other conscious beings who are centered in their own heads. Many of them are kind souls who find a purpose in helping others in need. However like many others,  I am sometimes bothered by the human need to fight with one another instead of seek intelligent life as well as a second habitable planet for plan B. This planet has a few people that I hope don’t make the trip to Earth 2.0.  The Kepler space telescope has now found ..”219 planets, 10 are thought to host conditions similar to Earth”…

Earth2.0
Earth & Earth 2.0

So WHEN DO WE LEAVE and Who wants to come?

Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there–on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.

— Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot, 1994

Chincoteague Island, VA – Where are the Ponies?

We awoke around 4AM this morning and I began pouring over the charts until I felt comfortable that we could safely make the passage down the outside passage to Norfolk, VA in 4 separate legs. By staying outside we will save days if not a week of traveling inside through the Chesapeake. While we would like nothing more than to spend months exploring all the great places in Chesapeake Bay, right now we could go for some Key West sunshine.

The other day we left Atlantic City and motored past the mouth of Delaware bay, I just could not bear to make a starboard turn and head up the Delaware Bay. This would mean heading North rather that South. In order to take the inside passage you must first run North up the Delaware Bay till you get to the C&D canal that connects the head of Delaware bay with the head of Chesapeake Bay. Once in Chesapeake Bay you again start heading South. It’s quite a bit longer than simply staying outside in the Atlantic Ocean.  It’s also more work for the captain, who must stay vigilant to avoid other boat traffic as well as steer around lobster pots. Nobody likes getting a lobster pot line wrapped around their propeller. We installed a “shark” pot cutter in front of our propeller to hopefully chop any lines that tangle in our propeller.

shaft shark
“Shark” Pot Cutter in Front of Propeller (Similar to MV Simple Life’s Setup)
Inside Passage Map
Inside Passage – Up Delaware Bay, Through C&D Canal and down Chesapeake Bay
4 legs map
Outside Passage – 4 Legs, 2 Anchorages

The more we studied the few inlets along the outside passage, the more we realized that many of them were possibly full of shoals and shallows to be worth trying to enter. There were some that if we did enter the inlet, it was clear that once inside it we could easily run aground due to the shallows that abounded. It was also very evident to us that our 2012 electronic charts no longer match the current depths and shoal locations. I use the charts as a “guide” but keep a close eye out for breaking waves where a new shoal may have formed due to recent storm activity.

We arrived at Chincoteague Island sometime around 1PM. The journey here was pretty uneventful. We saw only one other boat and it was a large sport fishing yacht moving at twice our speed South down the coast.  We studied the charts and found a nice spot to drop hook, close to the shore. MV Simple life has a 90 lb. Rocna, plow style anchor and 300′ of 3/8″ chain. I let out almost 120′ which was a ridiculous amount of scope (“anchor scope” is a ratio like 7 to 1: length of chain compared to depth of water). If we were in a crowded anchorage we’d never be able to let out that much scope as when the wind changed direction we’d swing into other boats. Along this coast there is not another boat in sight. After the anchor hooked up I applied some throttle in reverse (+200 above idle, or 800 RPM) which combined with the strong wind, buried the anchor. The extra throttle  lifted the chain straight out of the water with no bounce. We believe you should always “back down” on your anchor and watch to see if the chain jumps up/down which is a clear indication that the anchor is dragging along the bottom. This can happen for many reasons but some possible causes can be the seabed could have eel grass that stops the anchor from “digging in” or the bottom might not be sandy but instead a super soft silt that is like pushing a potato chip through whip cream instead of thick cheese. Better to have your anchor drag while you’re backing down on it than when the wind picks up in the middle of the night and you are fast asleep.

Chinoteague map
Red X is Where we Anchored – Off Wallops Island. Chincoteague outlined in Red

After reading about the wild ponies on Chincoteague Island, I made up my mind to use the crane and drop the dinghy in the water to go find them ponies. I had no sooner raced off on the dinghy before I thought.. I’m freezing & I’m zipping along over the shallow shore and could easily run aground at full speed and wind up taking a dip in the cold Atlantic. So I put a lifejacket on and turned around and made it back to the Simple Life. DAMN, NO PONIES!!!

Back at the boat the heater was on and I quickly put the dinghy back on the flybridge and warmed up to an IPA 😉 That brings me to where I am now.. sitting in the pilothouse enjoying a beer or two. We’ll leave you with our sunset view — good night.

Wallop Island Sunset
Wallop Island Sunset