A small company in Roanoke chose Let’s Go Sail to work on team-building. They got a full day of activities in half a day on the waters of the York River. Bright blue skies enhanced blustery winds of 10 mph and seas rising and falling two feet. Their assignment was to rescue someone in the water.
While reviewing a marine chart of the river, everyone paid close attention to the drill and understood they would be sailing without much instruction. Sometimes you just have to take action. They understood the problem and the decision-making they would have to execute. They adapted well and showed considerable trust. All of these factors contribute to team-building.
“My step-dad Paul Woods founded Pavement Stencil,” said Calvin Bell by way of explanation. Among other things, he was something of a war hero.” Calvin showed me a picture of Paul’s medals. “I found these after he died, all jumbled up in a drawer. So I put them together in order.”
Beneath the Combat Infantry Badge lay the Silver Star, Bronze Star, Korean theater medal, Vietnam medal, and more. The Silver Star is the third highest award in the military, and all three he mentioned are for heroic bravery. Paul also won the Purple Heart for wounds in combat.
“He joined the Army at 15, lying about his age. Right away, he went on to serve in Korea, Vietnam and Afghanistan — before we were supposed to be there officially. Paul served as a paratrooper in the 101st Airborne Division as well as in the Special Forces. His book, “The Expendable Soldier,” reviews his service in Vietnam,
To reinforce team-building, we set out on the rescue mission. All we knew was that a man was struggling in the water at the buoy R-22. I showed the team a big chart of the York River and Mobjack Bay, and then switched to a larger scale chart of the York to hone in on the buoy. Two members charted the location by latitude and longitude, and then compared notes for accuracy. We boarded the boat and motored out of Sarah Creek and made our way out the channel to turn 110 degrees east. As a diversionary tactic, I headed slightly south to see a Navy sub docked at Yorktown Naval Weapons Station. Everyone looked through high-powered binoculars. Very impressive.
As we neared a red buoy, I left it to them to see if it was the right one. Beth Bell was up on the bow with Calvin, enjoying the view with arms outstretched. When Beth came back to the cockpit, I called our marina to ask a prearranged question about who we’re looking for.
“Some guy named Dan,” responded Victoria Harrison from the marina ships store. I asked if she had any details. “He works for the Gap, maybe. No, wait. He’s from Gap, Pennsylvania.” Everyone heard that, including Aimee Muse, who by now had changed positions with the Bells and was sitting on the bow. She turned around and shouted, “He’s our best customer! We’ve got to go get him.”
The submarine and the Dan ID were misdirection tactics to confuse the group into thinking that the first red buoy they saw would probably be the right one. As we got closer, Aimee peered out. “That’s R-24,” she said confidently, “not R-22.” The jig was up. Showing real leadership, she went below to check the marine chart for the direction to and distance of 22. Aimee popped up from the cabin. “Let’s keep heading straight east.” Right on.
While proceeding to R-22 a mile east, we executed a hove-to as a way of showing how to stop a sailboat dead in the water. It’s a quick maneuver for man-overboard or a hat that flies off. At R-22 we shouted out for Dan, nowhere to be seen. I discreetly tossed a shopping bag made of plastic and it landed in the water. Man overboard! Man sighted! With a quick hove-to, Calvin took the boat hook and scooped up Dan while Austin Beverge held his waist so he wouldn’t fall in. For someone floating in the water a while, Dan was pretty quiet.
On the way back, we executed another MOB because the exhausted Dan accidentally fell off the boat. Unlike before, he didn’t have a life preserver on. Dan was represented by a brown plastic bag that was harder to see in the water than the earlier white bag. This time we returned properly in a Figure 8 to approach without banging into the person’s head. Calvin made another flawless boat-hook catch. Dan remained speechless.
While the company team was all assembled for the rescue exercise, Calvin and Beth took time out to present Austin with a five-year employment plaque and pin. He was astonished and humbled by the award. “I thought maybe you were going to fire me,” he laughed. Paul broke out a bottle of red wine and cigars for the team as they celebrated Austin’s milestone.
