Two couples and two toddlers got to see a 30-year-old sailor transit the Coleman Bridge when the USS Monterey came steaming up the York River on the way to the Yorktown Naval Weapons Station. It was quite an adventure.
Host Christine Wells had her hands full with the kids, so her husband Frank and pal Chris Callaway ran the helm in shifty winds. Frank works in private industry in missile defense, and he was quick to identify the Monterey as a Ticonderoga-class cruiser even though it was four miles away.
“You can tell by the front panel,” he explained. “It’s large and flat and screens all kinds of stuff behind it.” Later, Mike Maddocks told me the Monterey is the sister ship to the USS Yorktown, since decommissioned. When passing by the town, the Yorktown crew used to stand on the deck and salute.
Later we passed a spot in the marina where a 55-foot catamaran pulled out yesterday. A couple bought it at auction after the US Coast Guard interdicted it in the Atlantic with illegal drugs.
“I had a co-worker who sold everything for a big catamaran,” Frank mused. “Sold the house and put their life savings into the boat. They drove it up the Intercoastal from Florida. Because it was so big they had to go outside in the Atlantic when they got to Georgia.
“One pontoon had an emergency escape hatch underneath where they could escape if the boat capsized. But someone installed the hatch backward, reversing the pressure points. Out at sea, the hatch blew open backward and the boat sunk.
“They got the boat up eventually and tried to salvage it, but the insurance company wouldn’t pay because it was manufacturer’s error and not an act of God. They lost everything.
“He went back to work and re-mortgaged the house and tried again to go out on a sailboat. But the night before they left, his wife had a stroke. He said, ‘That’s it,’ and gave up their big dream to sail the world.”
As we headed back to port, I managed to get a photo of an osprey fledgling on day mark 8. Momma is very protective at this point, so boaters have to steer wide for plenty of leeway.
Later, a family of four from Westhampton NJ went sailing. Sean and Deb Gallagher spend a lot of time outdoors with their children. He said, “We were snorkeling in Key West last year and lost a fin on the way back. It was lying on the swim platform and got jostled by the moving boat. The captain asked if I wanted to dive for it. Sure!
“I had to dive down 12 feet to get it, and after two hours of snorkeling I didn’t realize how exhausted I was. Then it occurred to me that I just jumped off a boat and left my wife and children behind with a guy I never met before. Fortunately he picked me up. He asked if the swim fin was sentimental, because he was surprised I went for it. That was a $12 dive that could have turned out much worse.”
Odd Ship Arrives, Departs
Meanwhile, the RV Dolores Chouest came up from Little Creek Amphibious Base and transited the Coleman Bridge on the way to Cheatham Annex. The brightly painted orange ship is unusual for having no camouflage provides surface support for submarines and other underwater activity including mine recovery. I couldn’t find the height of the mast, but it looked like it could easily make it under the 60-foot limit of the bridge. 24 hours later, the ship left and went back out the river presumably to Virginia Beach where it’s based. Once again, they opened the bridge.
Lily Gonzales was vacationing in Richmond when she found out she could go sail on the York River 50 miles away. She brought her two young sons and away we went. She’s a nurse in suburban Boston at a clinic for drug and alcohol rehab.
She spoke frankly but optimistically. “I worked five years at a women’s correctional institution called Framingham. I’ve seen it all. Some of the guards are worse than the inmates. We had a nurse who wouldn’t follow the rules and finally had to fire him. In rehab work, they say it takes a village and it’s true. You have to have the support of your family and friends to succeed. It’s very hard. Opiates are a real epidemic in America.” She sailed quite well on the helm and was the first woman ever to do it while carrying a toddler.
Flying the Spinnaker
As the heat rose the next day, the winds grew lighter. Beth MacDonald took her husband Mason and two daughters sailing on a serene Saturday as part of their vacation to Williamsburg. They have a fifth-wheel RV and a gigantic pockup truck to haul it. We motored out the river and flew the spinnaker back. Because he’s a former Army helicopter pilot for US Special Forces in Afghanistan, Mason immediately got the drift of the spinnaker. I told him that I once had a married couple from the 82 Airborne aboard. When we went to deploy the spinnaker, they said they would take it from here.
Beth is no slouch in the Life Department. She worked as a civilian for a contractor company running family support for Army Special Forces, Navy SEALS and Marine Special Forces. She suffered spinal damage from a new surgeon who “pounded my spine nine times.” She had a stroke that wasn’t discovered for a year. She’s taken extension courses from Harvard as well as attended classes in Cambridge. She’s a Gold Star widow whose first husband was killed in Afghanistan while on his ninth combat deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan. Today Beth and Mason live next door to the SF Delta Camp at Fort Bragg, nestled in the Carolina pines. Beth writes a humor column for a Fayetteville magazine. I quoted the playwright who once said that life is hard but comedy is harder. She liked that. Some people lead fascinating lives, and I get to take them sailing.
The next day, Beth wrote, “We really enjoyed our time with you! We were talking about how much we enjoyed the experience, and the great conversation. Regardless vs. irrespective- of course! I love word etymology as much as I dislike the use of irregardless. Thank you for the encouragement to keep writing. I’m going to forever remember the quote you stated about death and writing humor. The pictures look amazing! Thank you for capturing our day; we certainly want to remember this one. If you ever make it to Southern Pines give us a call. Good luck booking a cruise liner. We hope you love it as much we do. It’s not the same as sailing on the river, but it’s a close second.”
Sailing to the Future
Deon Evans took the wheel in glassy seas as we headed down river to start the history of the Battle of the Capes. Driving on the engine came easy to him. “We live south of Los Angeles and I have to commute 2-1/2 hours each way to Hawthorne, where I work at Space X,” he said. “So you’re a rocket scientist,” someone joked. “No, but I work with rocket scientists, some of the brightest people you’ll ever meet.”
Including Tesla founder Elon Musk. “He’s a genius who must work 24/7. If he sleeps, it may be while standing up. Paranoia is something of a company mantra. He comes to the plant every few months to speak to the employees. Afterward he’ll take questions for an hour and half, whatever it takes to address everyone’s concerns.” I asked if he thinks Musk is a bit strange. “Maybe, but he’s obsessed.”
The wind picked up within an hour and Deon continued to man the helm adroitly until he turned it over to others.
By afternoon, the wind settled down to 10-15 and the second group had no hint of the earlier glassy conditions. Among those on board were Matt Eichacker, who’s nearly eligible to retire from the US Navy. “I’m on the Eisenhower now, but I spent 16 years on submarines. It’s quite a culture shock to go from a crew of 125 to 5,000. Underwater I sailed to five of the seven seas, all but the Indian and Arctic.” I asked about claustrophobia. “No, not so much. Modern subs are much more roomy than those from World War II. I don’t know if I could handle those.”
A woman asked about his longest submarine cruise. “130 days,” he said. “Where?” she asked. “Underwater!” I exclaimed to everyone’s laughter. Matt left the submarine service due to migraines. “Everyone gets them eventually, and you just have to live with it. But mine started to affect my vision, so they transferred me.” Was it due to the underwater pressure? “No, the migraines came from moving around different sections of the ship. Every compartment has different air pressure readings.”
Let’s Go Sail
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