USAV Missionary Ridge has been maneuvering for several days in the York River near Cheatham Annex. The ship has radioed that it is conducting dive exercises and has asked boaters to stay 500 yards clear. At 174 feet long, it’s one of 35 Army boats in the Runneymede class that lands troops and materiel off a bow ramp. The name derives from a Civil War battle in Tennessee.
As seen from the water while sailing, a three-story house spanning 9,000 square feet has been under construction all summer on the York River. It’s next door to the USCG Training Center at Yorktown. The owner is Hampton attorney Tommy Burcher, whose parents and grandparents lived in homes on the same site over multiple generations. His cousin lives next door. Photo below shows the expansive view of the river from the house.
Kathy and Randy Deats returned a few days later for another afternoon cruise on the York. They found their first experience serene because of light winds, yet exhilarating because our two businesses have so much in common in terms of internet marketing. We talked about key words such as things+to+do and near+me as helpful for SEO. Trouble is, they aren’t easy to build sentences around without sounding contrived.
This time we were joined by Mike and Janet Young, formerly of Chicago and now retired in Branson MO. They were quite familiar with the duckboat accident. Mike said, “We live a mile from the lake, and that storm came up very suddenly. The first boat made it back to shore, but the second was only 60 feet shy before it capcized. The winds were blowing 70 miles an hour.” Janet added, “That tragedy followed one earlier when a car was swept away by a flash flood in the nearby mountains. Not a good year for Branson.”
Somehow we got off on the subject of dogs on boats. “He can’t handle it,” Janet said, “because of his allergies.” Mike clarified: “I was always allergic to something and went to the doctor when I was 16 for those scratch tests. It turned out I was allergic to 99 percent of what I was tested for. He gave me a shot that I had to get every week, but it cost $70 each time. That was a lot of money back then.
“When I got out of high school I had a low lottery number, so I figured I should enlist in the Army instead of getting drafted. The allergies would come in handy, but no. The major in charge of recruitment said, ‘Son, where you’re going we don’t have any of those allergy conditions.”
Mike served in the 101st Airborne during 1970-71. One result was that he picked up a lifelong ability to read and exploit the wind. He took the helm of Let’s Go Sail and never let go. Despite fluky winds that rose and fell from 5 to 10 mph and shifted from south to west, he held the boat steady all afternoon. Some people take weeks to learn what he executed intuitively.
Mike had one of the largest appliance and electrical repair shops in metro Chicago. “When I left I had 47,000 contacts in my database. I gathered all my men and told them I would recommend them to any of our competitors they chose. All but one got placed. The last one never grasped the use of computers at work.”
He ran into all sorts of clients. “Jesse Jackson’s office was constantly calling to complain that our men wouldn’t serve Mrs. So-And-So. I told them it wasn’t safe, given the crime levels of certain neighborhoods. I would respond, ‘If you will escort my men into the projects and protect them while they’re there, then we’ll go in.’”
All of us pondered the scene for a moment when Janet piped up with a notorious neighborhood. “Cabrini-Green.” The complex was so bad that Chicago finally demolished it.
I asked if Mike ever encountered the Mob. “I was friends with some of them, actually. We grew up together. They offered to kill my first wife, but I said no. I figured they’d want something in return.” The things people reveal on a boat are amazing.
Sailing to Williamsburg
A Dallas couple set sail on the York River in light winds, in search of a retirement town. Jim and Loretta Seal came fresh off a quick tour of Kingsmill on the James and loved it. Between them, they said, “We’re looking for a sophisticated community with a small-town touch, close to airports and big cities. We like all four seasons and would like to be near the water for boating.” Jim said, “I ski, and we understand Wintergreen is only two hours away.” He added, “Our second choice will surprise you–Prescott, Arizona. It’s in the mountains and not as hot as Phoenix, but still two hours away from Phoenix.”
They once took a nine-hour train ride from New York City to Niagara Falls. Jim said, “We stayed at a Marriott overlooking the Falls, sitting there in our room with a floor-to-ceiling window. It was mesmerizing. Then we took the Behind-The-Fall tour walking underneath. Did you know that 20 percent of the world’s fresh water goes over the Falls every day?”
Jim talked about someday taking a trawler on the Great American Loop, “down the Mississippi to the Gulf, across Florida, up the Inter-coastal, up to Hudson, on to Lake Michigan and around to Chicago. The record is 57 days, done by someone on a jet ski.” Our loop was more around the York River basin, serene under light winds. As we headed into Sarah Creek, dolphins started to surface, first one or two and then more than a dozen. Loretta was dazzled, and they came close to the boat. That’s the latest in the season we’ve seen them.
In the afternoon, Paul and Kelly Pittman of Lynchburg celebrated their 15th anniversary by sailing our light winds. Things picked up and we started heeling. Kelly had never sailed before. “This is exactly what I hoped it would be, and more.” She sailed for hours, and they spent time on the bow admiring the scenery. We got an emergency call “to the white sailboat” from York County Boat and Fire Rescue, asking about two lost swimmers near us. Turned out they were closer to Riverwalk Landing. We maneuvered that way in view of the flashing emergency lights, but shortly the emergency was called off when they found the swimmers.
The week ended with an intriguing family from Philadelphia. Chet Dagit brought his parents and kids from Williamsburg. When I asked a routine question of where they were staying, his mom Alice said proudly, “The President’s House.” That could only mean one thing, and she elaborated. “Our son Bruce is married to Katherine Rowe,” the new president of the College of William & Mary. Bruce said she couldn’t make it because it was Parents’ Weekend on campus and she had her hands full.
Chet’s dad Charlie is a world-class sailor. “After some years away from it, I went sailing out of Rock Hall on Chesapeake bay and realized I had to get back to it,” he said while easily taking the helm. Like any accomplished sailor, he ran the wheel from one side rather than the middle. The sides come with built-in backrests of the gunwales. Alice encouraged him to talk about winning the Nationals.
“They’re small boats, maybe weighing 65 pounds. My nemesis buddy weighed 105 pounds and I was 110. And weight matters. All summer long, he would win the races because his weight carried him faster on the longest leg of a triangle course. I told him to enjoy while he could because I was going to beat him in the championships. In that race, the upwind leg was much longer than the other two, so I gained the advantage and never gave up. I won the Nationals at the age of 22. I still have the trophy.”
In another big race, the winds built to 40 mph while underway. “Everyone else dropped out, but I hung in there. The race committee blew the horn to end the race prematurely but I finished and claimed victory. They wouldn’t give it to me, so I challenged them and won the appeal months later.”
Charlie is used to big winds, although all we had this day was mild breezes building to 8 mph. Heading on a beam reach, the Dagit boys helped me launch the spinnaker.
“In Greece, we had 20 people scattered among three big boats,” Charlie continued. “We got caught in a storm where the winds suddenly jumped to 60 mph and finally 70 mph. It was too late to take down the sails so we planed into port under sail, zipping past stone jetties that would have destroyed the boats. The Greeks were mad us for tearing up the jib, but hey it’s their wind not mine.”
I recounted a few ship’s tales from the 1781 Battle of the Capes, as well as ships in port during the Siege of Yorktown. Afterward, we passed Little England where Lord Earl Cornwallis took a night off for some rest during the artillery bombing by the Allies. I joked that his stay made the plantation house Virginia’s first B&B. Alice replied, “Yes, but we’re staying in Virginia’s best B&B.”
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Army Ship Maneuvering
USAV Missionary Ridge is an Army landing craft doing dive training off the Navy's Cheatham Annex, York River.
Capt. Bill O'Donovan
Williamsburg Charter Sails
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