Aimee spoke for the team when she thanked the Bells. “All of us have a genuine love for the company. It’s not that we’re saving lives, but then again the safety messages we provide do save people from accidents.”
Before heading in, Calvin offered a commemorative toast to his step-dad. “First, we pause to remember a highly decorated veteran whose medals didn’t matter as much to him as did his colleagues. He was very matter-of-fact, a sort of black-and-white kind of man. Second, he started our company. He was selling steel coating for paint and thought it was crap. So he started making his own and formed a company that become the leading edge in hydroponics.” That’s the process of growing plants in sand, gravel or liquid, with added nutrients but without soil.
“Eventually Paul started the stencil company in Longwood, Florida, and it grew. Beth and I decided to leave the business in Florida and return to Roanoke where we had family. He said fine and kept the Florida accounts. Eventually we took the rest of the country. Today we have around 6,000 clients, all over the world actually.”
Beth ended the story. “Before he died, Paul told Calvin, ‘You’re the son I never had.” We were all silent.
On a lighter note, everyone performed great on the helm, notably Megan Palmer. She multi-tasked by juggling her wine glass and cigar while tacking correctly. “And raising two children!” she laughed.
Dan and Paul would have been proud of the team, for sure.
Let’s Go Sail
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Seen alone or in profile, all Navy ships look big. When seen while transiting the Coleman Bridge at Yorktown, the differences become acute.
Here is the passage this week of the USS Mesa Verde, a San Antonio-class landing ship dock. It’s used to land a battalion of 800 Marines and assorted tanks and helicopters on enemy beaches.
The vertical profile is less than that of a guided missile cruiser, whose radio antennae extend well above the top of the Coleman Bridge, by 20 feet or so. The top of the Mesa Verde barely is visible at bridge level. That hardly means it could go under the bridge, since there’s another 30 feet of bridge in the way.
The horizontal profile tells the story. The Mesa Verde displaces more than 24,000 tons while the cruiser displaces 9,000 tons. The lengths are 684 feet vs. 505. The beams are 105 feet and 65 feet, respectively. Clearly the Mesa Verde is a big ship, roughly twice as big as the cruiser. As a result, its top speed is 22 knots vs. 30 knots for the cruiser. But the cruiser is still the taller ship.
Still behind in port at Naval Weapons this week was an unidentified Navy submarine, whose specs are off the charts compared to the two surface ships.
Let’s Go Sail
To fully appreciate the US Navy plowing up the York River to the Yorktown Naval Weapons Station, you have to see the ships at their base. The last time I transited Norfolk Naval Base was in February 12 years ago when Greg Smith helped me sail the NTM 320 Hunter up from Waterside. I hired a delivery captain to bring it there from Wilmington via the Inland Waterway.
I took a tour arranged by Bill Fox with members of the Middle Plantation Club, and we wound up the only ones going—with his wife Mary. Fox is intriguing because he once produced a coffee table book, “All Good Ships,” recounting thousands built by Newport News Shipyard.
We hopped a day boat from Hampton to cross the James and see the Naval Base, one of the largest in the world. From there, ships cruise to Yorktown to load and offload their munitions of war. It was quite an adventure.
Down by the water, Hampton is noted as a fishing village. We passed the famed L.D. Amory wholesaler, which takes in the catch from fishing boats that have been out harvesting the sea for three to six months. The docks smell ripe with fish of all kinds. Bella Sky was typical of these sturdy boats.
On the way out of Hampton Creek, we passed large yachts and sailboats that were docked for half a mile. A Moran tug ventured past us. Capt. Mike at the helm of our tour boat has his 200 ton USCG license but said he would need 500 tons to run a big tug.
While heading across the mouth of the James, we passed a 40-foot sailboat motoring and a tug pushing a barge. The James is much busier than the York because it forms the entrance to the Navy yard and takes commercial traffic in and out of Norfolk International Terminal. Other ships head to Richmond. Thus it’s safer to douse the sails and motor to one’s destination.
