The last sail of the regular season came to a stunning end with a couple from suburban Philadelphia enjoying a great sail on the York River.
“This time last week we were sailing in Massachusetts Bay with my brother on his 44-foot boat,” said Sam November. “Now here we are in Virginia.” Sam and his wife Ronni are thinking of relocating in Tidewater Virginia now that they are retired. He’s a chemical engineer who does private consulting, and she was a community college administrator.
Sam said, “Growing up, we had a 16-foot Town class sailboat. It was wooden, so we had to assemble the parts. The wood planks overlapped like shingles on a house. It was already 40 years old, and the sails were 40 years old too. No way could we race it like that.
The day started with the King Tide peaking at 10:28 am in a confluence of the quarterly spring tide and a nor’easter effect . It was supposed to be Sunday but came in a day early at York River Yacht Haven. Boats were riding high in the fixed slips, so much so that we had to step up to get on at the stern.
The other unique element of the day was the launching of a new mainsail manufactured by by Doyle. After a mis-start owing to my error in measuring the foot, Doyle recut the sail. It looked magnificent, oversized slightly for greater speed.
Ronni took the helm first and guided us diagonally down river on an east wind of 10 mph. “We used to teach kids in day camps and local programs, ” she said. With the new main and everything out, we got to 20 degrees and she turned over the helm to him. Sam said, “I have a Laser centerboard boat that I sail on a nearby lake, so I needed time on my brother’s boat to adjust to using a wheel,” he said. “I’m still adjusting.” He did fine. We went flying along, oblivious to everything but the wind and the boat.
They were staying at Colonial Heritage 55-and-older community, where they got a tour and a free dinner. Why not a boat? Sam suggested I go see them as a promotion. “Your waters are extensive, with plenty of room to sail. Yet you can still see land everywhere. This is fantastic.”
“My father taught us all to sail. He wasn’t that good at it, but we had fun. He would say, ‘Now let’s practice turning’ and we would dread that. ‘Oh Dad, let’s not practice turning!”
Dad must have done pretty well since Sam and his brother are still at it five decades later. “Ronnie and I went sailing last summer on a 21-foot day boat in Boothbay Harbor, but the fog made it impossible. The water was really cold.”
His brother sails off Salem and Marblehead on Massachusetts Bay. “Some 2,000 boats cram the waterways along 2-1/2 miles, making it hazardous. ‘Are we going to hit that boat? What about that one.’
Ronnie said, “Tell him about the mooring.”
“Oh yes. We were coming up on a mooring, which my brother is very good at. I was up on the bow to catch it when I saw a fishing lure at the mooring. What’s this, I wondered. We sailed around again and picked it up, fearing it was attached to a fishing rod that could foul the boat. My brother admired the lure and then realized it was his!”
We tacked across the river several times, and the seas built as we reached open water. I showed Sam the chart to orient him to Mobjack Bay and New Point Comfort lighthouse way off in the distance. I let the traveler down to take pressure off the wheel at 20 degrees heeling.
A fishing boat blew past with the name “The Puppy” on both sides. That way the guy could always say, “I’m taking the puppy out.” Clever.
I offered the bow to the couple but they preferred the cockpit. On the way back, we had a steady beam reach and diminishing winds. So I suggested we fly the spinnaker. “Nah,” Sam said, perfectly content on the helm. “This is just fine. I’m very comfortable.” Sam and Ronni are looking to buy a boat, and she lingered on the dock to look at mid-size Catalina boats.
Their enthusiasm kept us out on the York for an extra half hour. Seeing their delight despite heeling sharply in brisk winds, I thought to myself, This is why we sail.
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