A family visiting from Minnesota got the ride of their lives when they endured 20 mph winds on the York River. I took Eh Xiong and his wife and daughter to the lee side of the Coleman Bridge, where 2-foot waves were more like 1 foot and the wind was easier to manage. This was hardly a dangerous sail for him.
Not that it bothered him. “I love sailing and would like to get a boat,” Eh shouted into the wind. “I used to go windsurfing. Yes, you need big wind but with the right sail interchanged you can run in 5 mph winds. You change sails as the wind increases.
“My buddy goes ice sailing, where you have this vast expanse of the frozen lake to chase the wind. You can go anywhere – fast.”
Eh also skydives. “We jump from 13,000 feet, although you can do it from 18,000. We need oxygen at 13,000. You have to be very careful to land upwind because if you land downwind you can easily crash.” Who knew.
His wife Malia was a good sport on the boat but begged off the helm. Instead, their daughter Abigail took over and did a great job handling the twists of the bow. Malia has skydived with Eh and found it exhilarating. “The fall takes 120 seconds,” she recalled vividly.
Eh also snowboards. “I like Vail because the slopes are steep. The diamond runs are challenging.”
I jokingly asked Eh what he does for danger. “I’m married,” he laughed. We plowed through the waves at 20 degrees with everyone grinning.
A California couple joined two other couples on a calm day that eventually built into 10 mph breezes. Along the way, a home-made two-master puttered up and down and across the York, trailing a dinghy which suggested they are cruisers.
Doug and Carol Wright live near San Francisco and rent a 50-footer on Lake Tahoe. On vacation, they got to race in a retired sailboat from the America’s Cup. “It was in Cabo,” she recalled and he picked up the story. “I was a grinder, which was a big mistake. I nearly got ill.”
Doug continued, “The race is all about blocking the other boat’s sails from the wind. And not at the turn, but well before the turn.” Carol interrupted. “Suddenly we saw a whale. Acckk! We were trying to get away from it before it could crush this multi-million-dollar boat.”
They got to watch the America’s Cup race in 2013 – from the water. “At one point, we were on a friend’s boat,” Doug said, “when Oracle came within 100 yards of us.” Carol clarified, “Well, it was after the race.” Doug added, “Part of the attraction out there was the people. All these rich characters from Sausalito, a sight to see.” The Oracle is a sight to see as well, and it’s been on display at the nearby Mariners’ Museum for several years.
Among a family of five on a breezy, balmy afternoon, the matriarch Janet Sweeney talked of a different kind of sailing while her granddaughter Meridenne lounged in the sun on the bow.
“Years ago, Michael and I had a small plane and would fly from College Park MD to his father’s farm in Keysville VA, beyond the Potomac River. We would buzz his house to let him know we were coming. He would jump in his truck to drive to a nearby farm that had a grass landing strip, where we would land to meet him.
“One time, we tried it but the sky and the Potomac were a matching color grey because we were socked in by clouds.” We sailed along into the afternoon sunset with no problem with sky or river.
Longtime sailor Lillie Goodrich took time out from attending her 18 retired border collies to take a pal sailing for the first time. “This has always been on my bucket list,” said Bernie LaRoche. He’s on a cross-country RV expedition from Vermont to Texas and beyond. He loved the high winds of 20 mph under two reefs. The boat plowed into the waves with grace and speed.
Somehow we got off onto medicine and war. “My wife was a nurse in the Army during the Vietnam War,” he said. “Her Evac hospital in Na Trang had 96 beds with only one corpsman and her as the nurse. “She was a special lady.” Lillie agreed.
Bonnie and I drove to Urbanna on the Rappahannock River to check in on our favorite cruising destination. The main boathouse and dock were ravaged by fire more than ten years ago, and it took year to recover.
Today the little harbor has scores of sailboats and motorboats. The main dock grew from a dozen boats when rebuilt to more than 50. I stopped a fellow in a golf cart and asked how many altogether. “Andy and his wife probably have more than 200 boats, all along the waterfront.”