Once across the James, we approached the Elizabeth River on the green buoys, arriving first at the new USS Gerald R. Ford, the latest aircraft carrier in the Navy. It was formally accepted this summer. A single jet sat on the deck, since the other 80 are not assigned yet. Typically the jets fly off the carrier in a day or two early from deployment to Norfolk Naval Air Base.
Six to eight Navy ships were out at sea helping victims from multiple hurricanes along the East Coast. Among them was the USS Comfort, a hospital ship sent to ravaged Puerto Rico. Farther down the Elizabeth River lies Portsmouth, home of the original British port Gossport, which traded hands during the Revolutionary War between British and American forces.
The Ford has two nuclear reactors, down from six in the original Enterprise carrier. The reactors each provide 300 megawatts of electricity to propel the ship. Unlike the older Nimitz class carrier, which used steam-powered restraining cables, the Ford deploys electro-magnetic launching cables that can be powered up for big aircraft and powered down for smaller jets.
From a side angle, we could see under the flight deck, through and through with doors open on both sides. Most famously, the conning tower sits way back on the flight deck. Overall, the Ford is as tall as a 45-story building. It has up to 5,000 personnel, half in the air wing and half for the ship. Carriers are the heart of a group comprising 22 or so ships. The United States Navy has 11 carrier groups.
Warship 5 was the USS Wasp, which looks like a smaller version of an aircraft carrier. It transfers hundreds of Marines and their landing craft onto enemy shores. The aircraft are either helicopters or tilt-wing planes. The tailgate folds down to expel the men and machines.
Next door lies the USS Mesa Verde, a modern version of the LHD. It’s an amphibious transport dock that is stealthier but can do the same job of delivering a veritable battalion. Its sister ship USS New York has steel in the bow from the Sept. 11 destruction of the Twin Towers. The USS Pentagon and USS Somerset complete the 9/11 trilogy of LHDs built after the attacks in 2001.
Off to our starboard appeared a massive container ship with thousands of boxes tightly wrapped. The freighter Northern Light has a gross tonnage capacity exceeding 36,000 tons. It has as many containers below deck as above, hence a good stability. Our starboard-to-starboard passage was no farther than 100 yards. Fox said, “We’re not likely to ever get that close to a freighter that size.” It’s almost 800 feet long and 94 feet wide.
Later we saw the Northern Light pass the USS Laboon in the shipping channel. From our viewpoint it looked like an imminent collision.
Numerous destroyers and guided missile cruisers loomed in their ports. The Arleigh-Burke class of destroyer can track 500 targets over 400 miles with its formidable missiles. Destroyers are the fastest warships in the world. They are smaller and have 90 missiles. Cruisers are slower but have 120 missiles. Each one is a Tomahawk that can fly 1,000 miles to a hit a point precisely.
We saw three submarines. The first was a big Los Angeles class boat, which has one giant prop and 130 crew stuffed inside. The second was another LA class next door. Behind it was a newer Virginia class sub recently built by Newport News Shipyard across the James. It’s the USS Washington.
Next came the USS Gettysburg, an older style cruiser according to Bill Fox. Then came the USNS Cape May, a giant open ship that can load 32 barges for deployment by the US Marines into battle. If the ship can’t land on a beach, it can offload one barge at a time for a tugboat to run into shore.
The Cape May is part of the Military Sealift Command, ie. privately owned but assigned to the Navy. Yellow, red and blue bands on the stack signal the distinction from the Navy ships. Such ships also carry orange lifeboats, unlike traditional Navy ships.
Out in the James, we saw in the distance a USCG buoy tender, discernable by low gunwales that permit easy offloading of channel markers for repair or redeployment. We also saw dolphins, which is odd so late in the season.
As we headed back to Hampton, another warship made the turn into the James at the Thimble Shoals lighthouse. It was the USS Cole, which was out for a day or two of maneuvers. Terrorists blew a 40-foot hole in the side in 2000 at the port of Yemen, killing 17 men.
