After an absence of a week or so, a pod of dolphins made their last call in the York River on the last day of September. Out of nowhere, they jumped out of the water and slapped their fins (which is how they talk to each other). Our crew was mesmerized, and I was able to get photos for the first time this season. Then, within 15 minutes, they were gone.
Once October rolled in, the winds became steadier at 10 mph and the temperatures stabilized in the 70s. That’s perfect weather for flying the spinnaker, and the winds were perfect easterlies for sailing home.
Two men and a woman, all of whom went to the University of Richmond together, went sailing 50 years later. Dianne Graham requested sailing lessons. Phil Whiteway was an experienced sailor but hadn’t been out in years. Bruce Miller had never been on a sailboat and was apprehensive about getting seasick. No worries, since he got doped up on Dramamine and borrowed a set of wristbands as well.
The occasion called for a musical set by Aaron Copland, beginning with “Appalachian Spring.” Diane and Bruce began to hum the lyrics. “Copland adapted the Shaker Hymn, keeping the tune simple,” Bruce said. “All three of us had to memorize the lyrics for stage performances in college.” Bruce and Phill went on to produce theatrical productions in and around Richmond for 40 years. They also proved quite lyrical at flying the spinnaker.
I was curious how actors can remember their lines. “That’s probably the most frequently asked question we get,” Bruce said. “It’s a matter of repetition to ensure memorization. Phil added, “Plus, you apply repetition in the context of blocking on stage and the other actors. When you put all that together, it works.”
Having sailed with her family earlier this summer, Agata Rigo-Saitia brought her friends from the College of William & Mary to sail in light winds. They were rained out twice before, so apprehension was high. Agata is from Switzerland but has citizenship in Great Britain. The others were from Austria, France, Belgium and elsewhere – all part of the international exchange program.
Joining us were Dean French and Stephanie England of Texas. He looked pretty happy helming with so many beautiful women on board. Stephanie mentioned that Dean went to the University of Sam Houston. “which is next to the penitentiary. You know, they would go over there on Friday nights for an execution. Show up with a keg of beer, and party.”
Dean is a retired Marine, not to be confused with ex-Marine. As I suggested to him, there is also no such thing as an ex-Jesuit priest. He regaled me with USMC stories, including the famous quote by Gen. Chesty Puller when surrounded by Chi-Coms in the Korean War. “Surrounded? Hell, we got them exactly where we want them.”
I asked his favorite Marine movie and he hesitated. “’Heartbreak Ridge,’ with Clint Eastwood. And then ‘Sands of Iwo Jima.” His father served in the early years of the Vietnam War as a USMC recon scout. “Once, we were visiting a Marine Corps museum in Texas where they had a huge topographical layout of Vietnam. I said, ‘Okay, now show me where you operated.’ He pointed to spots here, here and here, and I said, ‘But they’re not in Vietnam.’” Indeed, they were in Laos and Cambodia, where he was scouting out drug-smuggling routes.
I mentioned that I served in the Army in Vietnam, and Dean playfully asked, “Do you know what ARMY stands for? Ain’t Ready to be a Marine Yet.” Good one. I pointed way off in the distance to a Navy submarine. He hinted at going over there, but the wind was wrong. “I have a friend back home who’s a submariner. I’d love to send him a photo.” I told him how to shoot it from the Colonial Parkway and pledged to send him my best shot of sub at Yorktown (see below).
We spent a windy Sunday morning attempting to tack under the Coleman Bridge to show a couple a Navy sub docked at NWS. West winds were sufficient, but the outgoing tide was so strong as to resist our attempts despite seven tacks. Finally, we made it and they could see it in the distance.
Will Crain did an admirable job on the helm, having earned his sailing badge in the Boy Scouts. “I made Eagle Scout by the age of 15, so that enabled me to go out on sea adventures in the Florida Keys. I got to run sailboats almost as big as this.” As luck would have it, he and his wife Laura were moving from metro Richmond to the Florida Keys to be closer to his parents in Naples.
A few hours later, a lone Moran tugboat came lumbering upriver. That signaled only one thing: the sub was going out to sea. We heard over marine radio the alerts of a pending departure, and finally here it came. Five ladies from West Virginia watched as it proceeded past VIMS and Sarah Creek and York River Yacht Haven, out the river.
Earlier, another round of women had a robust sail in brisk winds. One young lady, Haley Sylvester, got the hang of the helm quickly and held on firmly. I was impressed with her concentration, so I asked if she was a musician. “No, hunter,” she replied succinctly. Shotgun? “Crossbow, and I load it myself.” End of discussion as she focused sharply.
This group of ladies was largely from Minnesota, where they discussed the cold weather briefly. Debbie Sylvester said, “You have to dress in layers. It gets down to minus-20, so you have to be extra careful about your fingers and toes. Once you get frostbite, there’s no second chance. Winter starts in October and runs through May. It once snowed on my birthday in May. The hard winter runs November through March.”
And to think that in Virginia our hardship is to rake leaves in October and November.
Debbie also talked about her brother. “He served in DaNang in Vietnam and got the Purple Heart. With that, I redirected our sail to the Yorktown shoreline to show her the remnants of Redoubt 10. That’s where Gen. Washington issued the first award for injury in battle, which is why Virginia is known as the Purple Heart State. She had tears in her eyes.
Women enjoy sailing today more than ever, and particularly a romantic cruise. Couples get to enjoy a romantic getaway as they sit up on the bow for privacy, and Let’s Go Sail provides professional photos for free. First-time or skilled mariners are welcome to sail a modern-32-foot sailboat in a unique setting of wildlife and Fall foliage or Spring bloom. It makes for an extraordinary anniversary idea.
Let’s Go Sail
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The best Williamsburg boat tour offers safe “social distance sailing” daily for up to 6 people. It’s an extraordinary experience for couples. Leave your worries behind. Enjoy the thrill of moving with the wind without a care in the world. Put life back on an even keel with a romantic experience for a birthday or anniversary. 3-hour sailboat cruise as a semi-private yachting charter lets you exhale and relax as you enjoy comfort, stability and speed.
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