The York River is pretty big and the Chesapeake Bay is large, but there is nothing like sailing the Great Lakes. They are veritable oceans. 

Mary and Mike Wlodarski were vacationing in Williamsburg from Naperville, Illinois, so they went sailing on the York with another couple to celebrate Mary’s birthday. Naturally he recalled harrowing sailing stories.

Sailing the Great Lakes“I was a Boy Scout leader on a three-masted schooner in Chicago. We took 30 boys out for a week and ran into big waves. One day the captain was simply delighted to report that today we would be sailing in nine-meter seas. I thought, Gee that’s nine feet. The ship handled it well, to my surprise. Running into the waves was exciting because the bow would rise up and plow down into the water. To my surprise, the captain directed the boys up to the bow to experience the thrill up close. There they were, bobbing and bouncing on the bow. It was a miracle none of them fell off. I doubled as the medical officer on board and got to repair their cuts and bruises.”

By contrast, on this day the York rose from icy flat in zero mph winds to two-foot swells in 10-12 mph breezes. It was safe, warm and delightful. 

‘Never use the head again’

At one point Mary went below to use the head. I advised Mike to hold course and not upset the rhythm of the boat. “I’ll never use the head again,” Mike said. “I was on a fishing charter on Lake Huron when I went below to take a leak. Just as I was starting to pee, a huge alarm in the bulkhead next door went off and nearly scared the shit out of me. I thought, What have I done!? On deck the crew was handing out life jackets. The captain turned the boat sharply and powered forward in a huge burst. He was trying to lessen the effect of a rogue seiche wave that bounced off the seawall and was coming right at us. I’ve never used the head since then.”

Sailing the Great LakesMary and Mike and the others were surprised not to see more sailboats on such a beautiful Indian summer afternoon. “We vacation at the Lake of the Ozarks,” Mary said, “where the boating is ferocious. People drive at high speeds and drink. They have waterfront restaurants along the inlets where you can drive your boat right up to the bar. There’s even a winery that offers free samples.

“We had a friend who was sitting on the sea wall minding his own business while fishing. A big cigarette raced by and kicked up a wake that washed him off the wall and killed him. That was in the Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri.”

Georgia O’Keeffe

Sailing the Great LakesWith us on the cruise was Frances Starnes and her friend Jenny Wong. Frances is at the University of New Mexico. She already knew that Georgia O’Keeffe grew up in Williamsburg, so I elaborated on the story. Eventually we got to talking about Jamestown, and I mentioned how dramatic they make it at the Settlement to see the three ships. You come down the hill from the museum, round the corner and boom! There they are. A famous line comes from a New Jersey couple who conflated their history with a railroad. “Look, Harry! It’s the Nina, the Pinto and the Santa Fe.” Frances found that hilarious.

Late in the cruise, Mike Wlodarski stepped below to get something in the cabin. “Watch out for the head,” I advised. “Don’t worry,” he replied.

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Sailing the Great Lakes

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