A few sailboats are 45 and 50 feet, which is a lot to transit the tiny creek – even at high tide. Some boats are much smaller, such as a 16-foot Newport class boat built in Gloucester. We sailed our 16 Newport out of Kingsmill for 11 years.
Another small boat has a rounded cockpit that is really quite roomy and resembles what Winkin, Blinkin and Nod sailed.
Women enjoy sailing today more than ever, and particularly a romantic cruise. Couples get to enjoy a romantic getaway as they sit up on the bow for privacy, and Let’s Go Sail provides professional photos for free. First-time or skilled mariners are welcome to sail a modern-32-foot sailboat in a unique setting of wildlife and Fall foliage or Spring bloom. It makes for an extraordinary anniversary idea.
Several boats had unique names. I did a double-take at Alexis because it was off-center to the stern and the naming port. A closer look revealed the second name Scott was removed. Perhaps a divorce, and he got the boat?
Even the nicest boats take a beating in the weather. Someone parked a sleek sailboat off-center to the end of the pier, and the corner of the dock rubbed away at the paint and fiberglass. As usual, the fenders that were placed there for protection eventually shifted position to do no good whatsoever.
Some of the big boats were outfitted for serious offshore sailing. This web of halyards on a 50-footer has seen some serious wind and waves. The lines are so big and the height so great that the winches are mounted on the mast to gain better leverage than winding back to the cockpit.
Another 50-footer came all the way from Massachusetts. The elegant name and color distinguish it from all the others in Urbanna. So noteworthy is the location of Marblehead that the MA is redundant.
Names are always fun. Surprise is that much more so for the tiny font displayed on the hull. Laughter is big on the bow, and one can expect a larger laugh than usual.
Digitalaw looks like a business write-off by a lawyer, or at least an attempt to deduct the boat. Good luck with that.
Along the bulkhead, two Virginia deadrises stood next to each other. One was a pristine dredge for oysters. While it may not look like much, it’s clean, recently painted and quite attractive on the gunnel where the dredges ascends. Most of these are terrible looking because they are worked hard every day.
Up on the hards we found a trimaran whose outriggers are tucked neatly under the gunnels for road traveling. This boat has been at Urbanna Yacht Center (now called Urbby) for 20 years. Another boat was from Iowa, testifying to the attraction of the Chesapeake Bay from far away.
Finally, a rarely seen Nonsuch sailboat caught our eye. The thing is rigged like a catboat with a big main and no jib. There are no stays or wires as the large mast synchs into the bottom of the hull. What’s more, the sail is contained with a wishbone to preclude running out too far. This was a popular boat in the 1970s for reasons that I don’t recall.
Sailing vs. Fishing
An Arkansas family visiting Williamsburg got rained out from offshore fishing. This day was bright and clear and delightfully breezy. Carol Duncan said, “We wanted to go out of Virginia Beach last week, but the winds and the waves were too strong. We didn’t want to get banged around. Fortunately, the captain canceled the trip. We went to another boat, but he canceled as well.
“We were looking forward to it,” her husband Carl added. “The boat had electric reels that run out and back very quickly. That way you can haul in the fish before the sand sharks get them. They come right up and eat the fish while you’re pulling it in.”
We watched as a small tug pushed a barge full of stone to a temporary anchorage on the north side of the river. He brought it from upriver. Two stone operations are in play. The first is a rip-rap project along the Colonial Parkway. The second is an oyster spat near VIMS. This was from the latter. He had quite a time pushing the barge just so. It was fun to watch.
Let’s Go Sail
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The best Williamsburg boat tour offers safe “social distance sailing” daily for up to 6 people. It’s an extraordinary experience for couples. Leave your worries behind. Enjoy the thrill of moving with the wind without a care in the world. Put life back on an even keel with a romantic experience for a birthday or anniversary. 3-hour sailboat cruise as a semi-private yachting charter lets you exhale and relax as you enjoy comfort, stability and speed.
dangerous sail dangerous sail dangerous sail
Dangerous Sail recounts several dangerous sports ventured by Eh Xiong, including skydiving and black diamond snowboarding.
Capt. Bill O'Donovan
Williamsburg Charter Sails / Let's Go Sail