Sailing Summer’s End
People ask, “Is Labor Day Weekend busy on the river?” Too busy for me, as a professional mariner. Labor Day weekend brought us to sailing summer’s end. It came complete with all kinds of amateur motorboaters who consistently drove across my bow, sometimes too close. While I lament that so few boats are on the York River, I can live without the wannabes. Labor Day is one of the Big 3 weekends when the wannabes go out. The rest of the time the river is pretty quiet.
Cristina Juarbe Santaliz brought her beau Francisco Ortega to sail from Philadelphia, where they work in separate firms as immigration lawyers. He rides defense and she rides offense, the distinction being one of money largely. Francisco said, “Defense is working to prevent someone’s deportation, while offense is working to gain someone a visa or a green card.”
As if there isn’t enough complexity to immigration, Cristina talked about the disparity of federal immigration courts. “Georgia is the worst, with a 98% record of deportation from the country. San Francisco is the most liberal, and Philly is fair, at 50-50. It costs around $1,500 for a standard marriage between an immigrant and U.S. citizen. All of that is just paperwork. But to defend someone from becoming deported can cost $10,000. It makes matters worse that many people can’t even speak Spanish, much less English. They have a sort of Mayan dialect that is very hard to understand.” (Sailing Summer’s End)
Francisco was so enamored with the heeling to 10 degrees and stiff feel of the wheel that he talked about buying a boat. I talked him out of it and promised to send a list of online sailboats he can rent in nearby Delaware. “I dream of taking those ten-day cruises you talked about. It’s all so relaxing.” They were dazzled when we turned downriver and threw up the spinnaker for a five-mile run downwind.
In the afternoon, four college chums from Christopher Newport College took a last-of-summer sail in rising easterly winds. Rachael Peterson led by taking the helm and doing a masterful job on her first time out. “O Captain, my captain! We are all captains,” she hailed. Captains is the nickname of CNU sports, named for the sailing privateer and contemporary of explorer John Smith. (Sailing Summer’s End)
Rachael is majoring in sports health and hopes to land on a professional team someday. It’s a rigorous program that includes two chemistry classes and two physics classes. I asked what the big deal was about mixing bleach and ammonia, which to me would seem a more potent cleaner. “Because it makes mustard gas!” she cautioned.
Her pal Mason Jones majored in cyber-security, so I asked him his job plans. “I’m working in cyber-security for the Federal Reserve in Richmond.” My jaw dropped at that, and I suggested he’s set for life. He agreed. “I worked there as an intern last summer, so I’m very fortunate.” (Sailing Summer’s End)
We flew the spinnaker once more, but it was so twisted at the top from near-daily runs that I had to bag it and take it home to unwind. Relax, spinnaker.
Sailing from Charlottesville at Summer’s End
Chas and Nathan Biediger brought their children from Charlottesville to spend the day sailing on the York River. “This is our anniversary present to ourselves,” Chas said, “our 19th.” As was the case for several days, light winds began to build slowly until we began to see whitecaps.
“Last summer the three older children sailed with us in San Francisco Bay,” Nathan said. “It wasn’t too cold, but it was cold to me. We were on a larger boat with other couples. They wouldn’t let us get near Alcatraz, a policy over the years when it was a prison. Now they don’t want us to get near because so many tourists are coming and going. Later we went surfing in Santa Cruz. Now that was cold.”
The couple sought to take another sailboat out for longer, perhaps overnight. So I put them in touch with ASA SailTime in Norfolk, which offers trips to Cape Charles and Salt Ponds in the 103 program.
Sailing Past a Destroyer
Tuesday after Labor Day brought a delayed tour of the USS Mahan, a Navy destroyer coming up from Norfolk Navy Base to load or unload weapons of war. As it happened, I was delivering the 1781 Battle of the Capes narrative to two couple when two Moran tugs preceded the ship into Yorktown. I could see the Mahan off in the distance and used it to show how three French ships and one British prize maneuvered into the opening of the York River to blockade Lord Earl Cornwallis. “He could see the ships out here, and they looked like that on the horizon,” I said while pointing.
I radioed the ship to say we were proceeding to the south side of the river to get out of the way. Almost instantly the Mahan turned slightly to starboard to head up the middle of the river instead of the channel. From there, we observed the Coleman Bridge opening for transit.
Iris and Ivan Ayala drove from nearby Newport News to sail the York River for the first time as they celebrated their 42nd anniversary. They are from Puerto Rico, and he served 20 years all over the world in the US Army. She remembered me from newspaper days and asked about a pet project. “My beef is with the American Flag,” Iris began. “We see it tattered and torn and sometimes blackened with mold. We buy new flags and replace the old ones, and then take them to the DAV for proper disposal.”
