Memorial Day Weekend started with light winds on a cool, sunny day. Rachel Shepherd brought her family up from Newport News and Portsmouth for a lively outing they did not expect.
Sailing Under Spinnaker“We should have told you we’re in AA,” Rachel teased. “Accidents Anonymous is who we are. Every time we go on vacation, something happens. When we were checking into a hotel in Mexico, Mom was lying in a hammock and Dad decided to jump in with her. Wham! The whole thing collapsed. Mom had a bolt sticking in her head. I couldn’t get out of my hammock because I was laughing so hard while holding my drink.”
Her mother, Sally Swanson, said, “Tell him about Gatlinburg.” Rachel said, “We were caught up in the big forest fire surrounding Gatlinburg in 2016. Had to evacuate 11 people from our timeshare on short notice. The place turned out fine.”
Sailing Under SpinnakerThe wind died down to around 6 mph, so I took their son Caleb up to the bow to raise the spinnaker chute and sail downwind. That worked, and we sailed for several miles before the wind picked up so briskly that it required dousing the spinnaker. For some reason, the chute jammed and I had to move around the boat to find the problem. The spin sheet shackle for the clew had inexplicably pinned itself to a shroud. I muscled it off, but by now the chute was wound around a spreader 20 feet up. Eventually I got it all down and stowed below. I came back to the cockpit and said two words: “Accidents Anonymous.” Everyone laughed.
Rachel’s husband Shawn is a Navy senior noncom at the Navy Consolidate Brig at Chesapeake. I was fascinated and asked numerous questions.
Sailing Under SpinnakerHe replied, “It has 400 beds, of which 58 are currently occupied. The inmates are mostly young and are in there for typical offenses involving drugs, larceny. We have one attempted murder suspect. Some of them are there for pretrial, and their time served will count if they are sentenced. They get five days off their sentence for every month of good behavior. So, if you’re in for a year you can get out in ten months if you behave.”
Shawn added, “Remember the Fat Leonard spy case a few years ago, when a ring of spies was broken up in the Far East? We had one of the Navy officers charged. He got only 30 days because he was peripheral to the case.
“The inmates have their own internal code of communication, and we can’t crack it. They aren’t allowed to pass written messages or tap out Morse Code, yet somehow they communicate quietly. We separate the new intakes for just that reason, but they figure out even though we can’t. And there are security cameras everywhere.”
Sailing Under SpinnakerRachel’s dad Tom Swanson is recently retired from Goodwill Industries in Hickory NC. “We’re proud that 90 cents of every dollar goes toward job training and job placement. We get unemployed people trained in everything from welding to nursery, and even truck driving. As for donations, my store in Hickory last year did $1.5 million revenue. Bigger markets do $3 million or more.”
His wife Sally said, “Tell him about the round-up.” Tom replied, “When you make a purchase we ask you to round up the price to a dollar point. Some stores take in half a million dollars that way.”

Those Pesky Gusts

Next day, George Sparrow took his wife Daiva sailing on steady southwest winds that occasionally gusted. He had taken sailing lessons four years ago at the Navy’s Great Lake Training Base near Chicago, and the lessons stuck. George quickly adapted to the gusts of 12-15 mph by pinching the main slightly into the wind but not enough to lose power in the both sails. 
Sailing Under SpinnakerThey have traveled extensively in Daiva’s native Italy. Given that we were heeling 10-15 degrees, I asked them how much the Leaning Tower of Pisa is tilting. They weren’t sure, but judging by their current experience on the sailboat they estimated 5 degrees. (I looked it up later: 3.99 degrees.) “We walked up the tower,” Daiva said. “The steps are very narrow and you have to rub shoulders with people as you go past them. You also have to leave everything behind. No wallet, no purse or bag.” Because the extra weight could tilt the tower? I asked. “No. Security.”
Later, Spencer McKenzie of Tennessee took his family out to show them the ropes. Again, the southwest wind was blowing up to 10 mph and gusting to 15. His daughter Lily was game for the wheel and did an excellent job pinching. As with George Sparrow, she occasionally reacted to a gust by turning out of the wind to let the beam reach calm the boat. 
Sailing Under SpinnakerSpencer is an executive with an asphalt company in Kingsport, and he was very gracious about his No. 1 product competitor, concrete. “Asphalt is less expensive, but certain uses compel the use of concrete instead. The restaurant chain McDonald’s has found that their asphalt drive-thru sections require concrete because the constant left-hand turning by cars bunches up the asphalt into a rolling ridge that almost becomes a curb. Now you’re seeing more and more drive-thrus using asphalt. They learned that the hard way.”

