People ask, “What do you do in a hurricane?” The latest thing to do near Williamsburg is to batten down the hatches for the hurricane coming. Not since Isabel 19 years ago has a Cat 4 threatened the Virginia coast.
At York River Yacht Haven, the yard crew pulled 33 boats of all sizes in two days. There wasn’t time to power-wash the hulls, so some boats got mounted with barnacles intact and now imbeded semi-permanently. The main yard was cheek-by-jowl with mostly powerboats attempting to ride out Hurricane Florence on land instead of sea.
Out on the fixed docks, nearly half the sailboats got pulled to avoid their lines snapping. On the floating docks, all manner of lines crossed from boat to boat and boat to far slip.
On K Dock, Let’s Go Sail is tied down with a dozen lines crisscrossing each other. Electric power remains on until cut by management “when we evacuate.”
Tensions eased when Florence shifted its approach to more southerly, perhaps avoiding Virginia except for tropical storm winds. Regardless, it’s all good training for the next hurricane. Out on the York River, an oyster man harvested his catch on a brilliant summer day as the Coast Guard continued to train nearby.
Within days, the storm fell to Cat 2 and shifted slightly south to North Carolina, where it landed as a Cat 1 with extensive rainfall. The storm hovered over the coast and dropped more than 20 inches of rain on Wilmington. What a mess.
Viking Ship Due
The National Sailing Hall of Fame just announced that the world’s largest Viking ship Draken is visiting Annapolis this weekend from Norway. It’s part of Expedition America, in which the ship is touring the East Coast this year. The tour, sponsored by Highland Park Single Malt Scotch Whisky, began in July and will wind up in Norfolk Sept. 27-30.
The tour aims to show Americans the modern-day Viking spirit on a reconstruction that is 115 feet long and powered by sail. When becalmed, the ship has 25 pairs of oars rowed by 2 men each.
Back to Work, Hurricane Coming
Florence missed Virginia but set back charter sailing by ten days as people reoriented themselves back on the water. Lori Overholt brought her executive team of VSA Resorts from Virginia Beach to spend an afternoon on the York.
Keith Scott is looking to get his captain’s license someday, and he proved a worthy skipper in building winds. We tacked downriver and came back on 12 mph winds that precluded using the spinnaker. Ships were an appropriate topic of discussion. (Hurricane coming.)
“My nephew is on a Navy submarine,” Lori said. “He doesn’t particularly like the work and will probably get out in two years. His sub is currently out of the water at Newport News Shipyard. He’s keeping an eye on the nuclear reactor while in drydock. He said the boat kept running into problems and had to be fixed by stopping in Guam and Hawaii. I was hoping it would make it back to Newport News without sinking.
Later in the afternoon a young couple from rural North Carolina went sailing on the York to refresh their skills learned in a week-long US Sailing school on Pamlico Sound. Stan Seals explained, “It was a 24-foot C&C and we sailed in winds of 20 and 30 mph, reefed. On their last day, the instructor was busy with other things and let them go by themselves in 15 mph winds. So they were obviously at ease in mere 10-12 winds as we zoomed out the river. Stand and his wife Kirsten quickly grasped the tricky notion of pinching the wind to maintain speed while not heeling too far.
“Our instructor taught us Man-Overboard but we didn’t do any drills. He said the first thing to do is stand up.” I thought that was odd, unless it was to gain a clearer view of the MOB. “No, he meant stand up in the water since most of the time it’s so shallow.”
The couple has twin boys, aged 2. “I thought my sister had taken care of that phenomenon in the family,” Kirsten said. “She’s been very helpful teaching us to raise them. I’m waiting for the moment when ours look in the mirror and think they recognize the other twin instead of himself. ‘Hi Max.’ They’re named Max and Christopher, but Christopher is too hard to say all the time. So they call each other Max.” All told, we sailed 53 miles on a brilliant day. It’s good to be back.
Spinnaker, Sort of – Hurricane Coming
Sarah Marks of Richmond brought her husband Tracy to sail the York with their family on his 57th birthday. He owns a 1979 Catalina 30. “It’s in drydock in the Northern Neck. I’ve tried to sell it on craigslist, but it needs a lot of work. I like the Catalina because it’s wide and roomy and has thick fiberglass.”
In light winds, we were eager to get going so I took their son Austin up to the bow to raise the spinnaker. Alas, the winds were fluky and even though we gybed, it didn’t quite work. The winds picked up, so we reverted to a close reach and took off. “I used to bring different girls down to the boat after I got divorced. All the guys would look out of their cabins to see the new girl. Sarah was 24 and I was 39.” She still looked 24. (Hurricane coming.)
By afternoon the winds picked up as Randy and Kathy Deats boarded from Warwick RI. They had no interest in the helm. They built a dance studio over 35 years into nearly 10,000 square feet and a seven-day operation. “We work so hard that we just want to relax,” Kathy said.
We tacked out the York to the old refinery and shot across the river to the Perrin entrance, then made a triangle back toward Yorktown. The route traced the events of the two 1781 battles. After I narrated the Battle of the Capes, their enthusiam led them to lie down on each side of the cockpit benches and fall asleep.
Their marketing integrates social media with event promotions. “Plus we have a lot of word-of-mouth,” Kathy said. Randy added, “We have competition with Fred Astair and Arthur Murray [franchises], but they really act as advertising for us. We perform much better training for less cost.” Does the TV show “Dancing with Stars” help, I asked. “It used to,” Kathy said, “when it came on new.” We had such an engrossing conversation that I almost forgot to take any pictures.
They are very creative with events and promotions, with predictable results. Randy said, “When we offer ballroom competition, we may get three men participating. But when we offer country dancing, we may get 20 men.” I presumed country is viewed as more manly.
Corinna Caldwell sent two couples from Tennessee to sail for their first time on the York River. Threatening skies aside, steady easterlies of 12 mph jettisoned us out the river by tacking five or six times. The hero was Lauren Noethen because she and her husband Joe had sailed on a friends older 30-footer. She took the helm fearlessly and powered us down river.
She said, “Our friend who went to sail under the Tampa Bay bridge, but it didn’t open fast enough. So he banged right into it. That wasn’t as bad as another friend who hit a bridge and broke his wooden mast in half.”
Joe retired from the refrigeration business. “This was big stuff,” he explained. “Walk-in coolers and big machinery. Over the years they improved safety requirements for toxins and chemicals. I reviewed the spec sheets of a particular cooler to see what’s new. Shit, this stuff is just as dangerous. They call for a man to stand outside the cooler with a lifeline on the guy inside so he can yank him out in case of emergency.”
We got to talking about outside adventures, and Lauren said, “The most exhilarating thing I ever did was hang-gliding. I was up there with the birds, watching how they do it. You go with a trainer who guides you. Very quiet.” Joe added, “One of the trainers flew all the way down the valley to Chattanooga. He was up there for an hour.” (Hurricane coming.)
Their friends Kathy and Rick Black once enjoyed a hot air balloon ride. Before long, our air cooled by ten degrees, and Rick saw a front coming through. We got back in time, 29 miles in three hours and Lauren’s top speed of 14.4 mph. The next two couples for the afternoon run feared the imminent rain. “This is the third time we’ve been rained out on vacation,” one woman lamented. Better safe than sorry. Sure enough, when I drove over the Coleman Bridge the rain came down in sheets on the wide open York where we sail.
Let’s Go Sail. Wait! Hurricane Coming
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Preparations continued at York River Yacht Haven as 33 boats got pulled up onto the yard while hundreds more were lashed down for Hurricane Florence.
Capt. Bill O'Donovan
Williamsburg Charter Sails