A family from Sacramento CA went sailing on the York River while touring Williamsburg. “We’ve never been on the East Coast,” said Kristin Marco, “and tomorrow we’re seeing Washington.” They became the first of multiple families this week to go sailing from all over America. But first, they got to see a Navy warship docked at Naval Weapons Station. The USS Mitscher (DDG-57) sailed past the Coleman Bridge on the way to NWS. An hour later, a sister destroyer from Norfolk Navy Base followed the Mitscher into port.
Since they were going to Washington for the first time, I related the back story to John Trumbull’s “Surrender of Lord Cornwallis” and showed them the print. The original is one of eight large paintings in the Rotunda of the US Capitol depicting the history of the United States. I pointed to the original scene of the surrender and told them they could see the original painting (at 20 by 18 feet) for themselves on the Capitol tour. That dazzled them.
Her husband Glen seemed concerned about the river depth. “We had a 20-foot inboard/outboard that we ran in the San Joaquin Delta,” he said. “If I ran aground, the mud would foul the impeller. We had to get towed once by Tow Boat US, though I’m not sure how they found us. This was before GPS.” He was referring to the maze of inlets comprising the Delta. When I worked at the Stockton Record, reports surfaced during the summer of boaters stranded in the Delta. They had no idea where they were or how to get out because every bend in the river looked the same.
I pointed out the Naval Weapons Station, and we got to talking about the Torpex explosion in 1943 that killed seven. “Just like Roseville,” Glen said, but he was conflating the 1973 rail yard explosion with the 1944 Navy ammo explosion at nearby Port Chicago that killed 320. Officials thought both were the sabotage of enemy agents, but nothing came of it.
As we tacked downriver in 10 mph winds, Kristin and Glen’s daughter Haley took the helm. As a mechanical engineering major, she quickly grasped the need to stay with 3-5 degrees between maintaining a close reach and luffing the genoa. Later on as they got their confidence, her dad pushed the heeling to 30 degrees and topped 11 mph. It reminded Kristin of summer camp. “I went out on a small sailboat and forgot to insert the centerboard. ‘Put down the board!’ they shouted from shore.”
We sailed for hours under cloudy skies that made things cooler. It was the only day among five without steady rain, and we all loved it.
Sailing from Wisconsin
A Wisconsin family rescheduled three times due to rain and finally got to sail in a steady southwest wind that took us down the York quickly. Aimee and Jim Nesbeth brought their two girls with them and found the heeling to be bracing. I assured them the 4,000 lb. keel would keep the boat righted. “The boat can’t tip over?” Jim joked. “That good, because Aimee has turned two sailboats over.” She retorted lightly, “Am I bad luck?”
They live near Lake Superior, the biggest of the Great Lakes and a veritable ocean. “It’s the land of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” Aimee said, referring to the big iron freighter that sank in a storm. “More recently, we just had hurricane-like winds that took out numerous boat docks at Duluth.” No such winds threatened today.
Aimee runs an office that coordinates emergency response services among hospitals, clinics, counties and cities. She has also worked for FEMA, most recently in Houston after Hurricane Harvey and in New Jersey after Superstorm Sandy. “With Sandy, I was at Monmouth Raceway trying to get people settled who had been displaced. It was a microcosm of American society with middle class mixed with poor people. We had crime, rape and everything else. It was a little like the Superdome in New Orleans after their hurricane. Houston was different, but they told it was dangerous going door to door since everyone in Texas has guns.”
Sailing from Kansas
Like other couples, Sheryl and Monty Montee had to reschedule around the rain all week, but we finally made it out on a glorious sunny day. The wind blew up to 10 mph from the southwest as we tacked across the river and under the bridge to observe two Navy cruisers loading up Tomahawk missiles.
“We get a lot of wind in Kansas,” Monty said. “We have different boats for fishing and a small one for sailing. One of our lakes is seven miles long, and it’s crammed with boats every weekend.” By contrast, we were the only sailboat on the horizon for an hour or so. “Sheryl and I have always had boats. In fact, after we got married, the first piece of furniture we bought was a boat. Nothing fancy, but always a boat. I’ve never been seasick on fresh water, but saltwater yes. I bet I’ve gone deep sea fishing 50 times and got seasick 35 of those.”
I asked about the renowned World War I museum in Kansas City and they said it was terrific. Sheryl said, “My grandfather entered World War I at Fort Riley where he did his Army basic training. He was assigned to Camp Sherman in Ohio and came down with the Spanish Flu. They had to notified my great-grandparents that he died, so his father went to the camp to properly ID him. He had a tag on his toe, so my great-grandfather touched his toe and said his name. He wiggled his toe! They took him back to the hospital, where it took four months to recover. By then the war was over.
“As a result, he was the darling of the girls back home. Over the years while growing up, no one in our family knew about this miracle recovery. My sister and I discovered it in love letters between my grandmother and grandfather. We’re compiling a family history using letters and photos. So far we’ve worked through 1917 and 1918. Next is 1919.”
The wind becalmed, the water grew still, and once again we were the only sailboat out there on the York. They marveled at the serenity of it all. I couldn’t resist saying, “We’re not in Kansas anymore.”
Sailing From Virginia
Susan and Andrew Lindsey came in from Fairfax and went sailing with another couple from Charlottesville. Fluky winds kept everyone on their toes at the helm. Just being out there conjures up family experiences.
“The last time I was on a sailboat was with my father and Susan,” Andrew said. “He wound up sailing backwards and nearly ran into a barge. His sailing skills were rusty since it was only the second time in 25 years. I think the boat was 36 feet long.”
Susan picked up the story. “We heard a sound, an alarm warning us. We were so close that we could see the facial features of those [grimacing] on the barge. He was taking his second wife out for her first time on a sailboat. I screamed, ‘Look out! Stay away from the rocks!'”
Andrew said this happened at Southport NC, between Wilmington and Myrtle Beach. “He sold the boat shortly after that.” Susan rationalized, “It was a 2-1/2 hour drive from his home.”
Sailing From NY, OH, DC
Sonia Vanihel of Putnam NY took her friend Leda sailing while vacationing in Williamsburg. It was a last-minute thing as they discovered it online that morning. They joined Todd and Michele Ruthemyer of Cincinnati OH and their friends Rachel and John Peters of Washington DC.
Todd was reprising an earlier sail this summer where he honed his reaching skills. As it turned out, the light winds were more of a challenge than stiff winds, but he endured. Michele raved about Rachel’s work as a pastry chef with Sweet Rose Catering. “She has created the impossible by baking a chocolate ganache that is gluten free and vegan. I don’t know how she does it, but it’s to die for.” Rachel said she has gained traction among women holding bachelorette parties. “They have this one thing that they want, and I deliver. I get comments about the great range of skin color.” Everyone laughed.
I pressed Michele about her work as a life coach. She said in part, “I help people reconfigure their lives. Maybe their job is terrible, or their marriage, or their pastimes or their family. They have to want to change. I can’t just tell them what to do. They have to figure it out for themselves.” I finally figured out that we weren’t getting any more wind this day, and it was getting hotter. So we motored into port to beat an afternoon storm.
Let’s Go Sail
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Sailing All Over America
Family from California had never been to the East Coast, and got to sail as have hundreds of families from all over America.
Capt. Bill O'Donovan
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