People ask, “Do you ever see dolphins while sailing?” For the first time this year, we saw dolphins in May in the York River. Two couples from New Jersey and Tennessee got up close as the dolphins zoomed in the wake of the sailboat while cruising the York River. Art Ford spotted two of them in the distance, between the Coleman Bridge and the Gloucester Point Beach.
“There they are!”
“No, over here!”
“Look, he went under the boat!”
“Turn the boat around!”
“Take a picture, quickly.”
“They went over there now.”
“Why are some of them grey?”
“The mostly look black.”
“Maybe the grey ones are children.”
“Oh my God, this is wonderful.”
After 20 minutes of following the boat and playing with the shark-like keel underneath, they disappeared to head back out the river toward the Atlantic. That’s the earliest we’ve seen them as they usually arrive in late June. In the old days, they would come in only as far as Goodwin Island and not until late August. Global warming has heated up the river.
Everyone was careful not to drop their camera/phone into the drink, which reminded Art of his previous experience. “I was in a kayak in Florida, north of Orlando, when I stopped to take a picture of an alligator. I accidentally flipped the kayak and went overboard. I lost my car keys and wallet with $800. But I managed to save my phone. It worked, but I had to get the port replaced for $100. I wondered what the alligator would do with my car keys.”
The magnificent and unexpected drama of the dolphins led Art’s pal Mark Richie to recall another dramatic moment at sea. “We took an evening sail on one of those big windjammers. It was on a river in Connecticutt, not the Connecticutt but maybe the Mystic. We were done for the evening and coming into port when the crew produced a small cannon on the deck. The captain positioned it aimed toward short and braced it for the recoil. ‘Watch this,’ he said mischiefly. Then he fired the cannon and it made a loud boom, setting off all the car alarms in the parking lot. It was a symphony of cacophony, and a symbol of American power at sea.”
Cathy Eshelman came home from Boulder CO to take her family sailing. Her parents Lorraine and Denis Pauelson live in nearby Ford’s Colony, and he was eager to sail. Denis took all three ASA courses that I teach, Basic Keelboat, Cruising Keelboat, Navigation. He’s also a small-plane pilot, so he had no trouble in brisk winds and 1-foot waves. Their other daughter Kelly brought her fiance Kelly. Lorraine asked if they would name their children Kelly. “Yes, all of them,” she replied.
Denis spent four days on the USS Eisenhower, the aircraft carrier notable for the accidental break of the restraining cable a few years ago. “I was invited along with other parents because our son was serving on the ship. I was up there on deck observing a Navy ensign in white, who was coordinating all sizes of planes and jets out on the horizon for 50 miles. He was landing one every 30 seconds.”
We came up the coast to cover the Siege of Yorktown, then tacked under the Coleman Bridge toward the submarine in dock at Naval Weapons. Denis deftly zig zagged under the span.
“When I’m not sailing like this, I sail a Dragonfly 75 model sailboat with other guys at Ford’s Colony. One fellow is a very good sailor and I can’t beat him. Another guy is very tech-savvy and fastidious. I can’t beat him either because he has perfect trim.” On this day, Denis had perfect trim on the real deal.
While docking, Lorraine told me of friends. “He’s a colorectal surgeon, so they were going to name their boat Rear Admiral.”
Four friends from Virginia Beach went sailing in 10 mph winds on the York River and had a great time. They joined a couple from Quincy MI who were en route to Ohio for a big adventure. “We’re going to pick up a sailboat and take it home,” said Justin Patterson.
“It’s a Macgregor 26, complete with trailer. I got it for only $1,500. We’re equidistant to Lake Michigan, Lake Erie and Lake St. Clair at Detroit. We’ll probably start there since I know the lake. It’s 28 miles across and 28 miles wide, or thereabouts. Two-thirds of the lake is in Canada. You can boat there as long as you don’t drop anchor. That creates into immigration issues.
As Justin jockeyed to catch the wind and maintain an even keel, I pointed out that the average depth of all Chesapeake Bay waters is 27 feet. “At Lake St. Claire, the average is 13 feet. They dredge the channel up to 38 feet for commercial traffic. In Goose Bay, you can walk out three miles because the depth is only 5 feet.”
Earlier in the day, Shannon Reece took her brother and cousin sailing after a whirlwind trip that included Luray Taverns. We were heeling to a steady 15 degrees, which was exciting.
Dan Reece and Shannon recalled the time they took their mom’s boyfriend rafting on the Colorado river in an aluminum jet-like boat. We warned him it would be bumpy and wet, but he said, ‘Oh sure, let’s go.’ When we hit the rapids he freaked out and actually passed out. Eight other people on the boat were alarmed. The crew turned the boat around to take him back only 30 minutes into the 90-minute ride. As soon as the captain decided, he came to. We don’t let him on boats anymore, or elevators for that matter. He’s 75.”
Shirley Cade of Morrisville PA took her boyfriend and daughter and her boyfriend sailing on the York River after they all met up in Hopewell. Then they were headed over to the James River to take the Jamestown Ferry to Surry County for the home loop.
Andrew Licks was familiar with the boat as we cast off. “I sailed with the Sea Scouts for a week around the Florida Keys. We sailed on an old 50-foot boat with an old captain from Poland who built the boat and lived on it too. We all took the helm at some point.
“Now I have a 12-foot Sunfish that Emily and I take out. Maybe it’s 14 feet.” Emily Mott picked up the story. “We were out on the reservoir when the wind suddenly knocked us over, without life preservers too. I got away from the boat and he did too. The wind died down for a second and he sent me back with instructions to move the wooden thing.” Not sure if he meant the tiller or the centerboard, but they made it.
Emily added, “He paid $300 for it on craigslist. The instructions to the guy’s house were wrong and it took a while to find him. It was three blocks away. When we go sailing, it takes zillion bungy cords to lash the boat to the roof. Then we have to set it up.” (Dolphins!)
Sailing on a Bike (Dolphins!)
Jaclyn Mungo of Hampton took her husband Joel sailing on his 40th birthday, and he picked up the sailing concept quickly. “It’s like drafting, which I do riding my bike. I used to ride the Encampment Trail around Yorktown. I’d get on at Five Forks and ride 30 miles. I can see now from the water where the battlefield is, behind the trees. I stopped riding the trail because it has too many cobblestones, which messes up my wrists.
“Before riding, I check the wind at the top of the trees to see which way it’s blowing and whether it will help me or hurt me. The wind behind me definitely helps. I can estimate my ETA within four minutes based on the trees. I typically ride 20 miles a day, or 40 if it’s a good day. I had rotator cuff surgery recently and it killed me to see all this good weather go to waste.” (Dolphins!)
He continued later, “I can get going past 25 mph on River Road in Newport News. People speed up to pass me and don’t realize they’re exceeding the 25 mph speed limit. I’ve seen the police stop them for a ticket, and I just breeze past.”
Let’s Go Sail to See Dolphins!
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For the first time this year, dolphins were spotted in the York River.
Capt Bill ODonovan
Williamsburg Charter Sails