Whenever the Cole or the Idaho come to Yorktown, the bridge operator leaves the span open an extra 10 minutes out of respect for the fallen crew. The Cole has been deployed at least five times since it was repaired in Mississippi. Our guide cited all this firepower as protecting America’s military interests around the world. Off in the distance, a sailboat drifted obliviously.
Let’s Go Sail
Monday is often arrival day for warships transiting from Norfolk Naval Base to Yorktown Naval Weapons Station. A family visiting Williamsburg from the Finger Lakes region of New York rode out on Sarah Creek in great anticipation.
Right away we ran into a pod of dolphins in the creek. Apparently the high seas churned up by Hurricane Jose sent them scurrying inland.
Marine radio reported gusts up to 40 mph and waves 10-15 feet some 20 miles off New Point Comfort. That’s 15 miles from us, so our seas rose only 2 feet. The dolphin viewing continued all the way out the creek, and then our attention turned to the river. Four or five pelicans showed up, when usually we see only one. They dove repeatedly for fish, but we couldn’t tell if they got any.
US Navy warship 67 churned along past the US Coast Guard Training Center on a curved path toward the Coleman Bridge. We motored over to the VIMS campus, tucked inside the bridge. I radioed the warship our position. The bridge opened, and the ship passed through effortlessly as two Moran tugs escorted it to the Navy pier. As the bridge closed, it hesitated as if stuck and then finally clanked shut. I mentioned that highway officials sometimes extend the opening by ten minutes out of respect to two “golden” ships with a tragic history. They are the USS Cole and USS Iowa.
Sure enough, 67 turned out to be the USS Cole, the guided missile cruiser that got blown up in Yemen in 2000.
We got close to the bridge to watch the spans swing back into place, and then we went sailing. Mary and Bill Stevens were taking their grown daughters Jane and Laurie out for an adventure. One of them said gleefully, back the marina, “That’s it. I’ve seen dolphins. We can go home now.”
The girls grew up sailing small boats on Skaneateles Lake, so they were fearless on the helm in winds blowing 10-12 mph. “We sat out there for hours in the hot sun, tipping the boat over out of boredom and to get wet.”
Mary said, “We have a cabin near Sodus Point, which is near Lake Ontario. When the waters flood, we find ourselves transforming from a peninsula to an island. Occasionally, the house floods.” Bill offered, “We’ve seen carp swimming inside the house.”
Mary said proudly that Bill once built an 18-foot sailboat. So he had no trouble on the helm, even as the winds were building to 15 mph.
Soon I spotted another Navy ship coming around the entrance to the York River. This time we sailed over to the Coast Guard dock to get the perspective from a different angle. I radioed the ship and he changed course slightly to head directly upriver instead off to our side.
Navy warship 103 had a brief conversation with the Tracy Moran before transiting the bridge. 103 is the USS Truxtun, sister ship to the Cole. When it was all over and the tug set out to return to Norfolk, I asked Tracy Moran if that was the first time this year when two cruisers came in on the same day. He radioed tersely, “No,” careful not to violate any national security.
Jane finished up the sail with a crescendo 15.5 mph speed, the new record for the year. Afterward Mary said, “Gee, we were so excited that we completely forgot to eat our lunch that we brought.”
Let’s Go Sail
An unusual sight confronted commuters over the Coleman Bridge. As the Navy warship Laboon exited the Yorktown Naval Weapons Station, it passed the Navy’s cable-laying USS Zeus just below the Coleman Bridge, off Yorktown. The Zeus was coming into Cheatham Annex after a six-month deployment in the Atlantic. The stark white color of the Zeus makes it look like a hospital ship, but the giant sheaves on the bow and stern reveal it’s a spy ship.
After that died down, two couples from Ohio and Utah went sailing. Betty and Jack Bell of Utah brought their son Jason, who was in the area working for Anheuser-Busch on IT issues. Betty said, “Jason has six children, and among all our four children we have 19 grandchildren. Well, 18 plus one on the way.”
