Distinct Navy Ships
Two Navy warships blew into Yorktown Naval Weapons Station this week with distinct profiles and missions.
The USS James E. Williams is a classic destroyer of the Arleigh Burke Class. Launched in 2003, the Williams is usually part of a carrier strike force in the Atlantic and Med. It has also conducted missions against Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean. The Detroit is smaller (378 feet vs. 509) and weighs less than half the Williams (3,500 tons vs. 9,200). The Detroit is a newer Littoral Combat Ship launched in 2014. It fires the all-purpose Hellfire missiles that have been deployed against specific terrorists in the Middle East. It lands helicopters on the aft while operating close to shore instead of the open sea.
We got there under the Coleman Bridge and under the helm of Ella Booth, the 13-year-old grandchild of Michael and Katie Woodrow of St. Charles MI. They took a vacation with the youngest of 11 grandchildren and thought she might like to learn how to sail.
Ella took the helm in winds gusting to 10 mph, so we started with just the mainsail and later put out half the Genoa. Before long, she was under the full Genoa and soared along the York. Ella got the gist of the close reach and then the beam reach to flatten out the boat. I found it hard to believe this was her first time on a sailboat or behind the wheel, so I asked if she was a musician.
“Violinist. I practice five hours a day.” That did it. Musicians bring a special discipline to sailing because they have exquisite concentration and excellent hands. Grandpa Mike was beaming proud, although Grandma Katie was apprehensive of heeling 15-20 degrees.
Mike checked out the salon and asked how many the boat sleeps. Before I could answer, he said, “We practice the old RV Rule: Six for drinks, Four for dinner, Two to sleep.” Perfect.
“Ella is the last of the grandchildren. All the others are out of school and out of the house working, so we’ve done our job as American citizens.”
One of their sons is second mate on a research vessel at Wood’s Hole on Cape Cod. “He got tired of hauling coal at Saginaw Bay and now hauls scientists instead. They reach out into the North Sea even though they’re not rated for that. They keep a guy on the bow looking for growlers and icebergs. He has his unlimited tonnage license and is moving up to first mate.”
Danger runs in Mike’s family. “I’m an Army brat. My father was in EOD, Explosive Ordnance Disposal. He said EOD stood for Everybody’s Drinking. In the course of his career he cleared minefield from Vietnam to Iraq and spent 28 years doing it. Dad retired with all his fingers and hands. He said all you have to do is follow directions. He’s still alive, age 87.”
Ella ran up 24 miles nonstop and earned my season designation Best Teen Student.
Two Couples Sail
After a rain front moved through, two couples from Newport News and Alabama went sailing on the York for different reasons. Keven and Amy Atkins of Birmingham brought their daughter along from UVA Hospital so that Kevin could kick the rust off his sailing skills.
“I used to own a 30-foot Cal when we lived near Mobile Bay, but now my job has me landlocked so I sold the boat. I guess it’s been six years since I sailed.” You wouldn’t know it as he took the helm in 10 mph westerlies on a chilly autumn day. Later he told Anna and Ben Slade. “I’ve had or sailed on friends’ 27 Cals, 30 Catalina and a 25 MacGregor. That last one, we would sail across the Bay and have lunch before sailing home. It was wonderful.”
Neither Kevin nor Amy are big Alabama football fans. “It seems odd, I know, but that’s the way it is. It makes it difficult to talk with friends.” He added, “Plus, we sail and few of our friends sail. We need more friends, with sailboats,” he joked.
Ben was taking Anna sailing as a birthday gift. “Here we live on the Virginia Peninsula and have never been out on a boat,” he said. “I work at NASA, Anna teaches science and I work in human capital. The joke in our family is that she’s the scientist and yet I’m the one at NASA.” Ben took over the wheel for an hour and immediately was tasked with beating upwind upriver in a stiff 13 mph breeze and the current running out. He figured out how to pinch into the wind without losing speed. Ben is more of a scientist than he let on.
Kevin and Stephanie Hubbard vacationed in Williamsburg from their home in Ft. Lauderdale. They originally hailed from Johnston PA. “We were in the Johnstown Flood of 1977,” Stephanie said, “but we were saved from the water because we lived on higher ground.” Kevin added, “This was nothing as bad as the famous Johnstown Flood, where the dam broke and sent a wall of water 30 feet high down onto the town. But our flood inspired us to move to Florida, and we’re glad we did.” 2,209 people perished in the 1889 flood.
Stephanie did a fabulous job on the helm, slicing through three-foot waves to tack downriver. Two hours later we flew back downwind. I scurried them up to the bow to enjoy a gentle rolling that contrasted with the sharp heeling upwind.
We talked about how people have boats but don’t have pictures of them under sail because it would require quite a long selfie stick. Kevin said, “We were sailing with friends when they went right by another boat and tossed their phone over the side to the passing boat to take their picture while under sail. Fifteen minutes later they sailed past and threw our phone back to us. And then we repeated the process for pictures of their boat under sail. Amazing.”
A recently married couple were back in the States on sabbatical from the Philippines, where they serve as Christian missionaries. Roland Beard explained, “Faylene and I had known each other for years. She was a missionary in Africa and I worked in the Philippines. My wife died and her husband died, so we got together and then got married 16 months ago. She’s never been sailing, and I thought it would help her appreciate the metaphors we use in Bible training that relate to sailing.”
“Stay the course,” Faylene offered by example. We got a lot of opportunity to test that one as Jeanne Kushabar joined us as a WALT alumna. We went out in howling winds of 20 mph whipping across the York River from the south. Even under half reef on the main and half on the Genoa, Jeanne had her hands full. Eventually we made it to the lee shore for some relief, and later the winds fell slightly so we could extend the Genoa fully.
Roland said, “We write a biblical curriculum for the Federation of Christian Schools. We did it first for the high schools and are now working on the elementary schools. It’s Christian doctrine, nothing specific to a denomination.”
Roland took the helm from Jeanne after an hour and performed admirably for someone who hadn’t run a sailboat in decades. “I used to sail a Pram on the lower Potomac River as a child. I remember extending my body out the side to keep it from tipping, only to release the main so it wouldn’t tip over. This is much better.” The 4,000-lb. keel kept us on a fairly even keel, to use another metaphor.
He went through Navy ROTC in college and wound up on bigger boats. “I was on the last wooden ship in the Navy, a 173-foot ship. We went out in the Atlantic after a hurricane and wound up coping with huge swells. The boat rocked badly and we got too close to Sandy Hook. Two-thirds of the crew was sick. The captain was frustrated, but we had to turn back to port because there weren’t enough able-bodied men to operate the ship.”
We had no swells, but plenty of wind. We were the only ship out there all day long. It was invigorating.
Roland is also into telescopes. He has numerous sizes and has taught Filipinos how to gaze up into the stars. I suggested that between the Bible work and the stars that he and Faylene were going to make converts come hell or high water. Everyone laughed.