Sailing with Dolphins

Question: What’s the best thing to see on the water?

Answer: Dolphins!

Nick Haller brought his family to Williamsburg from Frederick, Maryland, where he is the chef of the community hospital. While sailing in light breezes on a sunny morning, the first of 20 or dolphin started frolicking with the boat. They swam near and then dived. They flew up out of the water and disappeared. They ran under the boat. We could hear them puff through their snout. Everyone rushed to see the next wave. And then they simply vanished.

Sailing with DolphinsFrederick Memorial is my third hospital. I recently left Sibley Hospital at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. It’s much better now because the commute has been cut from an hour and a half to ten minutes. I can spend more time with my family.

“The hospital has 230 beds, but there are three food services: cafeteria, patients and catering. I do about $4 million in annual managed volume. That’s easier than Sibley, were I had 900 beds and could serve up to 2,000 meals at a time. In Frederick I have 10 cooks to cover 18 managed diets for patients. The hardest thing is to convince patents that it’s tasty food, since hospital food has been stigmatized. I go around the floors to talk to patients about their diet.

“When I was at Sibley they wanted to carve out a diet plan for the psyche patients. There’s nothing wrong with them physically that restricts their diet, but the meetings got out of hand. I finally told them that I can’t dedicate one cook to their 25 patients for esoteric menus. The budget won’t support that.

Sailing with Dolphins“I used to work in the real world of restaurants, but this is the closest I could find to a 9-to-5 job. You think about that when you have kids.” He and his wife Serena have three beautiful daughters aged 20, 15 and 13. “When I worked in the Inner Harbor of Baltimore, I was at a restaurant with 250 seats that went wild during football and baseball season with the Ravens and the Orioles.

“I appreciate the days working as an institutional chef. I still put in 60 hours sometimes, and it has its problems. Serena jokes to me, ‘Did everyone show up at work today?’ Nooooo. I’ve got 50 people on staff, and some of them simply don’t show up.”

Sailing with DolphinsJust like those dolphins, who no longer showed up as we sailed in wide, lazy circles looking for them.

Sailing the Skies

In the afternoon, Fred and Rhonda Richmond rode their motorcycles into the marina on an extensive trip from Chicago through Virginia and North Carolina to see his family.

The winds built quickly to 15 mph, providing excellent conditions to sail. Only the outgoing tide prevented us from make way over ground, so we tacked back and forth to first one corner and then the other corner of the US Coast Guard Training Center Yorktown.

Sailing on Rising WindsFred is retired from the FAA. “I became an air traffic controller because my cousin was one. He said, ‘You’re not too stupid. You could handle this.’ So I joined in 1981, after the air controllers strike. I worked at various airports and worked my way up to Chicago O’Hare. When I was there it was the busiest airport on the planet, more traffic than all three New York City airports combined. Today Atlanta is busier.”

I showed Rhonda how a collision course works in boating, in order to avoid it. I asked Fred about that in the air. “We watch for that all the time, but there’s a point where the pilots can see it for themselves in the distance. We’ll describe where the other planes are and let them take it from there. I want them to have visual contact because it’s better for everyone. These are good pilots, excellent pilots. I never chewed one out for an error.”

Sailing with DolphinsWe pivoted to motorcycles because as the wind built to 15 mph, we were heeling to 15 and 20 degrees, which left them totally unfazed. “I call the motorcycle my two-wheel convertible,” Fred said. “It’s got Sirius radio and earphones. We can lean over pretty far, but I don’t have ‘chicken treads’ on the side which buzz if you lean too far. We wear helmets, although Illinois doesn’t have a helmet law. The legislator gave them a choice of whether cyclists wanted to be able to drive up the white line in a traffic jam, or avoid having to wear helmets. Imagine that, a trade-off of one safety precaution for another. It makes no sense.” Rhonda added, “You’d think the motorcyclist advocacy groups would push for more safety, not less.”

I was showing both of them how the eastbound current of the York River and the outgoing tide on a full moon played havoc with the set and drift of the boat. We kept crabbing downwind despite building breezes. They were totally fine with the boat heeling 15 degrees. “We can do 45 degrees on the motorcycles,” Fred said, “but we watch for sand, gravel and oil. I don’t like wet roads either. And I had to wonder about that grid on the bridge.” He was referring to the grate atop the nearby Coleman Bridge.

Fred said, “Lake Michigan has current, or so it would seem. My brother-in-law says, ‘You live on a lake. How can you have tide or current?” Rhonda explained that the storms create their own dynamic for the water. “We even have riptide sometimes. Then in winter we get ice balls rolling onto Michigan Avenue. Two winters ago we had cars flooded by the lake and then frozen in place, stuck in the ice.”

That was hard to contemplate on a warm and windy afternoon. It gave me a chill.

“We would have made this family trip a year ago,” Fred said, “but I had a stroke. I fell down in the kitchen and wondered what happened. Luckily my daughter was in the next room and got to me. And Rhonda is a nurse, so I was in good hands. I’m pretty well recovered. My doctor told me not to be an iguana lying in the road; get up and get going.” Words to live by.


The next day, I got this email from the Hallers: “Thank you so much for such a lovely time on the water! You are a great host and you got some wonderful pics. Thanks for the help with Faith’s lotion in the eye problem as well. I really loved you letting me steer and get a feel for something I haven’t done since before I graduated from high school – oh memories!! This has been a great start to a very good family vacation. Good luck in your season of sailing! Thanks, Nick, Melodi. Kaitlyn, Serena, & Faith Haller”

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Sailing with Dolphins

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