Two adult siblings and their spouses arrived from southwest Louisiana to check out the bayou known as the York River. They were on adventure while vacationing at Williamsburg. Brothers-in-law Timmy Brunet and Darrell Scott have known each other for years and shared a brotherly camaraderie. They are both avid boaters, but sailing was a first. Hey, it’s a piece of cake.
The trip was the first of several during the week that touched on sailing and working all over the world. Darrell retired recently from Chevron having spent decades overseas in the oil fields. He recognized the old Amoco pier, now an oil terminal.
“My last job, I worked on an oil drilling boat.” I pointed to a nearby oil freighter that was docked and asked if it was bigger than that. “That’s a toy,” he laughed. “Ours was three football fields long, plus end zones. We were anchored 95 miles off the coast of Brazil with an elaborate turret so the boat could swing 360 degrees to the wind’s angle. You see those railroad wheels that turn the bridge up there? That’s what we had to swing the boat. We called them Bogies. Three cables kept us in place.
“I had 120 or so people on board, managing them on the project. We were hooked up to a drill that went 1100 meters down in the water before reaching the ground. From there, the drill would bring up oil or gas. We’d separate the gas from oil, or oil from gas, or oil from water. We’d fill the ship and it would slowly move lower and lower in the water. When we filled it up, a freighter would come along and offload it using big hoses. Then our ship would rise back up in the water.
“I worked what we called 28/28. That was 28 days on, and then I flew a helicopter back to land for 28 days off. Storms were frequent. The seas got to 20 feet. When the ship was full of oil it sank down so low that the gunwales were only 20 feet. So, 20-foot seas would send water over the bow and you could tell it was green water.”
Does he miss it? “No, 44 years was plenty. I’ve been retired almost five months now,” Darrell grinned. The light winds of the morning retired as well, leaving us with a quiet air and the imagery of 20-foot seas.
Submariner Goes Sailing
A motley crew of relatives from all over Hampton Roads surprised Robert Martin with a birthday sail on the York River. He’s retired and became a locksmith in his second career. “I deal mostly in rental cars, getting them open for customers. You can no longer use the old ramming rod as it will damage the parts of the window beyond repair. I have to use special small balloons to move the parts so I can get the rod in there.”
With us was a stately fellow named Mike Kennedy who bore a ballcap reading Retired Submariner. I mentioned that this is the 50th anniversary of the loss of the Scorpion at sea and he brightened at that.
“We were out in the Mediterranean and I was on a destroyer. We encountered the Scorpion and learned she was headed home but short a cook. So we loaned them one of our cooks. He laughed as he departed because he said he would beat us home to Norfolk. But the Scorpion went down.
“At the time, my wife and I went to adopt a child. It turned out the social worker was married to a fellow who went down on the Scorpion. She was very sympathetic to my being a submariner and asked if we would take a second child as well. Sure. Eventually we got reassigned from Norfolk to New London, and of course the social worker people had to assign someone to check up on us so we wouldn’t beat the children to death. This one was skeptical of us and kept asking, ‘How’d you qualify for two children?’ We never told her. Today, they’re 50 years old. Our son is an electrical engineer and our daughter is a CPA.”
I asked Mike if he saw the German U-boat in Chicago, where they built a museum around the ship. “Yes, and that wood inside was teak, not mahogany. That’s because teak won’t float. If the boat got hit and went down, there would be no wood floating in the debris zone to give away the location.”
Go Army Sailing
The next day, four women from all over the country went sailing on a glassy York River. The wind meandered as Leslie Sosebee tried to find traction. Eventually a ship appeared on the horizon that I took to be a Navy missile cruiser. I raised it on marine radio to get our routes coordinated, and a female voice responded, “This is the Army warship USAV Missionary Ridge. It turned out to be a Landing Ship Utility, part of an entire fleet of Runnymede large landing craft. They said they were simply anchoring, but I had no idea why since there isn’t an Army installation anywhere on the York. Ft. Eustis is on the James.
In the afternoon, Tim Pruitt of Pineville LA took his wife Marisha and two boys sailing. By now the wind had picked up to a brisk 10 mph, enabling the couple to alternate on an aggressive helm. She said, “I work in a hospital for mentally disabled children, Pinecrest Support and Services Center. We have around 400 patients who run the full spectrum of autism. People think that’s a miserable job, but I love it. I’m used to them.”
