I like to say that so many people have moved or retired to Williamsburg from up North that it has eviscerated the southern accent. In a new twist, Claudia and Scott McDougal returned here.
“We left 40 years ago,” Scott said. “We’ve been living in Denver,” Claudia said. “We also lived two years in Henderson, Nevada, near Las Vegas and Lake Mead,” Scott added. “We were okay until we encountered the scorpions. I’m not a scorpion guy. And it’s hot, with multiple months of consecutive days over 100 degrees. I liked to go up to the mountains during the week and ski.”
But why Williamsburg? “We met here,” Claudia said simply, “and we love the beauty.”
Rick and Maureen Beach of Troy NY were sympathetic to Denver. He said, “I should have worn my T-shirt that says ‘Never Trust Anyone Under 14,000 Feet.”
The only sailor among the was Maureen, who sailed small boats as a child. “My father found a Sunfish split in two from lightening and repaired it. It leaked a lot and would flip easily with the water inside.”
No such challenge faced her today. Instead, fluky but substantive winds along the York River threw her off until she figured out how to overcome them. She did so well that we sailed straight up the river with only one tack to go under the Coleman Bridge and past the USS Gravely in port at the Naval Weapons Station. The Gravely is a frequent visitor to Yorktown.
Maureen is used to challenge. “I once got a hot air balloon ride as a gift. Always go in winter because it’s colder and the fuel lasts longer. We flew for an hour and a half, dipping low to a pine tree to pick a pine cone off. The guy was that good. He landed us with the basket straight up instead of knocked over. It’s very quiet up there, and the only sound is that of dogs barking below when they hear the burners fire up. Don’t land near cows since the balloon scares them. If you do land in someone’s farm, the protocol is to leave a note with a bottle of champagne.”
Scott went to the College of William & Mary, and they were now living here for Homecoming this weekend. By coincidence the Tribe is playing Albany, and so the Beaches are going to sit on the W&M side and root for the Great Danes. And still, after all these weeks, the Coast Guard has yet to remove the osprey nest obliterating the lower range light at Yorktown. Go figure.
Sailing from Baltimore
Nicole Kern brought her parents and brother from Baltimore to sail the York. It brought back not-so-fond memories of Norm and Karen’s experience with a motorboat, and no one cared to elaborate. Instead, Norm said, “I took Scott to Norfolk yesterday to tour the USS Wisconsin, and [Nauticus] Museum before that. I realized it was the first time in 50 years that I was on a Navy ship. It brought back memories. Ironically, Scott now works for the Navy in Annapolis.”
A light breeze fell apart as the winds began to clock around from west to east. It took so long that we motored instead to stay cool. This is the warmest October I can remember. Nicki spent a lot of time on the bow, catching the sun.
Karen is the family travel agent. “My mother was in the travel business, so I learned a lot. I do all the research and Nicki helps me as my assistant. Next year we plan to do Norway, Finland and St. Petersburg in Russia. Last year we did the Alaska cruise. We thought we would hate it but we loved it. Earlier we did a cruise of the Med to Spain, France and Italy. Italy was the best. I’d like to do a river cruise in Europe, on a smaller ship.” They very much liked the smaller ship of Let’s Go Sail, compared to the larger Schooner Alliance lumbering off in the distance.
Sailing Leyte Gulf
Navy Ensign Alex Sanders brought his family from Virginia Beach to sail the York River on a magnificent easterly wind off the Chesapeake.
“The last time I went sailing was in the [Naval] Academy on a 44-footer. We were one of four boats sailing from Annapolis down the Chesapeake Bay and up the Atlantic to New York and finally Stamford. At one point in a storm we got up to 17 knots. I had to go up and change out the jib to a storm jib, which required opening the brass hanks to take down the first sail. The seas were 10 feet, so I had 14 seconds from peak to trough to do each hank. It took half an hour. It was very cold and very wet, but I got it.”
I explained the Range Lights of the York River, demarcating how the channel deviates sharply to the south side. Alex said, “Deep draft ships have to stay in the channel, but the mistake they make is fixating on the lights and churning right to them. They’re only a general guide, and sooner or later you have to steer away from them to maintain the channel. So many skippers have run aground on the lights along the Elizabeth River that they set up three big yellow buoys to show you the need to turn. They’re called the Three Sisters. They remind us that you can run out of water.”
