Sailing by Lights
On certain rivers and in certain bays, the US Coast Guard services navigation lights that show the range of a particular channel. Hence the term range lights and why we go sailing by the lights. Together, the tall light is out of sequence with the short light as they blink on and off 24/7. The lights are vital to helping the US Navy avoid running aground. This is especially important to submarines, as they run 30 feet under water while transiting the surface. (See the exterior depth meter at right of a Virginia Class sub passing Yorktown.)
Here on the York River, the lower light occasionally goes out, or becomes “extinguished” in Coast Guard parlance. This one is still lighted, but it’s partially obscured by an active osprey nest. The USCG Yorktown Training Center is within a stone’s throw to clear the nest, but there’s a problem. Environmental laws preclude removing the nest when it’s occupied as an active nest.
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A couple from Indiana joined a couple from Maryland on a calm afternoon whose winds eventually built to 7 mph. Gayle Elliott helmed the entire time, patiently waiting for the wind to pick up. Once it did, she adroitly handled the boat under spinnaker, which is tricky while sailing downwind. She held steady despite distractions and never lost her concentration.
Her discipline could be the result of her job. “I’m an LPN working in a county jail.” Not just any county jail, but the second largest in Illinois, Lake County Detention Center. “We have more than 600 inmates at any given time, from all walks of life with all sorts of crimes.”
Gayle said she’s never been attacked but had some close calls. “One time someone came after me but a much larger nurse than me intervened between me and him.” I asked about suicides. “Yes, hanging in their cell or jumping off the balcony.” She seemed fatalistic about the job and had no animus toward the inmates. Rather serene, actually, very much like our sail on this day.
Her husband Ed asked her to describe the jail’s strangest case. “We have a woman who’s been in jail for eight years without ever going to trial. It’s very complicated, made more so by the fact that one of the witnesses in her case was murdered. They still have to sort that out before trial.”
A young couple from Texas visited Williamsburg on their honeymoon and went sailing on the York on a warm, calm day. “This is our honeymoon cruise!” announced Anthony Smith. He works in pest control and his new bride Heather is a billing clerk for a hospital ER.
I asked about a worst-case problem for pests, and Anthony was ready. “We had this big possum that kept coming back to one woman’s house. It must have weighed 40 pounds, and looked like a big turkey. Finally, my partner and I sprayed it with neon paint to identify it, and I drove it 30 miles away to let it go. He hasn’t come back yet, but we’ll know it’s him if he does.”
Anthony doesn’t get claustrophobia, but he has seen it. “One of our guys was mildly claustrophobic when he went under a house. He accidentally caught his belt loop on a curved nail hanging down from a header. He couldn’t get loose and started to panic. That made it worse because it dug into his belt. He was the full the length of the house under there, and I had to go down to help him. To make matters worse, it was an extremely low foundation, so we were on our elbows doing a low crawl.
“I shouted, ‘Dude, stop yelling so I can help you!’ It took 30 minutes to calm him down. Now when we have a situation like that, he won’t go under a house. Who can blame him.”
Meanwhile, Heather was sublimely sailing on a close reach in mild winds that proved quite serene. Eventually I sent them up to the bow for a little privacy, and she loved it. “My dad used to have a small fishing boat where he would take us kids out to learn. But we weren’t very good at fishing or boating. He yelled a lot. This is much better.”
Off in the distance at Yorktown lay the USS Monterey, a US Army vessel doing dock maneuvers at Riverwalk Landing. It’s part of the Army’s Runnymede Class of boats that handle large landing craft. Like an LST only smaller. To look at it, you wonder where a tank or an APC would sit on the deck, ready to launch.