“We went offshore in New Jersey looking for bait fish,” said Colleen McGowan while taking her children for a sailing lesson on the York River. Hers is the first of several bizarre boating tales last season encountered by Let’s Go Sail.
“We ran into a crowd of fish so great that it felt like there were more fish than water. So it was easy to scoop up the bait. Suddenly a whale came up out of the water, the size of my boat. It scared us all to death. I had a newbie on board and I think he crapped in his pants.”
Justin Connolly lives up the Hudson River in Newburgh, New York. “I have a 28 Donzi that can get up to 55 mph. It takes at least an hour and a half to drive the Palisades Parkway into New York City from my house, but I can make it in 40 minutes to South Street Seaport. They charge $50 an hour to park there. And my gas mileage is terrible at 55 mph.”
Hurricane Sandy sunk Colleen McGowan’s boat and did terrible damage to her marina. “Our dock master was trying to clean up the marina and wanted to get rid of a 34-foot sailboat that was okay but the guy simply walked away. He was way behind on the marina dock fees. The dock master told my friend Fred, ‘This sailboat cost $150,000 new and I’ll give it away for $6,000.’ Fred went right out and got hold of $6,000 and bought the boat. Years later the original owner showed up. He lost out because of marina salvage laws. Fred sailed that boat to Florida.”
Weaving Along the Mississippi
Boaters make great comrades, but so do neighbors. Jo Anne and Tom Bell live near Great Bridge in Norfolk and vacationed in Chattanooga. They took a dinner cruise on the Mississippi and found a comrade.
“We went up to the bridge of the riverboat. The captain of the boat turned out to be from Great Bridge,” Tom said while sailing off Yorktown. “We talked about neighbors and friends when suddenly he asked, ‘Would you like to take the wheel?’ Well, I don’t have a captain’s license but I have a Virginia boater’s license. They’re not the same, but I said sure.
“Only it wasn’t a wheel, it was a joystick. I tried my best and got the gist of it, but it was very sensitive. Someone came up from below decks and asked what was going on. Dinner guests were throwing up below.” Jo Anne interjected, “He was weaving back and forth across the Mississippi, turning the riverboat this way and that. Yet the captain was okay with Tom driving.” Tom added, “The joystick was very tricky.”
Later along the Mississippi, Jo Anne recalled, “These dinner guests were very devout Christians. We passed by a boat full of college kids who were drinking. They were totally naked and mooned us. The Christians were horrified. That was the funniest thing of the entire trip.”
“I fell off a sailboat once,” said Korine Arseneau’s mother Kathy while sailing with the family on the York River. “I was a teenager out with other friends on the St. Cloud River. I was sunbathing in my bikini on the bow when my boyfriend turned the boat and I slipped into the water. We were close enough to shore that I could swim. I’m a good swimmer and it wasn’t rocky, so I swam until I could walk in. I just sat there on the shore waiting for them. They eventually came back for me. I didn’t date him anymore.”
Ed Williams of Northern Virginia took his extended family sailing while on vacation in Williamsburg. “The last time I spent any time on a ship was on the USS Coral Sea aircraft carrier. When I got out of Great Lakes Naval boot camp and got to Alameda at the age of 19, I wondered what on earth I had gotten into. Later, when the USS Enterprise was coming online, we were berthed next to it at Alameda. As big as I thought my ship was, our flight deck only rose to the elevators. Today the Coral Sea is scrap metal.”
We sailed straight down the York in a light breeze that eventually died. The three kids on board went swimming off the aft, tethered by line to the rail and wearing life preservers. They swam for nearly two hours as we drifted back upriver five miles.
Ed continued, “I sailed around the world both ways, first on the Coral Sea headed one way, and later on the Carl Vinson headed the other way, We went through the Panama Canal during an interesting time. The Americans stood guard on one side of the canal while the other guys stood on the other side. We stood on the flight deck, like sitting ducks. This was 1982 during the Iran-Contra period when Oliver North got sacrificed by the Reagan administration. The deck of the ship extended over the land as we passed through the canal.
“In my 4-1/2 years at sea we lost seven people. An aircraft carrier is like a small city, with 5,000 people. They get into loan sharking, ‘bilge wine,’ marijuana and much more. A jet came in one time and broke the arresting cable, which sliced through two people. One time I went to get my lieutenant for something, and when I opened his cabin door I found he had shot himself in the head. I was 19 and had never seen anything like that. Every morning we had muster on deck for the head count. If someone was missing, we didn’t know if he fell off the ship or was pushed. We had men posted on all four corners of the deck 24/7, but they can’t see everything.”
