We spent two nights at the Top Rack Marina (ICW Statute Mile 8.8) in Chesapeake, VA.
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.
Their giant fork truck moves boats effortlessly and can be intimidating as it whirls around with a boat high in the air.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
The opening of the lock is timed to match cruiser’s expected arrival at the Great Bridge’s on-the-hour openings.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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.