John Wilson of Virginia Beach took a break studying for his Virginia bar exam by taking four of his five children sailing on the York River. They arrived at a sunny and very breezy marina, and everyone donned life preservers. During the sail, the kids alternated going up on the bow with their dad, one at time. It was an exciting adventure, bobbing on the high seas. Windy conditions caused the sailboat to heel 20 degrees, the crew adjusting quickly. It brought back memories to John of his Navy days.
“I loved man-overboard because you had to move quickly and decisively. I served on several ships including an LPD, the USS Denver, which has since been decommissioned. As an amphibious transport dock, or simply am-phib, it could take on ballast to lower the stern in the water for am-tracks and everything else to roll off and onto shore.”
The children were well-behaved and attentive as we drove to the south shore into the lee wind where the waves and wind were milder. John’s middle son Gabriel asked how speed and depth are measured. I explained that depth is easy because a device in the hull of the boat bounces sonar waves off the bottom. We measure speed with a device that spins a little wheel as it churns in the water.
“So it’s an underwater anemometer,” Gabe concluded. Exactly.
“Did he just say anemometer?” his dad asked incredulously. “He’s nine.”
John served in several capacities on Navy ships, especially as chief navigator. “There are nine people watching or navigating at all times. There’s a watch on the port and starboard, the aft, and of course the bridge. I once had a captain who was difficult to work for, always second-guessing everyone. We picked up on radar an experimental Navy catamaran doing 70 knots. He didn’t believe us and kept making us do it over and over again. When he finally saw the thing come into view, he became quiet.”
Back to man-overboard. John said the Navy is relentless training crew to save anyone who falls over, even on aircraft carriers.
“The drill on a carrier is unique. Unbeknownst to anyone, the executive officer walks around the ship, picking out three people and sending them to a private room. Then he sounds the man-overboard alarm. First thing, every officer has to perform a head count to determine if any of his crew are missing—and which ones. They have two minutes to account for all 5,000 personnel. Missing that deadline is terrible for any of those officers. Only then do they perform the drill on the water, by turning sharply and looking for a bright orange dummy that’s been tossed over.”
His story resonated as I had been performing my own head count of all four children as they scurried about the boat.
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Sailing the York, Recalling the Navy
Navy veteran John Wilson took four children sailing in high seas of the York River while recalling unique experiences in the US Navy.
Capt. Bill O'Donovan
Williamsburg Charter Sails
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