Sailing with Family on the York River
Karen Gillingham of Yorktown booked a sailing cruise with family, but she didn’t get to go because the USCG limit on six-pac license is six people. Her husband Ron turned out to be a twin separated at birth to Capt. Alan Allen of York River Charters. I suggested he hit Alan up for a free fishing trip by mentioning my name. All day long and for days afterward, we saw dolphins approaching the boat, but they remained elusive and also impossible to photograph.
Ron’s grown children came in from Hawaii and Chicago for the Fourth of July. Stephen is stationed at Schofield Barracks but had never read or seen “From Here to Eternity.” I recommended it highly.
Ron heads up IT at Warwick High School, where he has around 1,000 laptops and desktops. I asked about the proverbial accident of spilling Coke onto the keyboard. “It’s toast unless you turn it off quickly and take it apart to clean,” he said. What about phishing emails? “Teachers get them all the time. We tell them not to open them, but it happens. You need to look at the URL. If it ends in .ru, then it’s from Russia. Don’t go there.”
Back to boating as we tacked downriver in a wonderful 10 mph breeze. “I once lived next door to a crabber and always wondered what that was like. Finally I went out with him one Sunday. We were up at 4 o’clock and out on the James by 6. We spent four hours pulling pots, harvesting the catch, re-baiting and throwing the pots back. It wore me out. One day of that was plenty for me. And he’d been doing that for 30 years.”
Next day, Jeff Coron and his longtime college buddy William Rice took their wives and son Aiden Rice in an equally magnificent 10-12 mph breeze. The wind and the waves led William to recall his first big cruise.
“It was 20 years ago, with 20 teenagers sailing on a 40- or 45-foot boat to Bermuda. We left early to beat a storm that was going to hit Miami. We sailed at night and all the next day. All of us ran the boat at one point, under strict instructions from the Captain: ‘If you get within a mile of another boat, come get me.’
“It was difficult crossing the Gulf Stream, and the waves grew to eight feet. By morning everyone was throwing up except the captain and me. As it happened, I got to make breakfast. My galley looked out the stern of the boat through a big plexiglass window. Everyone threw up back there, and vomit cascaded down the glass in front of me. All those eggs and bacon went to waste, except for me and the captain.”
More recently, William said, “My best friend from college got into sailing in a strange way. He married a waitress from Florida and took her on a honeymoon to Hawaii. But she drowned. He was just lost over the tragedy, so he bought an old 38-foot boat and put it in his yard in Colonial Beach. Then he worked on that boat and got it watertight and outfitted. He wound up sailing around the world.”
Sailing the USS Emory S. Land
Earlier, Jon and Maureen Montealegre took their young son William sailing on what was shaping up as Day 3 of perfect sailing weather. Jon has 17 years in the US Navy and works in cyber-security. He’s served on some interesting ships, including the USS Emory S. Land, which is billed as a submarine tender.
“The idea was to fix submarines while they’re underway out in the ocean. Especially with nuclear subs, there are few places in the world where they can dock with security assured. We sail around a given ocean and get a call and get to them. We do other ships as well. They love us because when they have something urgent to fix, they realize we can fix anything and work us through their
list. We use giant fenders between the ships.”
Monday is usually arrival day for ships into the Yorktown Naval Weapons Station, but the waters remained silent because of the Fourth of July holiday. Maureen asked the safety distance, which I quoted at 900 feet if a ship is in port. Jon said, “On the open water, we prefer a thousand yards. If a boat closes inside that, we shoot a laser at them using a laser stick. If they get closer, we put out pencil flares. And we try to raise them on radio and by megaphone. We’re authorized to open fire with .60 caliber guns.”
Just before a front swept through, my marketing mentor Debi Schaefer took her husband Bill and his sister Cathy sailing in brisk winds that mitigated the heat nicely. Cathy sails in San Francisco Bay but took a few minutes to get acclimated to the wheel and the York River. Aside from the high winds and cold temperatures, I asked her how she liked the Bay.
“It’s fine if you don’t stay out past 2 because that’s when the winds begin to build. Navy ships and aircraft carriers aren’t the problem. I’ve seen them stop dead in the water because of sailboats and jet skis. Commercial ships are the bigger problem. You just have to stay far away because their wake will suck you in. What’s crazy is the wind surfers who ride right across their bow. If they go down, their lines will get snared by the prop under water.”
I teach for ASA at Willoughby Bay, and Bill had a story about that scene. “For eleven years I commuted to Williamsburg from Norfolk, continuously driving that causeway to the HRPT. One summer day I had to stop just before the tunnel. I rolled down the window to catch a breeze and sat there eating pretzels. I casually threw one to a passing seagull, who caught it. Next thing you know, I’ve got 30 seagulls hovering at my window for pretzels. I rolled up the window but they clawed at it.