The Big Ship

A Russian couple now living in Kentucky enjoyed another day of southwest winds on the York. Vladimir Brikken was surprised that he and his wife Irina could walk the docks of American marinas. “While in Puerto Rico on excursion, we went to San Juan and saw a big yacht that seemed familiar. It was named Attessa IV. It had a helicopter pad on top and was 355 feet long. The back of the boat opened up for speed boats to come out, as if it was a garage. We realized where we saw the boat before. Attessa II was used in the movie ‘Overboard’ with Goldie Hawn.
Sailing Under SpinnakerIrina conveyed that Russian children probably learn more about America and American history than we do about Russia. “I grew up reading O. Henry, Mark Twain and other writers. “I love American humor,” she said. “That story by O. Henry about the little boy who was kidnapped is wonderful. They wouldn’t pay the ransom and take him back, so the kidnappers had to pay them to take him back.” She was referring to “The Ransom of Red Chief,” which has been modernized several times.
On the way back into Sarah Creek, a 52-foot sloop ran aground near Green 9. I passed by and the skipper waved his arms at me, either in frustration or anger. As if I had anything to do with it. Irina asked what happened, and I joked that maybe beer was involved. Irina laughed, “Beer in America, and vodka in Russia!”

Sea-Mester Sailing

More international visitors arrived. Robin and Pierre-Yves Dubois of Switzerland and Chapel Hill NC brought their grown children to sail the York in the continuous southwest winds. Their son Josh seemed especially adroit with the gusts, requiring no instruction or the slightest guidance. His mother explained, “Josh got to take his ‘sea-mester’ break on a big sailboat in the Caribbean while at UNC-Wilmington. The program is based at the University of South Florida.”
Sailing Under SpinnakerJosh picked up the story. “It gave us first-hand experience with marine biology, and of course sailing. We were home-ported in the BVI and sailed there, all the way down to the Grenadines. I got to work the helm.” He liked my helm better, and his mother compared the difference of the two-masted schooner to my sloop  as a car vs. a sports car.
I asked about storms. “We did a 40-40 having caught the tail end of Hurricane Matthew.” What’s a 40-40, I asked. “That was heeling 40 degrees in 40 miles an hour wind. The storm lasted three days. Everyone was seasick.”
Sailing Under SpinnakerHis dad used to own a 30-foot steel sailboat. “A Swiss pharmacist built it to cruise the Mediterranean and took it all the way to Norway and Sweden. When I bought it, the boat was a wreck. I rebuilt it and had to take the steel all the way down to its base. One time I moved it from a small harbor to a big harbor to ride out a storm. The winds and water partially sunk the boat and motor. A diver had to go down and get the motor. We got it fixed but it took four months to get the boat back in the water because all the docks had to be repaired and people were waiting in line for that. The irony was that my little harbor suffered no Sailing Under Spinnakerdamage.”
On board with the Dubois family was a couple who also live and work in Chapel Hill. We marveled at the coincidence and went out to sail. Jessica and Jeremy Reed were taking a little vacation over the Memorial Day weekend.
“I work in a research department at UNC Medical,” Jessica explained. “We’re studying the brains of children from birth to age 5 to learn early discoveries about behavior and anger management. It’s great to work in a field that you love and where you can make a difference. Sometimes I come home to find my little boy frustrated, so we sit down and hold our hands up with fingers outstretched. We pretend that we’re blowing the dried feathers off the tips of dandelines, which gets him taking deep breaths while changing the subject. He’s four.”

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