Sailing to a Reunion
Members of the Class of 1965 at a public high school in Hershey, Pennsylvania had such a good time at their 50th reunion that they extended it to Williamsburg the following year. Among them was my former colleague Ed Offley. We started out together at The Virginia Gazette, and he went on to a distinguished career as a military journalist with two major newspapers. So far he’s published four books, three of them bestsellers.
Three couples continued their reunion weekend by sailing the York River. Foggy, flat seas gave way to building winds from the east. The first to take the wheel was Joyce Wroble, who used to sail Lake Superior on big boats. Her husband Noel had her tell a cute story.
“I was teaching sailing at a girls’ camp in Minnesota, and every day our 7-year-old son Brian would tag after me. Eventually he went off to a boys’ summer camp where they also had sailing. Back then, you could take a boat out for a spin after dinner. He announced to the staff that he wanted to do that. He went down and set up an X class dinghy and took it out by himself. He sailed around and brought it back into the little cove, where he promptly turned upwind to set the mooring. Brian was just 7. The staff was amazed.”
To put that in laymen terms, he powered a 16-foot dinghy by sail (no engine) and figured out how to use the wind to sail in a perfect direction home and then turn nearly 180 degrees to reach a spot the size of a basketball without crashing. Then he tied the boat to the mooring. Brian learned from watching his mom teach girls how to sail a boat to the dock.
I’ve had all manners of “event” cruises in the form of anniversaries, birthdays, marriage proposals, burials at sea, and two marriages. But this was my first high school reunion, and it was endearing.
Ed’s wife Karen T. Conrad said, “Fifty years sounds like a lot, but many of us grew up together and were in school with each other since first grade.” They talked about other classmates and their favorite teachers and the eccentric ones like it was yesterday. Noel recalled how the sports coaching staff would meet every morning and break up at a certain time to go observe a blonde cheerleader walk by their office. “That’s it?” Joyce asked, “Just see her walk by?”
Tom Stover recalled growing up. “I used to deliver a free paper, and I was loaded down on my bike with two huge canvas bags on my shoulders. I would toss the papers on lawns as I rode along. Some woman would stop me and demand that I put the paper on her porch. ‘Lady, this is a free paper!’” His wife Deborah kidded him, “Poor baby,” but he responded, “Hey, I was doing this after sports and sometimes it was pitch dark.” He later delivered Hershey’s Sunday paper. The days of boys delivering papers ended around 1970.
Noel was a baseball trainer for decades, and he recalled a childhood memory. “A bunch of us kids went on a bus to New York City to see the Yankees play. This was in 1961 when Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris were chasing the home run record. I saw Mantle and Maris hit back-to-back homers. I’ll never forget it.”
We covered the events of the American Revolution at Yorktown when Joyce told me, “I was doing the family genealogy search and I found a great-great grandfather who was a drummer boy in the war. Can you imagine?”
Ed recalled while working at the Gazette during the 1970s when he set out to cover a tall ship coming to Yorktown to commemorate the two battles of 1781. “I went out in Lou Catron’s sailboat to get the best pictures close up. We were out there all day in the broiling sun, and no wind, but the ship never showed up. I came back to the office badly sunburned. As I came through the door, on deadline, Bill said excitedly, ‘We saved half the front page for you.’ I had nothing but an empty notebook.” He grinned.
After tacking downriver, we turned around and flew the giant spinnaker back with Ed on the helm. A Navy veteran, I assumed he was experienced. “The only experience I got was as a reporter on a submarine when they put me on the wheel. I thrust the wheel forward to descend and nothing happened. I thought they were playing a joke on me. Then all of a sudden, whoosh! We went down.”
As we approach a tug pushing a barge, I made radio contact for directions to proceed. Ed was very smooth on the wheel despite the proximity.
Deborah proved the most adroit on the wheel, having taken sailing instruction in Annapolis. After running on the spinnaker for five miles, she took over and tacked several miles along the York.
Let’s Go Sail
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