Some people ask, “Can you take me sailing even if I’ve never been on a boat before?” Hop aboard! Ian Whitfield and Makini Clay brought another couple with them from Richmond. They celebrated Ian’s birthday with a unique outdoor adventure near Williamsburg. I asked if he had sailed before? “No, I’ve never been on a boat before,” he said. Any boat? “No.” Today they would become first-time sailors.
Fortunately the winds were a steady 7 mph out of the east, so we tacked downriver as the couples broke out beer and champagne. I asked their friend Jeff Deyo about his work.
“I’m in fraud at Capital One. I spend a lot of time looking at video of our ATM machines. You’d be surprised what people do. I had a guy complain that his deposit of $500 didn’t show up on his bank account, so I traced the timing back to the machine. He stuffed an empty deposit envelope in the slot instead of the money.
“Someone will do that and claim it was $5,000. Our customer service requires that we cover it at first, but eventually we’ll figure it out.” Then what? I asked. Jeff looked at me sideways and grinned. “Then we’ll have a conversation.” That conversation will include the penalties for fraud, which usually turns fraudsters around sharply.
Ian and Jeff tacked five times and go all the way past the old refinery, where we turned around and flew the spinnaker straight back to Sarah Creek on a perfect diagonal of the York River. For first-time sailors, they performed precisely.
Maddie Ball brought five of her W&M Law School colleagues out to sail on the last day of summer before classes resume for their second year. Her friends exuded the enthusiasm and wit that accompanies group dynamics, and they performed admirably on the spinnaker after having never done it before. We sailed amiably around in light winds that were irrelevant to the fascinating chatter. We motored under the bridge and up to the Naval Weapons Station to see a rare view of a Navy submarine.
Even though it was a day off from their studies, they couldn’t resist talking about the law. Tyler Braun fielded drunken driving. “Remember when that guy told us that the best thing you can do when you’re pulled over is to stand in front of the cop and chug a pint of liquor in front of him. You may be drunk, but you’re not driving and not even in your car. A judge in the classroom said it was a sound legal strategy.”
On another subject, Tyler said, “We had a criminal law professor who cited his credentials by mentioning a student who is now a litigator with a $4.5 million contract for three years. I thought, Good for her since that’s $1.5 million a year. But no, it’s $4.5 million a year for three years.”
The winds picked up in the afternoon, which was good because two veteran sailors came aboard. Mike Barancewicz took his dad Marek sailing on a different river than the James. Marek has a 27-foot O’Day on Deep Creek and the Warwick River.
“I used to windsurf off Yorktown year ago,” Mike recalled, “all the way across to that beach over there.” He pointed east of Little England. “Sometimes I could sail in light winds using a bigger board.” The winds were strong enough to pop the spinnaker, and for the first time this year I had a seasoned sailor help me.
“I have climbed rocks, scuba dived, gone hand-gliding, and white water rafted in Class 4 and 5 rapids, but by far the most dangerous thing I have ever done is kite-surfing. You rise up into the wind and then the wind throws you into the trees. To train for it, they drag you and your kite in the water as you try to right yourself to recover. I felt like I was a fishing lure!”
Marek served 22 years in the Army, including two stints with the 1st Infantry in Vietnam. He’s a retired tugboat engineer with vast experience in operations. He spent another 20 years with DOD that including a mission to Europe to close down an Army base. “You’ll appreciate this,” his son said as the sun set on crystals of water. “My father has lived all over the world–Europe, South America, Asia–and yet he settled in Virginia. Why? Because it’s so beautiful, and a reasonable place to live.”
As we came back to port, a family of osprey were debating their route to fly to South America. They’ll come back to Virginia next spring.
Sailing to Captain
A suburban Philadelphia couple took their children sailing on an exceptionally serene day, which is to say there was no wind. It happens once or twice out of 200 days on the water. They stayed in an AirBNB on the Severn River, around the corner from the York River. It had a long dock where Jay could fish in the morning.
Kerry Rosenthal is a science editor with a cancer magazine and website. Her husband Jay designs commercial kitchens for restaurants, hospitals and prisons. One son was not present.
“My son is a first mate on a flounder pounder,” Jay said proudly, “off Long Beach Island, New Jersey. He goes out every day to help sport fishermen. We’re talking about plans to pursue his captain’s license, but first he has to finish up his associate’s degree at a community college.” I asked if he watches “Deadliest Catch” on television. “In the afternoon he changes clothes and becomes a pirate on a tourist ship full of screaming kids and drunk adults. He gets home at night at 8 and is too whipped to watch TV.”
Hours later after pondering his son’s future, I suggested he go to diesel school to learn a second trade that will also become handy on the high seas. Jay nodded, “We’ve been talking about that.” Returning to port, Jay guided Michael behind the wheel as he entered the Sarah Creek channel. After reviewing the red-on-right rule, Jay added a ditty I hadn’t heard before related to depth. “If the water’s blue, go on through. If the water’s brown, you might run aground.” We motored on through the blue channel.
