Sailing Lake SuperiorA couple from Northern Virginia just bought a summer home in nearby Kilmarnock and took their friends sailing on the York River. Pat Tracey worked all over the world with the US Navy and retired as a lieutenant commander. “But I never got to captain a ship because I was the last of the women who were not allowed to go to sea. As a lieutenant commander I would have qualified as the XO on board. I still got to run a lot of operations in the Navy and worked with great people.” She paused. “Still, it’s always good to run the operation at sea.” She had no trouble on the helm while going downwind on the spinnaker, paying strict attention to the fluky wheel in light winds. I envied their living in Old Town of Alexandria, where they can walk to virtually everything they need.

We veered off onto stupid sailing stories, and Rick Metzer recalled reading about a bunch of hippies in the Sixties who tried to sail to Tahiti from San Francisco. “They left without sufficient water and were desperate after a few days. A passing freighter gave them some water, and they went on. Then their batteries died because they did nothing to recharge them. Somehow the Coast Guard came to their rescue.” Now let’s get to Sailing Lake Superior.

Sailing Lake SuperiorPeggy and Dewey Chiesl were visiting Pat and Rick from Minnesota, where he used to sail Lake Superior on a 35-foot Columbia. I asked whether he carried sacrificial anchors for the notorious rock bottoms of the Great Lakes. “No, I never had to do that. I always got my rode up. But I’ve learned more about anchoring than I care to know. I found it best to put out two bow anchors spaced well enough apart to avoid slipping. They both closed up together once in a 50-knot wind that stirred up the waves fiercely. And at 3 in the morning.”

We flew the spinnaker downwind for miles and then gybed it to go back to port. Somehow Dewey and I got the gybe fouled, so it took more than the usual “18 seconds” to redeploy. Everyone enjoyed that. Sailing into Sarah Creek, suddenly a small pod of dolphins flew up beside the boat, to everyone’s delight. Quite an afternoon.

Sailing Detroit

People who boat on the Great Lakes haven’t felt the velocity of an ocean current such as the one we experience way up on the York River. But Bob Giddings of suburban Detroit had a different take as he brought his wife Carla to go sailing.

Sailing Lake Superior“I’ve done boating all my life on the Great Lakes, and I was surprised to cross under the Mackinac Bridge that separates Lake Huron and Lake Michigan. We stopped underneath to look up at the bridge when the current suddenly turned the boat 90 degrees sideways.”

He and Carla used to boat on Lake St. Claire. “When our son was four,  he used to play in a 20-foot skiff that I had parked on a trailer out back of the house. Whenever we went to the boat shows, he had to get in every single boat to try them out. Today he’s 44 and has bought and sold several boats, including one he made $40,000 profit.”

She's a docent at the Dodge HouseThey recently went to Newport RI where they toured the 19th century mansions. “Carla is a docent at the Dodge House in Gross Point,” Bob said proudly. She said, “It’s 88,000 square feet with 110 rooms.”

We talked about the challenges of docking and various techniques. Bob said, “I had a boat dealer friend who sold Sea-Rays. The company has a low-end starter series called Bayliner, for new boaters. He told me privately that Bayliner boaters dock the boat by sound.”

Other tidbits:

Drinking at sea: “When I open a can of pop while motoring the boat, I have to drink it or it will go flat from the vibration of the boat.” 

Spinnaker: “Sailing with the wind is like riding in a hot air balloon. You could lay papers out on the deck and they won’t fly away.”

Sailing with Luck

On a brisk and cloudy morning, we went under the Coleman Bridge to avoid heavy seas and into the lee shore of the upper York. I recalled the time in 2007 when the I-35 bridge collapsed, killing 13 people and inuring 145. That led to highway departments all over the country reinspecting their bridges. One day we sailed under the Coleman and saw spray-painted notes on the superstructure that read, “bolt missing” and “loose bolt.” I took photos and ran them on page 1 of the Gazette. TV news picked up the story from us.

He was driving on that bridge before it fell.I mentioned all this because one of the crew on this day was Nels Thygeson, who used to live in Minneapolis. He said calmly, “I was driving on that St. Paul bridge a half hour before it fell. In retrospect, I remember some big highway repair trucks and other machinery that crossed the bridge and seemed to dig it up.”

Nels was in the area after looking at a 30-foot ketch in Lewisetta on the Northern Neck. “It’s a 50-year-old boat that needs a lot of work. I’m looking for a boatyard to replace the dry rot and the standing rigging. It also needs a lot of paint, but the engine has only 15 years.” I suggested looking around California, but they’re too expensive there. And besides, “This one has sentimental value.”

Two couples friends were with us as well as we raced upriver toward Cheatham Annex. Earlier in the day the USNS Cornhusker State transited under tow from the Cheatham pier to God knows where.

He served on the USS DanielsRichard Moulis served in the Navy on the USS Josephus Daniels. “He was the guy who eliminated rum on board.” Richard did his boot camp at Great Lakes Naval Station. “I liked the idea of working in nuclear ships, so I extended for two years. I went to Norfolk, Gitmo and eventually Vietnam. They ran out of billets for me in my machinist specialty, so they dropped the two-year extension requirement. I said that was fine. The commander of the Josephus Daniels said, ‘Son, we like your numbers, so you can serve out your time with us.”‘

Let’s Go Sail Lake Superior

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