As a surprise, a Williamsburg woman went to extensive lengths to reserve a private sailboat charter for her parents to mark what she called “their 60th.” She provided a limo and driver from Richmond. We had to shift the trip around rainy weather and develop an early morning schedule instead of mid-day. Finally, Therese and Michael Mancini showed up at the marina, emerging from the black town car. I expected a very frail couple in their 80s, but it turns out they were celebrating their mutual 60th birthdays instead.
That was fortuitous since we encountered southwesterly winds of 15-mph and choppy seas. We set sail with the main reefed halfway. Therese took the wheel and figured out the directional angles. She tended to over-steer at first, which we agreed came from her tennis experience. Then she settled down on a steady course. We joked that their daughter had booked the trip exclusively for them, and as it happened the river was exclusively theirs as well. Not a single boat to be seen anywhere on the horizon.
Mike was curious about the fishing of the York River. “We used to fish in Delaware Bay, which was once the Capital of of Flounder Fishing, but no more. Some days the Bay would be smooth as glass, and then it would pipe up like this. I’m guessing seas of 1-1/2 to 2 feet.”
Soon we were able to extend the Genoa halfway to a sort of storm jib. That gave additional speed and a steadier sail with more balanced force. We tacked near Wormley Creek and ran the lee shore west past the battlefield and toward Yorktown. The wind calmed down enough to send the couple up to the bow for an hour alone. From there we crossed back past VIMS, and as the wind resumed strength I shifted to a beam reach to keep the boat flat. Later they came back to the cockpit and Mike got the boat heeling to 25 degrees as he set a season record of 14.9 mph. Their early apprehension morphed into adrenal excitement as the boat ripped through the water.
Mike recalled, “In Canada, we took a houseboat on vacation for a week. It was a big box with a tiny little engine, and on top of everything else we had to negotiate five locks on a river to get where we were going. People on big sailboats like yours didn’t like us because we were so close to the canal walls that we had to use poles to avoid hitting them. It was like moving a billboard in the wind.”
Later he continued, “My sister was in another houseboat and we had a lot of trouble reading the charts. They only gave us half an hour on the engine training, and nothing on charts. Here we had these ten pages of charts with no idea how to read them. At one point, I was looking at them upside down. I told my sister, ‘It looks like you’re getting into some low water.’ She said, ‘No, it’s okay’ and then SQUISH she ran aground.” Therese piped up, “The wives figured out the charts, actually.”
Mike and Therese got so proficient on the wheel that they began to “see” the wind coming from hundreds of yards away. The water turned darker and little whitecaps began to form as the wind approached. We sailed past the river cruise ship American Constitution at Yorktown as it prepared to weigh anchor in the early afternoon. After an exciting day on the river, I urged the Mancinis not to wait for their 60th wedding anniversary to return. They laughed heartily.
Cable Layer Arrives
While I wasn’t looking, I thought the USNS Zeus had returned to Chetham Annex port after an extended deployment. The last time I saw it, the Zeus was coming in off a nine-month assignment and was rapidly transiting the Coleman Bridge on the York River. Right smack dab in the way was my friend Chuck, who had stalled in a wind luff on his 1926 classic Herreshoff. I radioed the Zeus a heads-up, and fortunately a puff of wind blew Chuck to safety before they could collide.
Closer examination shows that this isn’t the Zeus, but a sister ship Global Sentinel. If it’s anything like its sister ship, it can lay up to 1,000 miles of intel cable as deep as 9,000 feet. The cable is used to pick up Russian subs in the Atlantic. USNS differs from USS because the former is a ship assigned to the US Navy as part 0f the Military Sealift Command. You can tell it’s more of a civilian ship by the orange life rafts. The Navy has them, but they’re grey. The distinctive yellow and blue stripes on the smokestacks designate Sealift Command.
Sailing from Texas
A Dallas family needed to sail at 8 am so they could catch an early afternoon flight in Norfolk. That doesn’t work during the summer because the wind remains flat until mid-morning. Spring is different, and they enjoyed brisk winds right off the bat.
I surrendered the helm to Betsy Cook, who had never sailed before. Her husband Chris Wells was eager to see how she accepted the challenge. Like a champ, as it turned out. “I think I sailed once,” Chris offered, “on a Sunfish, and it turned over.”
Betsy headed across the river as I guided her to the grassy knoll next to the battlefield. “Not quite like ours,” Chris said. I asked about tourism in Dallas. “The building is no longer a book deposit but rather a state office building. The sixth floor is given over to the museum. We still have people out on the street pedaling conspiracy theories, but they don’t get much attention. The museum is done very well.”
We sent their two children Avery and Jackson up to the bow. “Actually they’re my children. Betsy has two as well, ages 16 and 18. The girl is named Avery as well.” What are the odds!
Betsy was coping with winds of 12 mph, so we stayed on the western shore in the lee of the wind. Soon she mastered the trick of holding the wind without heeling too far. I asked if she was a teacher, and she turned out to be much more.
“I work with a team to reform failing schools. Schools in Texas are run by school districts, and that’s where we operate. We have developed ways to use reams of data to improve performance. It begins with the principal, who along with some teachers needs to be reassigned elsewhere. We look for progress among students individually. No matter what their level of schooling, we use test data to set a base and build from there. That includes special education children, too. We’ve gotten salary increases for teachers and money for incentives for the best teachers. We don’t just walk into a school to relieve the teachers. It takes great planning and coordination.”
I said that would never happen in Virginia because of political cowardice. Chris said, “Five years ago that was the case in Texas, but now the legislators realize it’s in their best interests.”
Betsy did a heroic job on the helm, to go along with her heroic job back home.
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Couple got a surprise gift of sailboat cruise for their 60th birthdays.
Capt Bill ODonovan
Williamsburg Charter Sails
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