First-Time Sailors from Long Island
A delightful couple from Long Island brought their 11-year-old daughter and her cousin. They went sailing on a hot but breezy York River. Douglas Castro encouraged his wife Diane on the helm. As another first-time sailor she proved skittish but competent. Eventually he took over as we went under the bridge to go see the Navy submarine. It was now pushing two weeks at NWS. I showed them how the Navy patrol boat ran interference between us and the sub. As if a sailboat poses a threat to a submarine.
“That is so cool,” Doug said. “So they’re watching us closely. When we went to Washington to tour the White House, we happened to have DC cops with our group and they knew some of the Secret Service. One of the cops was narcotics undercover, and he looked like a drug addict. He commented casually to a Secret Service agent, ‘I bet you have eyes on everyone.’ The agent said, ‘You want to see?’ All of a sudden the guy’s chest lit up with red dots. They were laser marks from who knows where.” I looked around for laser dots on the sail.
“Once we got out on the street, a Washington detective in our tour group asked another Secret Service agent, ‘I understand that out here you only use rubber bullets. Do you ever fire them?’ The guy said, ‘Oh sure, at least weekly. There’s no limit to the stupidity of people.'”
We sailed past the sub and tacked back on beam reach. That enabled us to fly the spinnaker under the bridge, all the way home. The Castros were staying at Kingmsill Resort, which has a marina where the W&M Sailing Team operates. “Some of the team members were standing around when I remembered that one of my client’s grandsons is on the team. I asked if anyone knew a kid named O’Connor, and there he was. ‘I’m O’Connor.’ We struck up a conversation and I asked him what to expect today in the way of excitement sailing on the river. You know what he said? ‘Come back, and you tell me.”
Sailing from New Jersey
When it comes to things to do near me, Let’s Go Sail is a unique hit. That’s from Paul and Mary Kelton of Metuchen NJ. They brought their children Peter and Sally, along with their mixed lab/boxer Ranger. “Peter, Paul and Mary, get it?” said Mary as she boarded. Ranger was reluctant, so Paul had to pick him up, all 65 lbs.
“Thought we’d do this because we have a friend with a sailboat and haven’t gone out yet,” Paul said as we headed out of the harbor. “In fact, I’m the only one among my friends who doesn’t own a boat. We own a camper instead, which is just as much work.” Mary said that they try to get out once or twice a month to expose the kids to the country. “Well, so far just the East Coast.”
As we saw the patrol boat protecting the Navy sub at NWS, Paul recalled a vivid boating memory from 17 years ago. “After Sept. 11, my buddy was out on his motorboat in the Raritan River when the Coast Guard approached him. Just as he went to throttle down, the cable broke and he was helpless. He leaned over to move the cable manually, and the Coast Guard cocked and aimed their weapons. They thought he was going for a gun. ‘I was scared shitless,’ he said later. They escorted him back under the Verra Nar (Verrazano Narrows Bridge) and to his marina. They had jersey walls installed at the ramp, and that was the end of boating season.”
No such drama accompanied our passage of the sub. The patrol boat zoomed around for a while and settled down running interference between us and the sub. On a day of modulating breezes, we covered 15 miles. The dog did just fine.
Sailing with a Submarine as a First-time Sailor
Another set of first-time sailors came from Smithfield Station after dropping their youngest child off as a freshman at the College of William & Mary. Cynthia and Lonnie Thompson each got a good run on the helm in perfect 8 mph easterlies. That allowed us to tack down river and tack back.
But first, we got to see that submarine leave for Norfolk. As Lonnie and I set the mainsail, I heard radio traffic by my colleague Capt. Greg Lohse on the Alliance. He confirmed to a Navy patrol boat that he would stand off. “Now I need to address the white sailboat on your side of the river,” the seaman said. I jumped on the radio.
“Deadline, Channel 16.” I radioed that I would stand off on the north side, and delayed unfurling the Genoa.
A big Moran tugboat led the parade, which included two Navy patrol boats of significantly bigger size than the small boats of NWS. While proceeding along, the seaman announced repeatedly, “Attention all vessels, attention all vessels. Navy Patrol Boat 507 is escorting Navy submarine USS Texas.
All vessels must stay 500 yards away at all times.” I turned to Lonnie, “Did he just say Texas?” That’s the first time I have ever heard the Navy identify a submarine. When it turned near the Coast Guard Training Center dock, I caught a perfect reflection of the sun on the hull.
The seaman made numerous more announcements that were quite specific. “Fast boat crossing the York Channel near Green 17, this is Navy Patrol Boat 507!” One fellow responded rudely, “Hey, don’t blow me out of the channel.” Among five other specific calls, the boats did not respond. That suggested they didn’t have their marine radios on. By missing the warning, they may very well have missed the siting.
Next day, Mary Kelton from Wednesday’s cruise sent a message. “We were driving over the bridge yesterday and just happen to catch the sub leaving. So we turned around and went to the waterfront. We saw a couple of sailboats out in the river and were hoping one was yours. I attached a few pics in case you didn’t get to see it.”
Her pictures came out spectacular and showed people on the hull while underway. More stand visible atop the sail conn, along with all manner of pipes never seen before. I was so impressed that I ran out and bought a camera just like hers.
Let’s Go with First-Time Sailors
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Two couples from Richmond went sailing for the first time and did great. It was his birthday present to himself.
Capt. Bill O'Donovan
Williamsburg Charter Sails