Kristi Olsen and a contingent of York County tourism officials sailed one day last summer. Brian Fuller of York Parks & Rec reported that 147 teams from 16 states were here for the Girls Class B World Series of Fast Pitch Softball. They’re playing on fields across York, James City and Williamsburg.
Top pitchers can throw as fast as 68 mph. While that may seem less threatening than the 90 mph found in Major League Baseball, he said the softball distance to the plate is only 43 feet vs. 90 feet 6 inches in the majors. That’s fast.
Kristi has distinguished herself as a world-class promoter of all things York and Yorktown. Many of the public events are centered in Yorktown, where Let’s Go Sail occasionally docks for passengers.
The Farmers Market every Saturday is regarded as one of the most comprehensive on the Virginia Peninsula. It goes well beyond food to include crafts and specialty items. By contrast, the Farmers Market in Williamsburg is notable for allowing dogs, but that doesn’t matter to Yorktown.
The town dock at Riverwalk Landing hosts up to 20 landings of mid-size cruise ships that come in from the East Coast. The route begins in Nova Scotia and ends in Charleston. American Cruise Lines ships pull into port on Saturday evenings and depart Monday or Tuesday.
Passengers disembark to tour Colonial Williamsburg, Jamestown and of course Yorktown
The town’s historical center is the Siege of 1781 when American and French troops under Gen. George Washington and Gen. Jean Baptiste Rochambeau trapped the English forces under Lord Cornwallis and forced them into surrender.
The battlefield is operated by the National Park Service. The Commonwealth of Virginia opened a $50 million museum on the other side of town, called the American Revolutionary War Museum at Yorktown.
Sailing from Crime
Rochelle and Sal Salib celebrated their wedding anniversary by taking their two children and a foreign exchange student sailing on the York. It was a calm day, so we motored downriver to circle an oil barge and tugboat before transiting the Coleman Bridge.
They’re daughter and son went up to the bow to enjoy the view from there. The couple runs a convenience store in Newport News, and the store is robbed sometimes. They seemed to take it in stride, like the cost of doing business. “We got hit recently by two kids, aged 16 and 10,” Rochelle said. “10 years old, can you imagine?” She added, “The store is near the Newport News Police Headquarters on Jefferson Avenue, so they can respond in five or six minutes. But of course by then they’re gone.”
Soon everyone wound up on the bow. Sal said, “Another time, they caught the two guys who held us up because their faces were familiar to police on our video surveillance. I noted that a third guy was in the store the day before they hit. He wasn’t a regular customer. He bought something, of course, but he was casing the place. I could tell because he kept looking around instead of just buying something. They recognized him on the video and picked him up to question him. Sure enough, he was their accomplice.” He said this matter-of-factly, without any rancor.
Rochelle said they’ve been dabbling in flipping houses. They’re now on their sixth one and learning fast. “I worked in property management on apartment houses, so this is something we can do together. I’d like to sell the store and focus on flipping houses.”
The wind picked up in the afternoon, shifting to the east and bringing welcoming breezes on the hottest day of the year. Steve and Brenda Hoffman were visiting Yorktown from nearby Norfolk. He talked a lot about fishing while running the helm like an accomplished boater. His wife Brenda joked that all his comments about sailing were in the context of fishing. He replied, “This is the longest I’ve been on the water without a rod in my hands.”
Steve related the best invention I’ve heard about in years. “When you reach a fishing spot, you shut down your outboard to save fuel. Then you set your GPS on an electric trolling motor to keep you in the spot without drifting away, It’s a big improvement for those who fish in deep waters because they would otherwise have to drop a long anchor with hundreds of feet of line. You hover in place very easily. It’s called iPilot.” A video below explains how it works. Why didn’t we think of that? I asked.
Joining us were Leslie and Brad Wagner of rural North Carolina. Brad accepted the wheel from Steve and did magnificently. They are horseback riders, and it showed. He ran the helm gracefully because he instinctively felt the bow turn into the wind, just like a horse. A little resistance on the reigns (wheel) kept the boat straight and fast, heeling to 15 degrees.
Girls Sail Out
Cheryl Grimm of Grove City OH brought three generations of women to sail on the York River. “We’re not sure where our husbands are, but they’re back home. This is a women’s vacation.” Her daughter Taryn proved the best on the helm in light breezes that eventually piped up to 12 mph.
Given her innate talent on the wheel, I asked if she was a musician since they get sailing right away. “Yes. I play the drums, clarinet and piano. Now I’m working on the trumpet.” She also rides a unicycle, which gives her extraordinary balance on a boat. “I ride in the Startown PE Club, which consists of 40 cyclists. We ride in parades and events around Ohio. I tried the five-foot unicycle, but that’s a big fall. It took me two months to learn the regular unicycle.”
What’s the secret? “Balance,” she replied. “I got that doing seven years of dance.”
