A British couple joined their American friends sailing on the York River. They were good sports to endure the story of the Battle of the Capes and the Siege of Yorktown. John Thomber recalled his time in the Royal Navy and had sailboats at his yacht club in England. He got back on the helm 30 years later without missing a beat.

“I served from 1956 to 1958 and saw some gales out in the North Atlantic. I would judge this today to be a Force 4 wind. I once was on a Navy Frigate in a Force 8,” John said matter-of-factly.” Force 8 on the Beaufort Scale carries winds of 39-46 mph and is considered to drive very high seas. “We were bobbing about, with the bow going down into the water. They had expansion plates on the deck that would move under severe stress. I saw them slide four inches back and forth in the storm.”

By contrast, our Force 4 wind was blowing to 18 mph. John took the helm as we navigated under the Coleman Bridge to the Yorktown Naval Weapons Station. He spotted a US Navy submarine in port, reloading missiles. “Have you ever been on a submarine?” he asked. “I went on one to tour and got to a place in the ship where I asked, ‘What’s this?’ They said ‘argh migh’ or some such unintelligible response. It was one of the missiles. Then I went to the conning tower, where I could barely fit.” He motioned a width of no more than 18 inches.

On the way back, John tacked adroitly against headwinds and a flood current to transit the bridge (with a little help by the engine for the final thrust). He displayed all the sailing skills as if he had done it yesterday. Sailing is like that.

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