Celebrating Summer by Sailing
Light winds on the York were enhanced by lively conversation among two groups one bright summer day. A New York City family joined a Richmond couple on a beautiful afternoon that left us celebrating summer by sailing.
Daniel Rodriquez brought his family on their first trip to Williamsburg. His daughter Jessica told me in good humor, “You’re wearing Gilligan’s colors,” red shirt and blue shorts. I had no idea.
“She is a Gilligan expert,” her dad said. Jessica elaborated, “Even though they were stranded on the island, the guest stars managed to depart at the end of every show, sometimes by boat and once by helicopter. In the movie version, they managed to get rescued and later took another sail. Then they got stranded again on the island.”
I asked about the plots of the show. “Mostly they were about getting home, and sometimes they had dream sequences of going home.” Even though the show has been in syndicated for decades, it had a short original run. “In the DVD of the series, they say it ran three seasons but it was more like two long seasons.” That was when TV series ran 13 weeks.
Daniel was proud that Rosa could make the trip. “She spent 13 years on dialysis and finally got a kidney replacement last November. Her doctor told her no more dialysis, that she was good to go.”
Ron Robertson took his wife Tony Beard sailing on her birthday, and the Rodriquez family sang the birthday song in Spanish, which was a first on this boat.
Ron served 34 years in the Army, joining when the Vietnam War ended and retiring before the first Iraq War. Today he directs the preschool program for Richmond City Schools.
“We have a thousand children aged 4 and 5 across five centers and seven elementary schools. Yes, we give them free and reduced-cost breakfast. Most of the children come from single mothers. We do have problems with neglect and abuse, and social workers are quick to spot behavior problems. But 99 out of 100 children are doing well and getting ready for kindergarten. They do fine.”
Later in the day a walk-on family called with an hour to spare and made the 2:30 cruise. Lily Wu of Harpers Ferry WV supervises multiple gaming tables at a Charles Town casino. I probed about that and she was circumspect. Do you catch card-counters? “Yes, all the time. It’s hard to learn to count cards, but once you do it’s easy after that. We warn them the first time, and we have to review the videotape to be sure we’re right. If they continue, we throw them out. We can’t arrest them.”
Her brother-in-law Eric Tran got laid off as a data analyst and went back to school to become a heating and air-conditioning technician.
“My family escaped South Vietnam in 1977 after the communists took over. We weren’t being punished, and lived normally. But it was still terrible. My father paid an American captain on a big ship to take us to Indonesia. Many people escaped on small boats and died. My two cousins disappeared that way. They could be still alive today, we just don’t know. We spent a year in Indonesia before arriving in America. We were very fortunate.”
Suddenly the mood lightened as someone spotted dolphins off in the distance. Then a big rubber duck showed up a half-mile off the bow, drifting merrily in the breeze after fleeing Yorktown Beach. We sailed behind the duck and Eric used the boat hook to snare it. He took it home as a victory prize for his young son.
Learning the Spinnaker
Jim Ure of Richmond and his girlfriend Lisa McGuire of Virginia Beach joined another couple to help Lisa hone her skills for the ASA 101 test. Jim has matriculated 101, 103 and 104 on the way to buying a big boat to sail back and forth to Key West. “I’m looking at a 1999 Hunter 450 at Norton Yachts in Deltaville. I still need to go through the boat and negotiate certain things with the finance company. I’ve always wanted to sail and own my own boat.
Lisa tacked nicely downriver in light easterly winds. Eventually we turned and found the downwind sail slow. So we doused the Genoa and put up the spinnaker and sailed straight back to Yorktown on a three-mile run. Jim sat back in the fading sunlight and said, “This is what sailing is all about.”
I cautioned Jim about paying $800 or more for a marine survey. “It’s like getting a credit check on your next wife,” I explained. “You’re not going to like the outcome.” Lisa burst out laughing and eventually explained why. “My ex-husband divorced me and married her the next day,” she said. “I don’t think he had time for the credit check on her.”
