Williamsburg by Sea
Adventure, History with Williamsburg Charter Sails
The tranquility of being on the water, the rush of being propelled by the wind, and the joy of gliding over the waves alongside dolphins—those are just a few of the reasons why Bill O’Donovan enjoys sailing.
“It’s the idea of being on the water,” O’Donovan says. “There, something about that that’s magical. There’s a certain solitude to it.”
Asa boy, O’Donovan got his first taste of sailing with his father in suburban New York. After moving to Williams-burg, he reconnected with the sport, purchasing his first sailboat in 1985. And O’Donovan’s been sailing ever since.
“There’s a certain aspect (to sailing) of being one with nature,” he says. “It keeps you present and focused. You’re looking for the wind, you’re looking for other ships, you’re looking out for the weather.”
In 2013 O’Donovan capitalized on his love of sailing and launched Williamsburg Charter Sails from York River Yacht Haven in Gloucester, adding to a host of great options in the Historic Triangle and beyond to take in the sights from the water.
Adventure on the High Seas
The York River is one half of the reason why Williams-burg is part of the Virginia Peninsula. The James River is the other. The two rivers flank either side of the area from Williamsburg to Hampton, peppering the landscape with creeks and tributaries that feed the two bodies of water.
And these aren’t just any rivers. The shores of the lames River near Williamsburg is where John Smith and t he rest of the crews of the Susan Constant, Godspeed, and Discowry first caught sight of what would become one of the earliest permanent English settlements in the Americas. More than 150 years later, the York River bore witness to the birth of a fledgling country when Gen. George Wash-ington defeated Lord General Charles Cornwallis in 1781 at the Siege of Yorktown during the Revolutionary War.
O’Donovan’s sailing business is in good company on the York River. He joins the likes of the schooners Alliance and Serenity of Yorktown Sailing Charters, which offers sun-set cruises on historically inspired ships, and York River Charters, which gives guests a variety of fishing excursion options. These diverse maritime tours are some of the best ways to see and feel the water, history, and unique aquatic environments along this stretch of the Chesapeake Bay.
A Journey to the Sea
If you’ve lived in Williamsburg for any length of time, you probably know Bill O’Donovan from his nearly forty-two years as a writer, editor, and later, publisher of greater Williamsburg’s local newspaper, the Virginia Gazette.
When he found himself laid off as part of corporate bud-get cuts in early 2013, O’Donovan, a passionate and active man, was faced with having to redefine himself outside the world of news and ink.
How long did it take him to begin considering life as a charter sailboat captain after his departure from the Gazette? “About twenty-five minutes,” he’ll tell you.
It was a natural evolution, he explains. Asa newspaper publisher, O’Donovan spent more than twenty years taking advertising clients and community leaders out on his boat. “I knew how to sail and I knew how to schmooze,” he says, with a chuckle.
And the combination of those two skills has paid off.
Last year, Williamsburg Charter Sails climbed to number four in its category on Trip Advisor, leading O’Donovan to find himself booked nearly every day. O’Donovan’s thirty-two-foot sloop can accommodate up to six passengers and features a below-deck cabin and restroom. Prices start at $150 for couples, $250 for families .$350 for groups. Passengers can choose from a variety of charter options ranging from a history tour, sailing lessons, adventure tour, a boat buyers tour, and special event charters.
Williamsburg resident Corinna Caldwell first met O’Donovan about five years ago when she took his sailing class. Since O’Donovan started Williamsburg Charter Sails, Caldwell said she tags along whenever she can.
She’s seen “Capt. Bill” enthrall visitors from across the country and around the world with his knowledge of the area’s history.”When he explains the history of the river and Yorktown and the battle, I think a lot of people walk away a lot wiser than when they first boarded the boat,” she says.
When Linda and Dennis Landry set out to plan their wedding last year, they only had a few goals in mind: they didn’t want a big fuss and they wanted to be married by Dennis’s brother, Scott Landry, a circuit court judge in Chesterfield, Virginia.
After doing some interne[ surfing, the couple, who live in Thscon, Arizona, found themselves on the Williamsburg Charter Sails website.
As graphic designers, they liked the way O’Donovan’s website was presented. They also liked the idea of an inti-mate wedding on a sailboat and the location was ideal. “So, sight unseen, we booked the cruise and took the chance that all was as presented,” she says.
Linda praised O’Donovan for his customer sei-vice, saying he was in constant contact with them prior to their arrival. And he made the couple and their guests feel com-fortable as soon as they arrived.
“It was as if it was our boat,” she says. “It was our special day and Capt. Bill made sure of it.” The Landrys’ wedding holds a special place in his mem-ory, as do so many of O’Donovan’s adventures with his clients. He recalls spotting something special while acting as a photographer during the ceremony. “These dolphins were dancing around the boat like they knew it was a wedding,” he says. It’s those moments that keep drawing Capt. Bill back to the water, much as did the compelling stories of his news-paper days.