A couple from Venezuela celebrated her 50th birthday by taking their children sailing on a brisk November day. Vanessa Martinez and Tony Torrealba moved here 20 years ago and live in Northern Virginia. Vanessa wanted to learn how to sail, and she did great on all three reaches. They got delayed crossing the Coleman Bridge because the giant Navy ship USS Ft. McHenry was headed out from Yorktown.
“I love to be near the sea,” she said as her son Sebastian took the wheel. “I have to live near the sea. We have friends with boats, and it’s wonderful out here. My mother still lives in Venezuela, but it’s very hard on her. She’s 77. Inflation is so bad, 70,000 percent if you can believe that.” Tony interjected, “2 million percent. It’s unfathomable.” It’s projected to reach 10 million percent this year because of corruption that has led to a failing economy. “They cater to Russia, Iran and China. Someday it feels like we’ll all be working for China.”
Sebastian worked the helm for more than an hour before his mom took over. “We should get my mother out of there, perhaps with us during the summers and my brother in Scotland. But she hates the cold.” She added, “My brother and I started out in small motorboats. The first had an outboard with 75 horsepower. Then we got one with 200. We have friends with a big boat who didn’t know anything about it until then. They don’t even know how to swim. They take it out on the Occoquan River but it costs thousands of dollars to pay for the gas. This is much nicer.”
My sailing friend Grayson Williams died. He rose through the ranks at Sears and always regretted that Sears didn’t jump into the internet niche filled instead by Amazon. He participated in the WALT sailing classes for years, not to learn but just to get out on the water. He knew more about sailing than anyone I ever met, but he never bragged about it.
His obituary recounted how he and his brother built a small sailboat together and plied the James. The obit omitted the time he flipped the boat in a squall while sailing solo. He spent the night clinging to the upside-down hull before being rescued the next morning by the Coast Guard. He was 18 then and died at 90 after a full life on the water racing, cruising and capsizing.
From blog written last year: Grayson Williams joined us for Day 2 of the Williamsburg Area Learning Tree series of classes. He regaled a visiting student from Memphis with the night he spent with an overturned sailboat in the James River during the 1940s. He’s also still big into Toastmasters even though his vision is failing. I told him about a copperhead rattlesnake we found in our back yard, and he took off.
“A guy in Toastmasters told us how he killed a copperhead in his driveway. Now this is a fellow who’s a big nature lover, very much into wildlife and conservation. He only kills what he can eat. Well, he wasn’t going to eat a copperhead. So after he killed it he put it into a jar as if to preserve it. He called the Virginia Living Museum, but they didn’t want anything to do with a dead snake. So he put the jar in his own refrigerator. We can only imagine what his wife thought about that.”
From a blog in 2016: Another crew member in the WALT class was Grayson Williams, 87, and his wife Ulku Nori. “She kept chasing me and I kept running. I finally told her I was going away on a cruise in Alaska. She asked if she could go. Sure. We got married on the top of Mt. Juno.”
Someone asked if Grayson was comfortable on the helm, and I started to think about the time he flipped a small boat in the James River as a boy. He was stranded all night long. “Comfortable?” he asked cheerily. “I’ve been sailing for more than 70 years.”
And this blog, also 2016: A longtime competitive sailor from Newport News joined his wife on Day 3 of the WALT sailing class. It had been a while since Grayson Williams had taken the wheel, racing the wind. “It feels great,” he said while heeling the boat to 20 degrees as we tacked up the York River.
“My most memorable race was one that I didn’t win. I was talking to my minister one day about a big committee issue, and he wanted to resume the meeting on Sunday. I told him I couldn’t make it Sunday because that was the second day of a weekend sailing series. We held two races on Saturday and the third race on Sunday. He was appalled. ‘You mean you’re going to do THAT on a Sunday, on the Sabbath?’ he said. I replied yes. He said he was determined to fetch me and bring me to the meeting. I told him, “Well, you better be prepared to walk on water because I’ll be out on the Elizabeth River.”
He continued, “What was memorable was the race on Sunday. For some unknown reason my mainsail ripped and was torn asunder. We had to retire from the race, and it was the first time that season that I didn’t win, place or show to take a trophy.”
Did the minister lord it over him? “No, he didn’t. He went on to become a major figure in the Presbyterian Church.” I asked Grayson if he had really been sailing since the 1940s. His eyes twinkled. “More like the 1930s.” His funeral was SRO,
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Couple from Venezuela took their children sailing on a chilly York River.
Capt Bill ODonovan
Williamsburg Charter Sails
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