Everyone has a recollection about their childhood boating experiences. Valerie Axel recalls fondly growing up on Chesapeake Bay as a continuous adventure. She related her story while sailing the York River with her husband Neil on a magnificent spring afternoon.
“We spent the summers cruising the Bay in my father’s 48-foot Chris Craft. He was a physician and he used the boat to get away from it all. He would spend hours down in the bilge working on the engine. I remember there was a lot of teak to care of. We weathered some pretty bad storms out there, and he always handled them very well. To dock the boat at a marina, he would send me up on the bow in my bikini and the boys would come running to grab those lines.” Val estimated her parents cruised almost 40 years on the Chris Craft.
Today the Axels live in Columbia, Maryland, the first planned community in America. They’re close to Annapolis, the sailing capital of America. Neil’s summer recollections were quite different.
“We grew up on Long Island, in Jamaica. “My parents went on vacations but they didn’t take us along with them.”
“They sent us to summer camp. They told us that if we went to all those places with them that we wouldn’t want to go back when we grew up and became adults.” I was amused at such a disingenuous rationalization by parents. “The only time we went with them was to Mont Blanc near Montreal, and then another summer we went to the Catskills.” I estimated the Catskills were an hour away from Long Island. Such a deal.
As things turned out, the couple has done considerable traveling. Val went with a friend to tour Vietnam, and together they’ve been to all manner of ski resorts and abroad.
Boat Will Not Tip Over
We wore life preservers because the winds were piping 13-15 mph and the boat heeled continuously. Then Neil brought up my restriction by the US Coast Guard for Class I life preservers and the USCG rule that I can only take six passengers.
“It’s interesting that you can’t take seven. We found a bottle of French wine in Australia called 19 Crimes. The corks described each crime and its punishment. One was about a French captain who had too many passengers on his ship and it went down, drowning a person. His punishment was to be exiled from France to Australia, which of course was settled by criminals.”
Even though her Chesapeake experience focused on motorboats, Val was quite adroit on the helm of the sailboat. She got the gist of the wind theory quickly and tacked up the York River past Yorktown and under the Coleman Bridge. Then we tacked carefully past two Navy destroyers, the USS Mitscher and USS Paul Hamilton, docked at Yorktown Naval Weapon Station.
Neil did well too, though he asked a few times to verify that the boat couldn’t tip over. “Years ago Val and I went on a catamaran with another couple and it tipped over.” In fact it turtled, meaning the mast was upside down and in danger of falling off the boat. “Actually the mast got stuck in the mud and broke. We felt terrible because the kid at the beach boat rental probably shouldn’t have let four people on such a small catamaran.”
I narrated the two battles of 1781, including how Alexander Hamilton became famous overnight for leading the charge of Redoubt 10. Val and Neil became the first people I ever met who have seen the Broadway play “Hamilton.” Val said, “It was a bus tour when the play was new. I think the tickets for the entire evening cost us $180.”
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