No such reminder informed Alex as he tore downriver on multiple tacks. Near Goodwin Island, we reversed course and flew the spinnaker downwind. We approached another boat under spinnaker, and Alex correctly assessed the rule that while we were both on a starboard tack, the windward-leeward rule kicked in. So as we got closer, the other guy would have to yield. We were doing fine and would have passed easily when his wife ordered him to fall off and take our stern. I can hear it now: “We’re too close; I’m scared; go behind him.”
Alex’s brother Matt is in high school and looking to go to either Annapolis or West Point. He showed great dexterity turning the Genoa sheets on the winches, with a confidence that comes with youth. Alex will soon become a Lt jg. “By then I’ll have a division on the Leyte Gulf. That’s about 30 sailors. We’ll be coming up to Yorktown Naval Weapons Station in December and then proceed on a world tour. It’s not a goodwill tour, but a mission.” He’s ready for it. Go Navy.
The next day, Alex responded: “Captain Bill, We had a blast out on the water and absolutely loved your beautiful boat. My dad has wanted to watch me sail since I made the transit on the Navy 44, so you definitely helped make that dream come true.”
His pictures show the 44 arriving in New York Harbor, with the tip of Manhattan in the background. You gotta love the USNA colors in the spinnaker. He said the storm during the passage was rough enough to make a few people sick, but nothing quite like a storm in the Atlantic on a guided missile cruiser when the bow can rise 30-plus feet from trough to peak.
Twilight of Learning Tree Sail
Sunday began Day 1 of a three-day sailing course for the Williamsburg Area Learning Tree. This is my 21st year teaching the informal community course. The sponsoring Williamsburg Unitarian Church has greatly reduced the advertising budget, which in turn limited the class size. Next year they are said to be pulling the plug entirely. At any rate, I believe mine is the only course offered consecutively all those years.
We started out in a dead calm and proceeded to learn the Close Reach as winds “built” to 3 mph. The effort required concentration and patience as we slowly observed ripples developing on the water. Finally the ripples connected and the York River was awash in wind. We tacked numerous times down river and then flew the spinnaker back on winds topping 10 mph. The downwind run was a Broad Reach, matched at the end of the class by a brisk Beam Reach across from Yorktown to Sarah Creek.
In the afternoon, a robust young couple drove up from Hampton to exploit steady winds of 10-15 mph. Carla Granite is a meteorologist with the Air Force at Langley. “I spent five years as a meteorologist with the Army,” she explained, and later drew a distinction. “I’m responsible for informing the crews of the weather for the first 40,000 feet. After that, there isn’t much weather. With the Army, they’re concerned with the first 10,000 feet.”
She advised me to watch the tops of clouds to make sure they’re flat and not building upward into a top that portends a storm. “They’ll come to me and ask if they can stay on course by flying over the top, and the answer is no. I have to sign off on their flight plan. There are a lot of checks and balances. Or they’ll come to me with an app on their phone and say that its weather is better than mine. Okay, but I won’t sign off on that.”
Her boyfriend M.C. Dougherty flies advanced helicopters for the Army at Ft. Campbell. “Yes, you can pick up a tank with a Chinook, but it’s no fun. Once a year I have to qualify like that. What I love is the Super Huey, which has two engines instead of one, as well as an extra blade. It can accelerate quickly and bank harder than other craft.”
He added, “My standard is the 47 platform. It has two jet engines. Not jet aircraft engines but jet-propelled. When I take off, I prefer a strong headwind because that aids the lift. The wash is equal to a Category 4 hurricane.”
He added, “The thing can fly itself, really. I can program it to fly 500 miles and set down within 15 feet of the target. Don’t even have to do a visual until Mile 498. It takes a crew of six, or three minimum. The Army wants me to pursue becoming a warrant officer, but I like it just fine as flight engineer.” Having never set foot on a sailboat, M.C. performed admirably on the helm as if he’d done it a hundred times. Eventually I sent them up on the bow to enjoy the setting sun.
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Return to Williamsburg
Two couples shared two stories. The first returned to retire in Williamsburg, while the second shared adventures in the air.
Capt. Bill O'Donovan
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