Sailing at 85
People sometimes wonder, “Who’s the oldest sailor?” Here he is. A Maryland family rescheduled a rain date and wound up sailing the York in a rising afternoon breeze that they found a magnificent adventure. Weeks earlier, Kathy Self had hoped to bring her uncle along with her father Jack Green as a birthday surprise so he could go sailing at 85.
“In retrospect this worked out better,” she said, “as he’s cranky and would have resisted the sailing. Dad loves this.”
Jack is retired from a long career in graphics and printing in Washington. Kathy is finishing up her career with the graphics union in downtown DC. “I worked on National Geographic and Smithsonian Magazine, among others,” he recalled proudly.
“I also used to fish on Chesapeake Bay. My buddies in the trades would go out on cabin cruisers and stay for days. After one expedition in Cambridge, they had been drinking and I was supposed to be the driver. We pooled all our cash for gas and I held it. But I met a girl in the bar and wound up with her,” he said slyly. After a pause, I asked if he blew all his money on the girl. “Just the gas money,” he grinned.
“Of course, my buddies were furious and as we went hightailing down Route 13 they were rooting for a state trooper behind us. ‘Pull him over!’ they hollered, but he sailed past.
He recalled later a story about visiting Russia. “My brother worked for the CIA. My wife and I were in Moscow when the authorities detained us at the airport. They had confused me as my brother, since we’re identical twins. I thought, ‘Oh no, what are we going to do?’ It was an ordeal but they let us go. I was so shaken that I went and had a Russian brandy. It was terrible. They switched all the flights from daytime to nighttime, because this was in 1983 when they had invaded Afghanistan. They didn’t want us to see anything during the day.”
Jack turned out pretty well on the helm, but his daughter Andrea was the best of the crew. She navigated downwind on a beam-to-broad reach with great dexterity. I asked if she had done this before. “No, but I watch TV a lot,” she laughed.
Sailing to Learn
A couple learning to sail hooked up with two grown girls helping their dad relearn sailing. We started out on glassy waters and wound up with a great cruise in two-foot seas.
Tanishka Cruz brought her husband Dave and son Noah from Charlottesville to sail the York River. Lauren and Brittany Austin brought their dad Lee from nearby Gloucester County to revive his sailing skills. Dave and Lee were both interested in buying a boat, so I tried to disabuse them of that by renting instead through Get My Boat. First, we did lessons.
They learned how to set the sail into the wind, without any wind pressure. They learned the Close Reach as the optimum point of sail, followed by the Beam Reach and Broad Reach. We used the last to sail under spinnaker after tacking downriver six times. We also did a hove-to and MOB drill, noting the distinction between the two. The day was perfect for teaching because the light winds were a challenge while the brisk winds were a breeze. They had a blast.
Later that afternoon, the wind was perking along at 10+ so there was no chance to fly the spinnaker. Felicia Mills brought her husband Brehon and their friends Deon and Toni Thomas to relax out on the water.
They were more interested in chatting and observing than running the boat, so that left Bill Goode and his wife Nancy with the helm duties. Bill is a motorboat dude who had never sailed, but he had no trouble figuring it out and spent three hours tacking and then blasting downwind. Felicia reluctantly took the wheel when we returned to the close reach, and she proved a formidable helmsman. “You just show me where to aim, Captain.”
Learning to Sail II
Next day, another set of two couples joined a father and daughter in light winds that grew progressively stronger ahead of late-evening thunderstorms. Lawrence Johnson was probing to see if his wife would like to sail, so we talked about various options of learning.
Dana Willis Tomlin brought three friends and shared the wheel with her beau LaTroy Brinkley. People who have never set foot on a sailboat find it exhilarating. They joined together in the spinnaker fly and sailed five miles straight downwind, like never before.
Rodney Holman served 11 years in the Navy and was a good deck hand for the dock and flying the spinnaker. I thought 11 years an odd number and asked why he left. “Life!” he exclaimed, and I got that.
Later we got to talking about choppy water. Rodney said, “I was on a cruise destroyer when we were in a storm, and my bunk was far forward toward the bow. The boat kept going up and down sharply, making it impossible to sleep. A lot of guys got sick. They didn’t take their Dramamine early enough. The patch behind their ear wasn’t helping either. I found myself walking sideways on the gunwale of the ship, as if it was the floor.” I asked how many hours he endured. “Hours? It was more like days, man.”
Let’s Go Sailing at 85
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