On a whim, Valencia Noggin took the day off from her home near Petersburg to go sailing toward fall on the York since it’s a fun thing to do near Williamsburg. “I just wanted a Me Day,” she said.
Valencia joined Dave and Judy Shepherd of Elkton MD. “We rode with you once before,” Dave reminded me. “It was 2014, and when you sent us the confirmation you included a photo from then.”
We got to talking about emergencies on the water, and Judy had a new one. “My brother-in-law flew water bombers in California to fight the forest fires. He flew Mastros Marks bombers, swooping down onto lakes and scooping up the water.” That sounded very dangerous. “He used to say that there are bold pilots and there are old pilots, but there are very few old bold pilots.”
On a serene York River that slowly came to life as the wind built, we sailed past the lower range light at Yorktown to show how it has become obliterated. A vacant osprey nest has collapsed over the lens, leaving it nearly obscured to ship traffic. I notified the Coast Guard and sent them a photo as well.
Sailing with Dinosaurs
I get all kinds of people looking for things to do near Williamsburg, but this was a first. Adam and Mary Behlke grew up in rural Kansas. “We had to travel three hours to go anywhere to do anything,” he said, “so driving three hours from Northern Virginia to go sailing seemed quite easy.” They made it with one minute to spare, boarding with three ladies who are frequent fliers. We went out on the York River in light winds and teach the Behlkes how to sail. Mary quickly picked up the concept of a close reach vs. beam reach. Later we used the broad reach to fly the colorful spinnaker.
A routine question about work floored all of us with the answer. Adam said, “I work at the Smithsonian, in the Museum of Natural History. I’m building the new Fossil Hall for the dinosaurs. The hall got torn down all the way to the stone, where we found the original walls and ceiling dating to the museum’s opening in 1910.”
Adam has been at it for two years of the five-year project. “Our biggest new exhibit is a T. Rex discovered in Montana 30 years ago, It’s around 3o or 40 feet, as long as this boat. Much of the skeleton is the tail, of course. We had a cast of him on exhibit, but not the real skeleton.” It dates back 66 million years.
He continued, “You’re used to seeing the skeletons standing there. Now, every animal will be portrayed engaging in some sort of activity. The exhibits are more about the ecology of the scene. The Camarasaurus is a long-neck dinosaur that was depicted in the ground before. Now it’s reaching up to a tree to eat leaves. Another long-neck dinosaur is reaching across the hall to people. A wooly mammoth is brushing snow with his trunk. It’s all very life-like. We will traumatize small children, for sure.”
How do you move a dinosaur skeleton? “In very small pieces.” What’s the value of a dino? “Priceless.” He referred us to a recent article in The Washington Post covering the crate-opening ceremonies.
Adam has a two-year contract and then will have to hustle to find a new job. He would very much like to stay on at Natural History in a different role. “People ask where you work and you say the Smithsonian.” Top that. Naturally his degree is in archeology. With his Panama hat, he resembled Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones. I asked if he was always into dinosaurs. “Yes, ever since I was four or five,” he grinned.
Sailing with Sorority
Five sorority sisters from South Carolina, Maryland and Delaware convened in Williamsburg for their annual convention and a birthday sail for Lavinia Lankford. As accomplished wives of sport fishermen, they looked forward to sailing the York as a unique thing to do. They conjured up wonderful memories.
“My brother liked his pontoon boat so much that he sold it to me,” Leeann Wells said. “The only condition was that we take him out on it all the time. Once, we went under the Laurel Bridge near Blaze at low tide. On the way back, the tide rose so much that we had to lie down flat to get the boat under. The bridge tore off the windshield and made a mess of the boat. Never went out on that boat again, and would never go out with him again after that.”
Edna Willman had similar experiences with her husband, Jerry. “We always had boats. He bought a center console that someone suggested we name Wetcha because we were going to get wet running it. Which we did. So we got a Sea Ray next, which I loved. I can’t stand not being on the water. I love it every day.
“One time Jerry said he wanted a sailboat and I said he’s never going to do the work. Look at Capt. Bill here, pulling all these lines and shifting sails. For his birthday, I got Jerry a cake with a sailboat on it and said, ‘There’s your sailboat.’ I just love boats.”
Good thing, because we had to endure two showers and some quirky waves. I pulled out ponchos and at one point four of the five ladies went up on the bow to chat. Hearing laughter in the rain is unique.
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Sailing Toward Fall
Among the fascinating people sailing toward fall was a young man helping rebuild Fossil Hall at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History.
Capt. Bill O'Donovan
Williamsburg Charter Sails
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