Sailing the Gamut


You could say we went Sailing the Gamut, with every conceivable experience on the York River except one.

Sailing the GamutIn light but steady winds, the entire Shields family of Bucks County, Pennsylvania, chipped in to help fly the spinnaker. I don’t normally do that on a hot day because the going downwind on the spin feels like the air is standing still. But all four strapping children were game, and we needed the directional push to head to a swimming hole.

The swim spot is near the entrance to Sara Creek on the north side of the river. It’s deep enough to avoid jellyfish but shallow enough to mitigate the tidal and river current. Everyone was surprised that the water was 88 degrees. They were tethered to dock lines so as not to drift away.

Sailing the GamutMadison Shields is studying political science in college and took a course on Cuba that led to a trip there for two weeks. “We toured Havana and the revolution museum there. We drove by bus for three hours to see the Bay of Pigs. Not the invasion sight but the nature. The military presence is felt, but it’s not threatening. People still escape. The United States has a wet-foot-dry-foot policy that you can be taken in as a refugee if you actually touch your foot on American soil. Otherwise you’re deported back to Cuba.”

Her mother, Rebecca, recounted a Supreme Court case in which two dozen escaping Cubans were stranded on a remote island off the Keys. “They lost because the little island was ruled not to be contiguous with the American coast.” I reported that sailors who get stranded off Cuba are assisted to return rather than be held captive. The sailing community thrives on helping people out.

More Bad Stories

Sailing the GamutIn the afternoon the wind picked up and with it more bad stories. Glenn Viands showed up as a grizzled Navy vet with his arms totally tattooed in elegant colors. Turns out he was in the Army instead and the tattoos were sleeves.

“My skin is very sensitive so I wear these on my arms to avoid sunburn. I got them on” His wife Debbie added, “Six for $7.99.”

Sailing the GamutI asked Glenn about his boating experience, which I imagined was limited since they’re from West Virginia. “The Potomac and the Shenandoah rivers have their headwaters in West Virginia. I was a tugboat operator for the Army in South Vietnam during 1966-67. We were on the Mekong River and the Saigon River, running barges out to Bien Hoa and Long Binh. We ran aground once while trying to avoid a barge, and got stuck right on a sandbar.” He said it like it was yesterday. “That was 50 years ago.”

Tales of Sailfish

With us were Seth and Marijean Oldham of Charlottesville. They were celebrating their honeymoon while staying at nearby Warner Hall.

Sailing the Gamut“I was sailing a 12-foot Sailfish off Shelter Island, Long Island,” Seth recalled. “This is way out near Montauk. I sailed out too far and the wind died. I could feel the tidal current pulling me, so I tried to swim the boat back while holding the bowline in my teeth. It felt heroic, but I was pretty anxious. Then I got it under control and kept moving. Passing boats offered to help, but I was okay. I was determined to make it work to teach myself a lesson never to get into this much trouble again on the water. I made it. It wasn’t that hard.”

Seth saw a fleeting set of dolphins. Two of them were coasting along, and then they vanished.

He recalled another sailing experience elsewhere. “I was trying to rig the Sailfish and got it upside down. The wind picked up and I was getting anxiety again. I decided to get off the boat and figure it out. I could stand up since there was only two feet of water.” Everyone laughed.

It was quite a day, with light winds and a fresh breeze. We sailed under spinnaker, past dolphins, went swimming, and saw a giant crane on a barge getting hauled by a tugboat. The only thing we didn’t see is a Navy ship pass by.

Let’s Go Sail

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