Taryn was surprised by a gust that took the boat over to 15 degrees. Her mom advised everyone, “Taryn and Bill have got this.” I advised Cheryl that Taryn would do well to join a sailing team in high school. “When she gets there,” Mom said. “She’s 12.”
Ten day of oppressive heat broke as a big front moved through, leaving the York River clear and fast. Lisa and Dave Litzau of suburban Pittsburgh rescheduled from a rain-out two days earlier. They got the ride of the year.
They zoomed out toward Goodwin Island under full sail in rising winds of 7-12 mph. “We took lessons once,” Dave recalled, “in small sailboats that kept turning over. Will this turn over?”
Lisa tested the heeling and kept it steady at 15-20 degrees as they got accustomed to the close reach. Slowly she gained confidence and speed. We raced back upriver on a close-to-beam reach that was equally fast. So fast that we shot under the Coleman Bridge and encountered the Navy patrol boat at Naval Weapons Station.
“Dave got me a hot air balloon ride for my 40th,” Lisa recalled. “He wouldn’t go up since he’s scared of heights. So it was just me and the guide. Dave and the kids followed us behind the chase car. We had to rise quickly at one point to avoid high wires, and we crash-landed in a field. He came in too hard because the field was too small. We bumped along and tipped over, just me and the guide.”
Dave added, “We took the kids in a helicopter ride over the Grand Canyon, which was awesome. It was the bubble kind where you see everything below your feet. The kids were impressed.” No bubble or crash landing for us, just wicked speed.
Tony Gillman of Vinton OH took his family sailing while vacationing in Williamsburg. They live in southernmost rural Ohio, backing up to the Appalachian Mountain foothills.
“I teach 10th grade Math,” he said as his wife Holly maneuvered into a close reach in light winds. “I try to find analogies in life to Algebra, Trigonometry and Calculus courses, but it’s difficult. I should go around to local businesses to find if they have real-world applications.”
I showed him a real-world application of the CBDR theory of Constant Bearing/Decreasing Range held by the US Navy and used in 18th century sea wars, notably during the Revolutionary War. The so-called Collision Course is invaluable today toward boating safety.
Tony said, “I used to be a truck driver, for a moving company. Teaching is better, but it’s a rural area where everyone does not succeed as easily as elsewhere.” I asked his pass rate for the Ohio standard tests. “About 20 percent. That’s low, but I’m a hard teacher and don’t just teach to the test.” Holly interjected, “One of his students got into Yale.” He has his hands full. “Anywhere from 20 to 25 students in a standard Math class, and 10 in the upper levels.”
Out of nowhere a pod of dolphins rose up next to the boat, racing us along. The bobbed and weaved, and then disappeared. We covered all the reaches and the Battle of the Capes as well, while trying to find other boats to tee up the Collision Course. The sun was warm and the temperatures not nearly as hot as recently. Both children and Mom fell asleep during my pitch on the Siege of Yorktown. Perhaps I should have simulated the cannons booming.
Every summer toward the end of July, Nanci Bond and Ellen Jaroncyzk take a memorial sail on the anniversary of their husbands’ birthdays. Both were named Bob and both were born on the same day. The couples became friends upon moving to Williamsburg years ago.
We talked about downsizing, Colonial Williamsburg, William & Mary, the presidential race, the Trump idiocy, and eventually sailing. Ellen had an easy time finding the wind once it arose, and Nanci recalled her work on Capri 22s years ago. She said, “I was very competitive at racing on those little Capris.” She hadn’t lost her eye for the wind.
The VDOT project continues to add bumpers on the pilings of the Coleman Bridge. The latest addition is a multi-faceted item with giant chains holding it onto the north turret. It protects another round of wiring harness and probably should have been done years ago. They’re doing the south turret now. Not sure about all the chain, which will inevitably rust and deteriorate.
By late July, we started to see dolphins once a day. Sometimes in the morning or sometimes in the afternoon, they rose in the distance and worked their way to the boat. If the engine was running, not so close. If under sail, very close. Once, we heard a dolphin before we saw it because it came up and blew a sound within a foot of the boat.
Unlike in past years, they didn’t frolic so much as dove up and down in a graceful arc. Sometimes alone and sometimes in pairs. Once a trio rose up from the water in a precise arc of ballet symmetry. No one could get any pictures because they disappeared before we could snap a pic. A few people tried video, but it would need a lot of editing to get a good scene. The best shot I got this year was in May, the very first day they showed up. Usually they hang out at the R2 entrance to Sarah Creek, but lately they’ve been spotted on the east side of the Coleman Bridge. No matter how infrequently and how far away for however short a period, they are a sight to behold.
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Fast Pitch Sails Past
While sailing off Yorktown, we learned that teen softball players blew through York County in a tournament encompassing 147 teams from 16 states.
Capt. Bill O'Donovan
Williamsburg Charter Sails
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