Sailing by FeelSometimes I get asked, “Can blind people sail?” Wayne Kislinburg is a retired Navy lieutenant commander whose final sail before retirement was to bring a submarine tender under the Golden Gate Bridge into San Francisco Bay. He later developed macular degeneration and is now legally blind, but you’d never know it.

At the encouragement of his family, he took the helm while sailing the York River and asked to be steered by degrees. I called out “45 degrees starboard” and he promptly swung to exactly the right mark. He effortlessly tacked back and forth in a light breeze, with a lifetime of mariner expertise guiding his hand. He could see the wind better than any of us.

I’ve had several blind people onboard. One woman enthusiastically took the wheel. She explained how she felt. “I can hear the water lapping faster on the hull, which means we’re going faster. I can feel the wind on my face. We’re turning. I can tell because I can feel the sun moving up my arm.” Wow.

Rescue Boats

RescueThose orange rescue vessels found on each side of merchant ship were made famous in the movie “Captain Phillips.” The film conveyed a cramped space, but naval engineer Jim Schwartz told me that certain types can seat up to 60 crew. This photo shows his sister ship Cornhusker State as it transited the York River to Cheatham Annex.

He Sailed There

Cornhusker StateWhile driving up the Colonial Parkway from Yorktown, readers may recall seeing the US Navy crane ship Flickertail State moored at Cheatham Annex for many years.

In an extraordinary coincidence, her sister ship Cornhusker State drove up the York River to Cheatham as the current engineer for Flickertail State looked on while sailing with his family. Jim Schwartz said both ships are 610 feet long and have steam-propelled engines of 17,500 horsepower (vs. my piddly 18 HP).

It took three tugboats to bring the Cornhusker State up from Newport News, at a cost of $80,000 one-way. “It’s cheaper to do it that way than under power,” he explained.

Let’s Go Sailing by Feel

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