Hurricanes were on everyone’s mind. Betty said, “The youngest grandchild was born in the middle of Hurricane Ike in Houston. When everyone else was driving out of town, our kids were driving into town to the hospital. She’s nine now.”
Many of them live near the Bells’ home in St. George, but others are scattered around the country. “We hold a family reunion every year, and the next one is in Topsail, South Carolina. The reunions are always an adventure. The grandchildren all get along well together, but it’s a challenge with all 28 of us in one place.” I suggested that with relatives like that, who needs friends?
Return to sailing
Dale and Dawn Grygier live near Lake Erie and had vivid memories from years ago. They alternated telling the story.
“We live in Vermilion, Ohio, which is famous as the largest small-boat harbor on Lake Erie. We took out my father’s Pearson 29 and got caught in a storm. Reefing the main was nothing like yours (which rolls into the mast). I tried to reef it before the storm hit.”
Dawn recalled, “My father bought the Pearson in New York and sailed it up the Hudson River, across the Erie Canal and down the Sandusky River to Sandusky Bay. That storm was ten years ago. We weren’t on Lake Erie actually, but in the bay. We tried not to sail on Lake Erie.”
She and Dale took turns on the helm, coping with shifting winds that finally settled into 8 mph westerlies. They relearned the close reach, beam reach, broad reach, and how to turn the jib sheets. She tended to sit and he stood. She said, “You know, I can’t see. If I run into anything, it’s not my fault.”
Let’s Go Sail
A Houston couple left on vacation after Hurricane Harvey and arrived in Virginia in time for the remnants of Hurricane Irma. The resulting sail on the York River was much more pleasant and quite an adventure.
Dave and Sonya Kerr brought their two young children to Let’s Go Sail on a partly sunny day with high winds ahead of Irma. The intent was a sailing lesson for him, and the upshot was quite another lesson.
“We did not flood at our house because we’re on a little hill,” Sonya said. “But 40,000 houses elsewhere got flooded, including expensive neighborhoods that didn’t expect it. We were lucky. We helped a woman we look after.”
Dave is interested in getting a sailboat someday and wanted to get the look and feel of a midsize boat. We ventured out of Sara Creek and put the main out only halfway since the winds were blowing 10 mph and projected to reach 15. I rolled out half the genoa as well and we began to power on an east wind across the York diagonally toward Wormley Creek.
The idea was to tack downriver and see some of the oil barges and tugboats that were holed up until Irma passed. They were headed to New Orleans from New York when they ducked into the Chesapeake Bay and our river.
Before long, waves of two feet began to buffet the hull. Dave held his own on the helm but was clearly taking hits from waves on the port side. We moved from a heeling close reach to a flatter beam reach. Sonya was a good sport but I sensed she wasn’t crazy about enduring such rocking and rolling all day.
We turned to tack upwind but instead came around 180 degrees and headed on a beam reach to the Coleman Bridge. That way we got into the lee of the wind and had a much more comfortable ride. Before long we were several miles upriver, past the Yorktown Naval Weapons Station and approaching Cheatham Annex next door.
When we turned south I noticed a tugboat at the center span of the bridge. This being Monday, I figured it was joining another tug to welcome a US Navy warship. After several calls, I got the tug Tracy Moran on the radio, and the captain confirmed that the ship would transit the bridge at 1 pm. It was 12:55.
I alerted my crew to watch for the vehicular traffic to stop on the bridge and observe the bridge as it turned two spans 90 degrees to let the ship through. From our angle, it was hard to see the ship because it was hidden by Gloucester Point.
Eventually the came into view and I gave binoculars to Sonya to trace the path. It proceeded from left to right as it turned in the channel to head toward the Coleman. At this point we were headed directly at each other, a position that the Navy frowns on.
I radioed, “Navy warship approaching the Coleman Bridge. This is the sailing vessel Deadline headed south on the York River, two miles directly off your bow.” He acknowledged and I informed him, “I am turning north to get away from the bridge as you transit through. I intend to give you plenty of leeway.” He acknowledged that as well and came barreling through with the two tugs close behind.