As we neared R-2 day mark entrance to Sarah Creek, the east wind picked up. When we got into the channel, we shifted to a beam reach and then a close reach that pulled the kids faster. They had a great day.
In the afternoon, a family from Richmond and a couple from Newport RI went sailing as the wind picked up to 10 mph. The Richmond folks brought a rescue dog named Enzo, a mix of lab/German shepherd. That’s the second dog in three days. He was very well behaved, given the extensive heeling to 15 degrees.
Bruce and Margaret Wagner of Chester VA met Paul and Nancy Jarboe of Clarence MO on their 42nd anniversary as they all went sailing in a good breeze. Bruce is an Army major with the Chaplain Corps. He talked about some of the changes he’s seen over the years. “At one time, the chaplain schools of the Army, Navy and Air Force were all combined at a base in New Jersey with large buildings for the operation. Five years later the joint school was disbanded for some reason.” The mission has expanded. “Today we have chaplains of all faiths, not just the traditional faiths. We have chaplains who are Buddhist, Muslim, Wiccan and others.” I looked at Margaret–Wiccan? She said, “Right?”
We ducked into C Dock as a storm came through. Paul and Nancy operate a 1200-acre farm where they grow corn and soybeans while also marketing the seed for those. They have seen their share of tornadoes, as close as next door.
In the afternoon, Nicole and Ozzy Sepulveda of Middletown DE took their adorable children sailing. The couple was unusual for having spent two days in Colonial Williamsburg soaking up the history of the Revolutionary period. Nicole recounted her own weather story. “My parents bought a home in St. John’s in the Virgin Islands after looking in Guatemala, Honduras and elsewhere in the Caribbean. They already had a four-unit rental in St. John’s, so that made sense.”
I thought it safer as well than unstable countries in the region. “Yes, except that four months after they bought it, St. John’s got hit by Irma and and Maria. Just the four walls were left standing. A guy up the hill was wiped out by tornado. So now we’re rebuilding.” The second storm of the day was coming from the west, so we hastened back to port for safe cover.
While taking out an extended family from New York, we encountered the USAV Missionary Ridge, an Army landing craft designed to put troops onshore in combat. It looks a lot more fancy than the traditional landing craft seen on D Day. I radioed the ship for its route, and word was it was simply heading up the middle of the York River to the bridge, and back. Because the ship has virtually no draft, it didn’t have to stay in the York Channel, which veers south before reaching the bridge.
We got to talking about boating safety and communications. Kim Amrod said, “My mom is taking a boating course and she’s really serious about it. She’s the only one in class taking otes and asking questions. She just wants to be able to run the boat herself. It’s on the biggest lake in Connecticut. It’s actually a pontoon boat.”
Christian Guerrio pulled up a video on his phone of when he recorded his friend Charlie. “‘Here we are on a beautiful day out on the water. Here’s Shelly having a good time enjoying herself. Here’s Charlie enjoying himself on the wheel. Why isn’t he holding wheel if he’s going so fast? (The camera turns around). Because Charlie’s being towed back to shore!'”
Gary and Laura Campise of Mohegan Lake NY took their three girls sailing for a unique reason. Laura said, “We love history and we live next door to Yorktown in New York.” So they got the full story on the water, including how Gen. Washington took one last stab at the British in near Harlem Heights before moving on to Yorktown VA.
Gary works in the bond market in New York, and he tried to explain the current crises of the inverted yield curve. “It’s unusual for the 2-year Treasury to have a higher interest rate than the 10-year Treasury because normally the longer term carries a higher rate. Historically such an inversion has forecast a recession.”
Gary continued, “To me, the larger issue is the Fed. The FOMC (Federal Open Market Committee ie. the Fed) is influencing the chairman in ways that are not conducive to the President. Interestingly, they can advise the chairman but in the end any rate change is his decision alone. It’s not like the Supreme Court, which requires a majority. He could always resign [if he gets fed up], which is not unprecedented. [Paul] Volker resigned because of criticism by [President] Reagan.”
In the afternoon, a family from Woodbridge VA went sailing in search of dolphins. They hit the jackpot as we picked up a pod on a southeast run toward Wormley Creek. For over an hour, they swam beside the boat and dove under the keel and came back around. Kaiser Siyet and family crowded the bow as they sang and clapped hands to attract the dolphins. It worked!
Let’s Go Sail, to Reminisce
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Boating Fails and Tales
As Colleen McGowan took her children for a sailing lesson on the York River, her tale of woe in New Jersey was the first of several bizarre boating tales last season encountered by Let's Go Sail.
Capt. Bill O'Donovan
Williamsburg Charter Sails
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