Peoplel ask, “What’s it like to build a house on the water?” Heather Masters booked a sail with her husband Ryan for their 20th anniversary. By their youth, I figured they got married at 15. We had a serene run up the York River to see the Navy submarine in port, and Ryan noticed a flurry of personnel standing on the hull of the sub. We also found a barge that was installing bumpers on the piling to prevent boaters from damage. That’s what the accompanying tugboat captain told me over marine radio. I found that odd since the main pilings already have bumpers, and VDOT discourages anyone from deviating from the main course in the river as they transit the Coleman Bridge.
In the afternoon, Carol Stephens assembled her family from Alabama and Tennesee for a reunion sail. The winds were light and the conversation lively. Her dad, Bill Stephens, mentioned that he had added on to the lake house on the Tennessee River, near Chattanooga.
He explained, “It’s built of timber and beam. We cut our own logs from trees harvested on our property over the years. Shirley (wife) and I slicked the skin off the trees by cutting a spade down and running it along the surface, under the bark. You have to do it when the sap is running because that makes it much easier to slough off. I did my own roofing as well. I set up a one-man lumber mill to cut the logs with a chainsaw fixed on a rail. We fixed that numerous times until it just couldn’t be fixed anymore. Plumb wore it out. You kids haven’t seen the place lately. It’s no longer a cabin, but 2,200 feet.”
I was floored by the details and his labor and asked Bill what he did for a career, expecting lumberjack or crossbow hunter. He replied, “I was editor of an archaeology magazine.” It turns out on further probing that he wrote a book about his cabin work, and it’s still in print on Amazon as “How to Build Your Own a Low-Cost Beam and Timber House.”
How to Sail a House
Two couples went sailing to celebrate birthdays and anniversaries. Darren Ritts is a supervisor for Hershey Foods in Stuarts Draft VA. “We have a thousand employees making Reese’s Cups and other brands. The governor came by last week to announce a $4 million expansion. We’ve got 12 plants across the country, with Hershey the headquarters. Mr. Hershey had no children, so he left it in a trust that also runs a school.” His wife Dena added, “The park was built for the employees to have something to do on the weekend.”
Their last encounter on the water was amusing. “We rented a houseboat on Smith Mountain Lake. It was this great big 3-bedroom box with a little outboard engine that could hardly move it. It took the length of a football field to turn it around. They warned us not to run aground, but we couldn’t get the anchor to stay. We saw that other people simply beached theirs, so we did too. Then in the middle of the night they drained the lake of excess water, leaving us stranded. Someone said not to worry, that the lake would refill shortly.” The winds built slowly from dead calm to 5 mph. That enabled us to fly the spinnaker for the first time in weeks.
In the afternoon, my friend and mentor Carl Brown of Middle Plantation Club took friends and family sailing. The winds had picked up to 18-20 mph, so we ventured under the ColemanBridge to get to the lee shore with less wave activity. His son-in-law Chris Sullivan did heroic work on the helm and rather enjoyed it. “I spent ten years taking Naval Academy plebes out on the Atlantic to learn seamanship. It was on a 44-foot boat with an extended mast. Surprisingly, eight out of ten of them any given summer had never sailed before. But they were quick learners and obviously great teammates. Susan and I haven’t sailed all year until today, and next week we’re going out a friend’s 50-foot Beneteau with their toddlers aged 5 and 2.” I think I’d opt for the plebes instead.
Sailing with Science
On a hazy morning that felt more like July than May, two couples who knew each other in college went sailing on the York River in mild winds. Nrupin Baxi is a neurosurgeon in New York who’s on the cutting edge of the future.
“There are numerous sub-specialties in neurosurgery, but we make our careers in general brain surgery,” he said. “On a more specialized level, I’ve been working on people with Parkinson’s Disease. We operate deep in the brain to adjust the adapters that are hyperactive and cause seizures. The patient is awake during surgery so we can ask them to do certain tasks that reflect on Parkinson’s. Yes, we have a very high success rate. In the near future, neurosurgery will apply the same techniques to Alzheimer’s patients. There are some ethical questions that arise, and Europe will probably go first on making the procedure available. Then it will happen in the U.S.”
Nrupin and his wife Suhagi are the children of immigrants from India. She said, “My parents were clear that the opportunities in America would be much greater for women than in India, and they were right.” (How to build a house)
Their friends were John Lombardi and Jessica Page, government professor and archaeology/Greek Studies professor respectively at the College of William & Mary. After a 15-mile sail in which everyone took a round on the helm, I pulled John aside and asked him about the 2020 election.
“It’s not about the national election,” he said. “That’s just media buzz. It’s all about the key swing states that will decide, much as happened in 2016. Things will get exciting in a few states.” That includes Virginia, which is considered purple.
May and Ray Wells returned for their second sail this season, bringing transplanted friends from California. Jack McKown and Denise Berthieame. They happened to mention that they quickly registered to vote when they moved to Virginia. “Like right away,” Denise joked, “before I could unpack.” May agreed. Their underlying point was that Virginia needs all the Democrats it can muster to beat Donald Trump. (How to build a house)
I recalled something John Lombardi said earlier. “If Trump wins, his next move will be to repeal the 22nd Amendment. That way, he can serve a third term.” I thought to myself: Not if the 25th Amendment catches him first.
Let’s Go Sail to Learn How to Build a House
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How to Build a House
Couples and families enjoy the sights along the York River.
Capt Bill ODonovan
Williamsburg Charter Sails
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