It’s a spectacular sight to see a Navy warship, in this case the USS Laboon, which is an Arleigh Burke-class guided missile cruiser. We stood off on the north side of the river as the ship came within 500 yards of us. We saw numerous people standing along the rail on the bow. The Kerr children waved cheerily.
Soon the Laboon got pushed gently into the pier of the Yorktown Naval Weapons Station, and the bridge closed. Traffic resumed and we sailed under the bridge in the same path of the cruiser minutes earlier. We headed southeast along the coast to resume the narrative of the Yorktown Siege of 1781.
Their son Gabriel said, “There certainly are a lot of things colonial around here.” Gabriel is seven. He and his sister Kennedy behaved very well and joined my 2017 Pantheon of Best Kids Ever. She’s nine.
Dad learned the No-Fly Zone, Close Reach, Beam Reach and Broad Reach. He experienced the different pressures each reach puts on the helm. He had the boat heeling to 20 degrees and no one was fazed because they were having such a good time.
Sonya was clearly moved by the Navy ship. She recalled, “My grandfather was a prisoner of the Japanese during the war. They held him for a year and he got down to 88 pounds. My grandmother said he was never the same afterward.
Earlier, Dave spotted a lone dolphin in the waves but it eluded the rest of us. We headed in with Dave and Sonya on the bow for a little privacy. We motored to I Dock to reach a floating dock to ride out the high tide expected as the Irma aftermath arrived the next day. Hurricane Jose was roiling in the Atlantic, going nowhere but you never know. Harvey and Irma taught boaters to be prepared.
Let’s Go Sail
“I was a slug, I’ve ridden with slugs, and I’ve driven with slugs.” So claimed Steve Relitz as we sailed an adventure on the York River with his mother and siblings on the occasion of his brother Sam’s 27th birthday. Steve lives in Stafford County, just outside Fredericksburg, and commutes to Washington to work for an aerospace firm. He drives or takes the train, and has in the past stood on a corner in quasi-designated spots to be picked up as a hitchhiker. They are called slugs.
“There’s an etiquette to slugs,” he continued cheerfully. You can look it up. Indeed, this is from the intro of the website Slug-Lines:
Slugging has its own set of etiquette that you won’t find written anywhere. Yes, most of the rules are just basic courtesies, but others are truly unique to slugging. Just like other rules of etiquette, the slugging rules are only casually enforced. By that, I mean you will probably not get kicked out of a car for breaking one of the rules, but you will be frowned upon by others. Most likely, the worst thing that will happen is the driver will ask you not to do what you were doing. Don’t get upset, because it was you who were breaking the rules!
One of the rules is No Talking. “That’s true. Don’t start a conversation if you’re a slug. I’ve had them try to change the radio station. Don’t do that. Most of them fall asleep.
“The worst case I ever heard about was a driver who went into diabetic shock and slumped over the wheel. Then the guy next to him in the passenger seat was asleep, so the guy in the back seat jumped forward. He tried to grab the wheel and stop the car by moving the transmission stick.
“But the worst thing I experienced as a slug was being in the car when it ran out of gas. I also had a flat tire once, and slugs aren’t required to help. One guy did, though.”
What made the conversation funny was that the other couple was coincidentally from Leesburg in Northern Virginia. They listened attentively because they knew exactly what slugs are. Someone else from the Midwest or South would have no idea what Steve was talking about.
Commuting into Washington has other perils.
“One time I was driving into town when a Metro bus sideswiped me and took the mirror off as well as scraped the side of my car. And he just kept on driving, but I caught up to the bus and confronted him. He told me to fuck off. I got his DOT number and followed up with the authorities. It took a few days but they sent me a check. I hope he was fired.”
Next, Steve’s brother Sam works in a store at Tysons Corner, the busiest spot in the Washington metro area. I asked about the driving. “On a good day, you have to wait four cycles of the stoplight to get through. On a bad day, you’re like, is there an accident up there somewhere? You just sit there.”