“Before long, traffic began to move and then I saw this guy in a yellow vest waving angrily at me to get off onto the shoulder of the road. ‘Do you know what you were doing?’ he shouted at me. Waiting in traffic, I told him. He shouted, ‘You were feeding the seagulls! That slowed down traffic on the other side because they were looking at you. Don’t do that again!'”
Sailing with Friends
Simone Dreher took her husband Harry and two couples sailing to celebrate his birthday. They had a fabulous time eating and drinking and joking, which just goes to prove that with friends like that who needs family — at least socially. The men are former Army and Navy. We got to talking about accidents at sea, and it turned out Harry was on the USS Eisenhower aircraft carrier when the restraining cable broke in March 2016.
“I was there on the flight deck when that happened,” he said soberly after an hour of hilarity fighting gusty winds. “When the cable snagged it hit eight guys on deck. One guy whose name I don’t know we simply called Hollywood. I ran over to him lying down and he had blood coming out his ear. I thought he was gone, but he made it. He was called Hollywood because he was always smiling for the cameras.
“The plane that broke the cable was an AWACS with the big radar dome on the top. It kept on going and went off the front of the ship and looked lost. Suddenly we saw it rise from the water to fly around. Everyone was running around crazy. We found out later that the plane’s wheels touched the water.”
With winds blowing 10-15 mph and gusting to 25, everyone was content to let Harry’s friend Audley Campbell run the helm. He was new to the experience but quite capable. He too was a flight deck sailor, but on the USS George H.W. Bush. “We take the jets up from below, onto the elevators, onto the flight deck, and ready them for takeoff. Another team launches them. Afterward, our team brings them in from the air and onto the deck. It takes five yellow shirts for each shift, so we have 15 on the team.”
Every now and then someone falls off an aircraft carrier, which is 10 stories high. “We have swim call on a calm day where we jump off the elevator level. That’s four stories high and a lot to fall. The commander and XO did it, so why not? On the USS Enterprise five years ago we had a guy fall off the flight deck. He survived, but his arm was paralyzed. We didn’t turn the ship around for man-overboard but instead sent a rescue helicopter. When he got back on deck he looked like had seen a ghost. He was medically discharged.”
Harry added, “I served 28 years in the Navy and retired April 1. I spent 25 years on ships and don’t have any plans for another job. I just want to chill out on land for a minute.”
Wind and Family
For the final sail of the week, a couple from Norfolk joined a family from Pennsylvania on another windy day that was bright from low humidity. The seas built to two feet as we headed downriver on reefed main and reefed Genoa. The route was speedy enough but the chop left us lumpy, so we turned around to sail along the lee shore under the bridge.
Jon Dyson and his girlfriend Zuri Wong almost immediately took to the bow for privacy. But first, he turned out to be a newspaperman. “I’m with The Washington Post as a software developer. I’m working on a new program for circulation.” I allowed as that would be a challenge since anyone can build a delivery program and anyone else can build a billing program. But combining the two has vexed newspapers since Ben Franklin’s time. “Jeff Bezos has been very good for developers, and we hope to come up with a program we can sell to other papers. He visits about twice a month, meeting with us. He sneaks into town to avoid publicity.”
I was curious about the staff reaction to the Amazon founder buying The Post for $250 million. Kyle put the numbers in perspective. “If you or I had his fortune, $250 million would be the equivalent of $70,000. So he can definitely afford it. He’s been good for everyone for the most part, but he demands constant work from everyone. Amazon workers run 24/7 and we’re not built for that. But here I am working from home this summer, so that works.”
Jon hopes Amazon chooses Northern Virginia for its $50 million East Coast HQ, soon to be announced. “I’m buying a house up there, so that would be profitable for me. Bezos bought a house for $35 million and is renovating it.”
Zuri pointed out a unique distinction of Amazon from The Post. “They let you bring your dog to work. They say 25,000 dogs work at Amazon.” Everyone thought that charming and hilarious.
The big event of the day was the sailing skills of Kyle Schaffchick. His wife Caitlyn brought him and their two girls while on vacation in Williamsburg. He’s a truck driver for a moving company and she runs the financials for a big developer near their home in Bucks County. Having never been on a sailboat before, Kyle turned out to be an adroit helmsman. He found the sweet spot of 3 degrees between luffing in a big wind and heeling too far. And he did with aplomb, like a natural sailor. We talked about HGTV, which Caitlyn enjoys because so much of her work involves residential real estate. We took extra time to cruise Sarah Creek so she could observe an eclectic mix from pre-war 1940s to Poole houses and contemporaries. The week ended as it began, with brief sightings of dolphins surfacing in the river.
Let’s Go Sail
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