A Houston couple left on vacation after Hurricane Harvey and arrived in Virginia in time for the remnants of Hurricane Irma. The resulting sail on the York River was much more pleasant and quite an adventure.
Dave and Sonya Kerr brought their two young children to Let’s Go Sail on a partly sunny day with high winds ahead of Irma. The intent was a sailing lesson for him, and the upshot was quite another lesson.
“We did not flood at our house because we’re on a little hill,” Sonya said. “But 40,000 houses elsewhere got flooded, including expensive neighborhoods that didn’t expect it. We were lucky. We helped a woman we look after.”
Dave is interested in getting a sailboat someday and wanted to get the look and feel of a midsize boat. We ventured out of Sara Creek and put the main out only halfway since the winds were blowing 10 mph and projected to reach 15. I rolled out half the genoa as well and we began to power on an east wind across the York diagonally toward Wormley Creek.
The idea was to tack downriver and see some of the oil barges and tugboats that were holed up until Irma passed. They were headed to New Orleans from New York when they ducked into the Chesapeake Bay and our river.
Before long, waves of two feet began to buffet the hull. Dave held his own on the helm but was clearly taking hits from waves on the port side. We moved from a heeling close reach to a flatter beam reach. Sonya was a good sport but I sensed she wasn’t crazy about enduring such rocking and rolling all day.
We turned to tack upwind but instead came around 180 degrees and headed on a beam reach to the Coleman Bridge. That way we got into the lee of the wind and had a much more comfortable ride. Before long we were several miles upriver, past the Yorktown Naval Weapons Station and approaching Cheatham Annex next door.
When we turned south I noticed a tugboat at the center span of the bridge. This being Monday, I figured it was joining another tug to welcome a US Navy warship. After several calls, I got the tug Tracy Moran on the radio, and the captain confirmed that the ship would transit the bridge at 1 pm. It was 12:55.
I alerted my crew to watch for the vehicular traffic to stop on the bridge and observe the bridge as it turned two spans 90 degrees to let the ship through. From our angle, it was hard to see the ship because it was hidden by Gloucester Point.
Eventually the came into view and I gave binoculars to Sonya to trace the path. It proceeded from left to right as it turned in the channel to head toward the Coleman. At this point we were headed directly at each other, a position that the Navy frowns on.
I radioed, “Navy warship approaching the Coleman Bridge. This is the sailing vessel Deadline headed south on the York River, two miles directly off your bow.” He acknowledged and I informed him, “I am turning north to get away from the bridge as you transit through. I intend to give you plenty of leeway.” He acknowledged that as well and came barreling through with the two tugs close behind.
It’s a spectacular sight to see a Navy warship, in this case the USS Laboon, which is an Arleigh Burke-class guided missile cruiser. We stood off on the north side of the river as the ship came within 500 yards of us. We saw numerous people standing along the rail on the bow. The Kerr children waved cheerily.
Soon the Laboon got pushed gently into the pier of the Yorktown Naval Weapons Station, and the bridge closed. Traffic resumed and we sailed under the bridge in the same path of the cruiser minutes earlier. We headed southeast along the coast to resume the narrative of the Yorktown Siege of 1781.
Their son Gabriel said, “There certainly are a lot of things colonial around here.” Gabriel is seven. He and his sister Kennedy behaved very well and joined my 2017 Pantheon of Best Kids Ever. She’s nine.
Dad learned the No-Fly Zone, Close Reach, Beam Reach and Broad Reach. He experienced the different pressures each reach puts on the helm. He had the boat heeling to 20 degrees and no one was fazed because they were having such a good time.
Sonya was clearly moved by the Navy ship. She recalled, “My grandfather was a prisoner of the Japanese during the war. They held him for a year and he got down to 88 pounds. My grandmother said he was never the same afterward.
Earlier, Dave spotted a lone dolphin in the waves but it eluded the rest of us. We headed in with Dave and Sonya on the bow for a little privacy. We motored to I Dock to reach a floating dock to ride out the high tide expected as the Irma aftermath arrived the next day. Hurricane Jose was roiling in the Atlantic, going nowhere but you never know. Harvey and Irma taught boaters to be prepared.
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