No traffic could be seen on the York River on this day, except for the departure of the USS Winston Churchill from the Naval Weapons Station. It was a mighty sight, and the tugboat Tracy Moran got close enough we could see her name on the port side. We discerned some VIPs on the bow, along for a joyride to Norfolk Naval Base. But I doubt any of them were slugs.
Let’s Go Sail
Linda Nay of Henrico took her family sailing on a misty afternoon that led to sprinkles on and off. “We don’t mind,” her husband Kent said. “We’re outdoor people and like all kinds of activity, even when the weather isn’t perfect.” The simply wanted to sail a new river. She found Let’s Go Sail on getmyboat.com, the company that is to boats as Uber is to cars. “I used to live on a boat, in the Potomac River. Boats don’t scare me.” So we went sailing into the mist.
Linda took the helm as we tacked on a west wind toward the Coleman Bridge. She maneuvered through two-foot waves and ten mph winds. Way off in the distance we could see a large freighter docked at the Virginia Fuel Farm pier. At first I thought it was just a break in the clouds, but Linda spotted it accurately. In the other distance we saw through the haze the outline of the USNS Medgar Evers, a Navy dock ship at the pier of the Yorktown Naval Weapons Station.
Kent takes his kayak on the Chickahominy River. “I ran into an algae kill the other day that slowed me down. It was a yellow muck. ”
At work, Kent said, “I operate a construction company focused on 7-Eleven stores. We build them, repair them, rehabilitate them and otherwise take care of them. We cover 2,500 stores along the East Coast. 7-Eleven is the largest retailer in the world, with 60,000 stores everywhere from Europe to the U.S. to Indonesia. That’s more than McDonald’s has.”
Their son Jerry took over the helm as Linda proceeded up to the bow. Later their younger daughter Laurel joined her. They spent more than an hour up there, chatting. Older daughter Emily was resting below deck.
I wondered if the Japanese still own 7-Eleven. “Yes, and they just replaced the 80-year-old chairman with a 50-year-old who’s more focused on convenience than previously. The Japanese loaned the company millions of dollars years ago and took control when the loans defaulted. They’ve had them ever since.”
I asked about cars running through the front windows. “It happens about 60 times a year, and amazingly no one gets killed. Drivers commit the classic mistake of hitting the accelerator when they think they’re hitting the brake.”
Why not install bollards? “We do that, but not everywhere because it’s too expensive. I have one store that’s been run through five times. They could use the bollards. WaWa has them for every store as a matter of new construction.”
As for volume, “The average annual gross is $2 million, which is pretty good for a small building. WaWa averages $5 million but their stores are much bigger. WaWa has everything in there.”
What sells the most? “Drinks. People buy a lot of drinks at 7-Eleven. America’s thirst is good for us. This weekend we’ll suffer because of the rain. People just won’t venture outside.”
By now, Jerry had tacked upwind several times to take the angle back under the Coleman Bridge. He did a masterful job and glided within 50 feet past one of the pilings as we transited the bridge toward Yorktown.
As for robberies, “Not cash so much, ever since we limited the tray to $20 maximum. The big thing is cigarettes. They’ll rob several cartons at $50 apiece and then resell the packs elsewhere. We advise the clerks not to resist. In fact, they get fired if they resist.”
I suggested that the next store he builds contain a trap door for the robbers. “You could fill it with water,” his son Jerry said helpfully from the helm, “or sharp sticks to snare them,” like punji sticks. “Then some fire.” Kent deadpanned, “As long as the trap door button works.”
Kent added, “There was talk once of hitting an alarm that would lock the doors from the inside, but that would have left the clerk stuck with the criminal. That was a bad idea.”
The rain resumed, so we headed in. Towels were spread all over the deck to keep us dry. The Nays were delightful despite the mist and rain, enjoying a family outing by making the best of things. Back at the dock, I asked the crew to guess how far we traveled. “15 miles,” said Jerry. It turned out to be 14.9.
Let’s Go Sail
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