I told her about the cystic fibrosis girl I took sailing last week, whose service dog is so adroit that it can sense her migraines. At that point the dog starts barking to alert the parents. “We have staff like that,” Marisha said. “Some of them have been there so long that they can pick up on the issues of seizures very quickly.”
She said parents sometimes simply give up on treating their children and they wind up at Pinecrest. She sees the gamut of neglect and abuse. “Many of our children are court-ordered. We don’t accept anyone under 12, and by then adoption isn’t an option.” It sounded like the saddest place in Louisiana.
Sailing the English Channel
Ellie Wilkinson took her retired husband Don sailing on the York. Don is into restoring cars, but just one. “It’s a 1972 Dodge Demon. I grew up in Michigan and was into cars as a kid. The Dodge is the only car I’ve restored. I brought it back to the original condition and haven’t suped it up.” I asked if he ever opened up on local straightaways late at night. “No, not really. But it will do 100. We take road trips to Michigan with it.”
Ellie works in the Physics Department at the College of William & Mary. On the side, she has attended the James City County Police Department program for civilians, to include a drive-along. “I took the forensics program too,” she said, “after taking the ride-along.” My wife Bonnie and daughter Wendy were joining us with Wendy’s daughter Willa, and Bonnie has always wanted to do the police program.
“I got to participate in a training program for a bank robbery, and I got to be the robber,” Ellie grinned. “One time on a ride-along I encountered the real thing when police went after a guy in an old motel on Route 143. “Ten cop cars were there and they were all out back trying to catch him when he came right up to me outside the front, just standing there with no shirt and his hands up in the air. There were no police, just me. Eventually they saw him and arrested him.”
Sailing Away from Venezuela
Juan Morales of Orlando FL took his family sailing on the York that afternoon. The wind picked up, and his two daughters alternated on the helm with great concentration. Juan’s mother and I had a long chat about Venezuela, where she lived for years.
Neither she nor Juan intend to go back because the government is riddled with corruption and the inflation is terrible. I looked it up later and discovered inflation ran an incredible 454% in the first quarter of this year. “One result,” she said, “was that the annual maintenance fees on our condo fell to $20 US.” Go figure.
Sailing Hunter 320 vs. Beneteau 323
Harold Yoessel of Port Aransas TX took his wife Claudia sailing on the York to compare the 320 Hunter of Let’s Go Sail with his Beneteau 323. “We keep it in Corpus Christi Bay,” he said. “I sail there as well as offshore.” He liked the feel and movement of the 320, particularly the speed and maneuverability. Their trip was arranged by their daughter as a Christmas present.
Claudia said, “Where we live, vacation homes are hard to find. Some people rent out their boats as B&Bs. You can find them on booking.com or arbnb.com.” I found that intriguing since vacationers can rent homes on the York River for considerably less than a hotel room in downtown Williamsburg. Later I looked for rental boats in Corpus Christi but only found homes and condos.
Harold is retired from teaching math and physics. In his spare time he uses those skills and extraordinary patience to help build a 2-masted schooner on the bay “We’ve got two years into it and other year to go. Right now we’re working on a hollow mast.” He had to address other work after the Category 4 Hurricane Harvey struck Corpus Christi last August. “We had 100 boats at our marina. Twenty sunk and 20 more were destroyed. One 44-footer is still beached on land from the storm. My boat was okay except that the jib was shredded by the wind. I didn’t get it down in time,” he added sheepishly.
Deanne Davis took her boyfriend Orenthal Golden sailing for his birthday, and they both loved it. But first, we had to hear the childhood horror story. “My family is from St. Vincent in the British Virgin Islands. I remember Bequia Channel as very rough. I watched a sailboat go like this (bobbing and weaving), up and down continuously. It was very scary. I remembered that all my life.” Fortunately, we did none of that. Instead, we piped up in 10 mph winds and heeled to 15 degrees on a glorious adventure.
Next day, Nicole and Barrett Hurel set out on smooth seas to celebrate their first anniversary. As the wind grew to 12 mph, the boat began to heel with the speed. “I love the leaning to 15 degrees,” Barrett said. “It feels like driving a fast sports car into the turn of a track, only this is straight away instead. Very sweet.”
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