On a warm, breezy morning a newlywed couple from Louisville KY took their honeymoon cruise on the York River. Stephen Bacher explained that Rachel Kinser was planning to sail down the Mississippi River in a year or so. “I’d like to be married with her long enough before she dies,” he joked.
Rachel is serious. “Every decade, I do something daring. As I hit 50, I want to sail from Chicago to New Orleans on my little sailboat. First, I need to learn to sail.”
On this day, she learned to sail in light winds that slowly clocked from west to east over a 4-hour span. Along the way, we encountered the US Navy.
Two Moran tugboats from Norfolk preceded the USS Leyte Gulf, a 35-year-old war horse that still performs as a guided missile cruiser. It was coming into Yorktown to pick up or unload weapons, notably Tomahawk missiles. The tugs stood just past the underpass of the Coleman Bridge. Contrast the Stout with the iconic USS Yorktown, a sister destroyer that was scuttled after only 20 years due to galvanization of the hull.
Steve had spent 12 years in the US Army, and at 6-feet-4 he looked and sounded like a strak Nick Nolte. Precisely because of these features, he never went to war in Iraq or Afghanistan because his skills as a drill instructor made him too valuable to deploy.
He recalled his days at Ft. Benning, now renamed Ft. Moore. “I went to Airborne School after AIT and learned to jump low. We typically jumped at 1,200 feet, or 600 if it was a simulated combat jump. You don’t want to be in the air too long and get shot at. One time, I came in too fast and landed at 22 mph because I was going with the wind instead of against up. Got banged up pretty bad.”
There were good moments too. “We got to jump at 3,000 feet with no equipment or pack. They let down the back flap of the plane and we just ran out with our arms spread. Weeeeee!”
I asked if he had to pack his own chute. “No, we’re not even allowed to. We had a break during Zero Week between Airborne School and Ranger School, so I walked down to the Rigger Shop to see how they pack them. They have these long tables where civilians spread out the parachute and very carefully sew the seams. They very carefully fold the chute so it doesn’t twist when opened. But then they just jammed the whole thing into a bag and slammed the bag on the concrete floor to make it tighter. It was a good thing I saw this after Airborne School, or I might have reconsidered the entire thing.”
As the Stout cleared the bridge, a pilot from one of the Moran tugs stood on the port beam ready to jump aboard the ship. This is always a hard photo to get because it happens so fast and so far away. Imagine spending your career jumping on Navy ships and then gently guiding them into port.
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.
Meanwhile, Rachel kept her eye on the wind as we crossed the river back and forth. She kept a close reach and shifted to beam reach to move downriver. She teaches 10th grade Social Studies at an inner-city school.
“We don’t have much in the way of resources, but we do our best. Many of these kids come from poor families, which makes everything tougher. Sometimes we get students who are really good, and we guide them on a path to charter schools where they can bloom. Louisville is in the worst top 10 schools of the nation for poverty. Our schools are 86 percent minority. Some of them are immigrants who don’t speak English. That puts them farther behind on the path to success. So yes, there are a lot of challenges.”
Rachel displayed a curious serenity on her face as she described her job. I couldn’t tell if it was from quiet satisfaction for her work or her sailing, perhaps both. In the distance, the USS Stout docked at the Naval Weapons Station.
A local couple from Newport News drove up to York River Yacht Haven to go sailing on their anniversary. Matt and Kerri Houseman are perhaps unique because they (or more correctly she) teach their children at home.
“Our son is 18 and we just sent him off to college, Thomas Nelson,” Kerri said proudly. “We have five girls at home, which brings the total age range to 4 months to 18 years.”
They got the idea when she first took her son as a little boy to inspect his future kindergarten class. “He was very advanced for his age and kept looking around to take everything in. So he got distracted, and I could see this would be a problem in class. He was already reading and knew all the kindergarten words. His enthusiasm could be misconstrued as troublesome. So we taught him at home.”
The rules in Virginia are pretty liberal. “The students don’t take the SOL, and we have no access to the test either. We teach to a state-mandated curriculum which is focused only on reading and math. Otherwise, we can teach them any way we like. Of course, the children have to take exams at the end of the year that are based on state standards.”
But how do you teach trigonometry if you have no idea? “I don’t have to teach it. Online teaching comes into play, essentially with video lessons. We have other resources that include tutors.”
What about the religious component? “It’s optional. We belong to one home-school community in Williamsburg that is expressly non-religious, with any curriculum on religion.”
Until I sent them up to spend private time on the bow, Kerri puttered along in a light breeze that eventually built into 5-8 mph winds as the skies cleared from the morning fog. A smokey haze lingered over the river from the wildfires in Canada, but it was otherwise smooth sailing into the Zen of nautical happiness. We cruised back and forth from a dredging platform used to dump stone for an oyster spat. It was the only sound on the water. Nearby, a USCG Coastie trained in the eerie smog.
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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