Alex and Ashlyn Madeira were vacationing in Williamsburg on their honeymoon when they made a quick call to catch the 2:30 cruise. “I’ve always wanted to be on a sailboat,” he said, “but never could find the time. This is wonderful. We’re only an hour and a half from Annapolis.” He’s in his second year of physician residency at a big hospital in York PA, and she’s an aspiring physician assistant. They barely budged from their corner of the cockpit, enjoying a leisurely three-hour cruise while we ran the sheets and spinnaker.
On an overcast Saturday, Sherry Valentine took her husband William out sailing the York on his birthday, accompanied by his brother Lamar.
“If you need any help,” Williams joshed, I used to be a navigator on seven Navy ships.” I shuddered at the thought of that, having taken a full year to study and qualify as a navigator instructor for the American Sailing Association. It’s rare that anyone serves on that many ships in a Navy career, and it speaks volumes to the value of navigators. After we got under sail, I asked him if he remembered the names.
“Let’s see,” he said, puffing on a cigar. The first was the USS Hayler, the last of the Spruance class destroyers. Next was the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt. Then I left that for the USS Cape St. George, a guided missile cruiser. Then I was on the USS Bainbridge, another missile cruiser. Next was the USS L.Y. Spear, which was a submarine tender. I had a short stay on the USS Hawes, a guided missile frigate. I was assistant navigator on the USS Ross, a guided missile cruiser. The last was the USS Donald Cook, another guided missile cruiser.”
Even with all that experience, William added, “Sailing is still the hardest way to go. Give me an engine every time.” Naturally, William has been through his share of storms, but this took the cake:
“A hurricane was coming up the Atlantic, so we deployed to sea from Norfolk to ride it out. That’s normal. The ship was buttoned up tight. No one was moving around except the watch crew. The storm was unusually strong and there was a young seaman on the helm. He hit a wave so big that the ship rode all the way up and then came down crashing BAM! into the swell. I turned around from my navigator table and he was gone. I looked up from the table and realized I had to take over the ship. Nearby, the lee helmsman who operates the engines was getting seasick, so I told him to go below. ‘Get me the quartermaster,’ I told him, to help me.”
The winds were light as we headed back to the marina. In the afternoon, Mike and Becky Shuman of Houston joined a family of four. As we headed out, I saw a dark blue pattern extend out from the north shore onto the river. Wind! We set sail and quickly rose to 8 mph headed downriver on an easterly tack.
Becky used to sail in San Diego Bay. “It’s always very busy and was the site of the America’s Cup in the 1990s. I got to ride on one of the boats as rail meat. My friend was a big sailor who arranged it. It certainly lacked for creature comforts as there was no place to sit because of all the gear inside the boat. At one point a Navy aircraft carrier was proceeding in a fog during the race. It almost hit one of the boats. It wasn’t a near miss, but a close call. The captain would have lost his job if he had hit it.”
Mike said, “I’ve got to tell you my own bay story, Christmas Bay near Houston. My dad and I went out to get flounder, which lies on the bottom of the water. You spear it to catch it. Well, the water was murky so that didn’t work. A storm came up and it rained considerably. I was taking water up past my ankles in the boat, which was an airboat. Then a rogue wave hit us and flipped the boat. I was athletic enough to jump away, but my dad went under because his life jacket got caught. I got him out but we couldn’t right the boat because the fan was stuck in the mud.
“We were taught to stay with a capsized boat, but instead we tried to swim. It was five feet deep, so we could walk a little. It took 2-1/2 hours to get a mile to shore where we saw lights. I banged on someone’s door at 12:30 at night and expected to get shot since this was in Texas.
“It was a bad year for my dad. He fell through a ceiling and broke six ribs. Then while out on the farm in his tractor, he hit a nest of African ants and got stung 45 times. Becky asked me last week, ‘What are you doing today?’ I told her, ‘I’m going to stay away from Dad.” Everyone laughed as we tacked fast and flew back downwind.
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Celebrating Summer by Sailing
Couples regale each other with sailing and sea stories while sailing on the York River .
Capt. Bill O'Donovan
Williamsburg Charter Sails