Louis Lingbach and his wife Michelle Sahai were on vacation from Pittsfield MA. He asked the Ayalas about Hurricane Maria’s lasting impact on Puerto Rico. Iris said, “Two members of my family lost everything. It was very bad. Now they have recovered and they have electricity.” Ivan said, “We helped out people and took them into our home. Now we don’t see them anymore. We help them out and help them find a job, and then they disappear.”
Michelle and Louis are moving from western Massachusetts to upstate New York for her job in a train/bus factory. “I make the seats,” she said proudly, “made in America.” She summed up the trade issue succinctly. “From 30,000 feet it looks easy, but when you look closer at the details, it’s more complicated. Cummins will simply leave the market for trains and buses since it’s a small part of their business and they can’t achieve 70 percent.” That’s the percentage of US-made materials that have to comprise an assembled vehicle to qualify as made in America.
Louis has worked as a bookie assistant, Air Force soldier and lately driver’s ed instructor. “I’ve been doing that for four years. I like my job. Students are required to drive 12 hours on the road to qualify, but the actual road test only take 8 to 10 minutes. So we talk in the car about philosophy and life in general. I tell my students that 95 percent of them won’t spend this much time talking with their parents at this age. Afterward they’ll say, ‘Oh, I’m so glad we talked. You made me feel much more at ease about driving.”
Ivan and Louis reminisced about their days in the service, and both of them served at Camp Humphreys in South Korea. Ivan said, “I bumped into a fellow once who remembered me from Fort Dix. We did Basic Training there. I was in the first squad and he was in the third squad. ‘I remember you because I had to stand behind you every day and memorized your neck!'”
Louis said, “My father was in the Army, at Fort Eustis. He bumped into someone who knew someone from Fort Eustis and wondered if they had met–back in 1952! I went into the Air Force because my father said everything they have is new, unlike the Army.”
Later that day when the Navy ship was neatly tied to port at NWS, I took out a young couple celebrating her mother’s birthday. Mom was Genevieve Adams of Charlottesville. “I grew up on the Chesapeake Bay and always wanted to sail but never did. I think this is the coolest thing ever.” She was apprehensive about going up to the bow but adjusted quickly. “It was scary but I love it now. Bucket list!” She strained to hear the conversation in the cockpit about her salesman son-in-law and RN daughter. She turned and shouted, “I’m a front-bow driver,” as opposed to a back-seat driver. Along the way, I dazzled them by flying the spinnaker downwind for 40 minutes.
Sailing from New Jersey
James and Elizabeth McLaughlin were vacationing at a timeshare from Point Pleasant NJ and decided a sail was proper entertainment. Jimmy said he went to Iona Prep in New Rochelle, and so did I. We were two years apart.
He was modest about his sailing skills. “I worked on Wall Street with Oppenheimer, and every week during the summer we’d get out of our suits and go racing on the Hudson, down near the Battery. I was ballast. One time I let the sail drop from the mast, and another time on the helm I ran into a buoy. Two DQ’s, just like that. From then on, they said, ‘Jimmy, don’t touch anything.'”
We motored out to the opening of the York River, where I began the narration of the Battle of the Capes. Back at Yorktown along the battlefield line, the wind picked up and Jimmy performed admirably. Inevitably the conversation turned to accidents.
“We were in Annapolis for a daughter’s wedding and went out of a charter boat owned by two musicians. It was called Windward and was used in the movie ‘Wedding Crashers.’ The off-duty crew of four boarded the boat for a free ride. They were already drunk and proceeded to get more loaded. One of them was hitting on Betsy, and he was around 20. Suddenly the guy wasn’t next to her. He fell overboard. So I yelled ‘Man Overboard!’ The sailboat captain said, ‘What?’ and I yelled, ‘Man overboard!’ He yelled, ‘Shit!’ and by now five other boats heard me and were coming to get him. They picked him up and we never saw him again.”
Betsy talked about their work with CASA, the volunteer agency appointed by local courts to help abused and neglected children. “Last week we got to watch a couple adopt three children and keep them together as siblings. Their case went 740 days from input to adoption. Case workers come and go, but CASA workers stay with the children throughout. We provide them things that the courts cannot, everything from clothes to entertainment. It’s very fulfilling work.”
Back to the water. Jimmy recalled an offshore fishing trip near New Jersey in which his wealthy friend Phil got seasick. “He asked the captain to go back to shore, but he wouldn’t. He begged the captain and moaned, ‘We gotta go in. We gotta go in.’ The captain held fast and Phil said, ‘I’ll pay double to go back.’ Again, the captain was steadfast. Finally Phil said, ‘How much for the boat?’ We use that expression to this day for untenable situations.”
As summer ends, nothing epitomizes that more than a sunset. Check the video below for a series of sunsets on the ocean.
Let’s Go Sailing at Summer’s End
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Sailing Summer's End
Couples from all over the East Coast describe their boating experiences as summer sailing season ends.
Capt. Bill O'Donovan
Williamsburg Charter Sails