Sailing a skippered sailboat in Williamsburg is often the most fun that people have on vacation. Just ask Hersh Patel of Newport News, who took his wife Yera out on the York River on a windy day before Tropical Storm Hermine blew in.

Sailing in a Brisk WindAs the boat headed into the wind, Hersh rolled out the mainsail and began his lessons by grabbing the wheel. We headed straight downriver on a diagonal course to Goodwin Island. A few hundred yards along as the waves and winds built pressure on the boat, I reset the genoa to a half-reef to ease the helm. The boat heeled to 15 degrees, which startled Yera until she got accustomed to it.

Hersh was such a natural that I asked if he was musician. No. Golfer? “Yes. I shoot in the 80s.” Golfers have the gentle hands and intense concentration required to sail.

Our other couple, Lori and Lou Azevedo of California, had no trouble adapting to the heeling and the waves. Indeed, they were adventurers vacationing in Williamsburg after visiting Monticello and before seeing the White House in Washington and New York City in the coming days. They sought exciting fun and found it on the water.

Sailing in a Brisk Wind“My grandfather spent his entire career on the water,” Lori recalled. “He was a sea captain in the Merchant Marine. He saw the world by serving in World War I, World War II and Korea. When it came time for him to go Vietnam, he said, ‘That’s it!’ and retired. His name was Olaf Anderson, a good Norwegian name.” Lou added, “He died the year we were married, 1977.”

Pearl Harbor Mission

Lori said wistfully, “I have his photos from Pearl Harbor. He was stationed in San Pedro at the time in 1941 and rushed out to Hawaii for any rescue attempts they could make. One photo shows his ship coming back home through the Golden Gate Bridge at San Francisco. The Army Air Corps escorted the ships back from Pearl Harbor. You can see coffins everywhere on the decks.”

Sailing in a Brisk WindLori used to snorkel but she suffered a stroke and had to give it up. They live near Fresno in central California. “Yosemite National Park can be a dangerous place. It’s not Disneyland. We found a guy hiking who was wandering around. ‘My friend has been missing for two days out here,’ she quoted him. ‘Here’s his picture. Have you seen him?’” The most dangerous thing we were doing at the moment was heeling 15 degrees, which was quite safe. Out in the Chesapeake Bay, I estimated the seas at 3-4 feet.

Lou added, “Two kids went fishing on the banks of the Merced River in Yosemite. They moved out onto the rocks, which were slimy with moss. Tragically, they slipped into the current and were lost.”

Warship Approaching

When I turned around I was surprised to see a Navy warship bearing down us, perhaps a mile away. It was one of two ships from Naval Weapons Station, and we were in its path. I quickly radioed the bridge that we were turning to port sharply and would move north across the river, out of his way. The radio man acknowledged that but came back a minute later. “Hold your course, Captain, and we’ll steer slightly to port to pass you.”

Sailing in a Brisk Wind

That was generous of him, and we got to see the ship turn 20 degrees and head straight down the York instead of inside the channel. It was high tide, so he had plenty of draft. Warship 66 turned out to the USS Gonzalez, an Arleigh-Burke class destroyer headed back to Norfolk Naval Base. He sailed along, passing us with a Moran tug behind.

After two hours on the wheel, Hersh surrendered it to Lori who was game. She wound up hitting the wind so perfectly that we set a new season record of 16.9 mph. Everyone cheered.

Let’s go sail

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