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October 2, 2016 Charter sail, Fishing, Law Enforcement, Pennsylvania, Sailing, St. John, Vacation, York River

Sailing with the sheriff

After five days of rain and otherwise bleak weather, we wound up sailing with the sheriff and his wife, with a delightful conversation. The skies finally cleared and the winds rose to near whitecaps on a beautiful late summer day

Sailing with the sheriffMary and Duke Donnelly came to Williamsburg on vacation from Bucks County PA, one of the most affluent communities in America. Mary runs a fulfillment center for a line of products. I wondered if it was like Amazon. “Smaller, of course, but in fact our warehouse is next to Amazon’s. We work with home products from different companies.” Mary took the wheel and within minutes mastered the fine art of finding the wind and making its power pull the boat on a close reach. She tacked like a pro as we headed downriver.

Sailing with the sheriffWe saw cormorants and pelicans. They aren’t around in the summer time because the ospreys dominate the waters surrounding the York River. Seagulls come back this time of year as well.

Crime in Bucks County

Duke used to be a detective with the Philadelphia Police Department. How he’s the elected the sheriff of Bucks County. I asked about the crime. “It’s drugs mostly. In the old days, kids and adults would drive into Philadelphia to find illegal drugs. Today the dealers come to you.” Welcome to America.

“If I could, I would tell the dealers that they could do better running an illegal betting operation. It’s all cash, no taxes, and nobody gets shot or killed. If you’re a bookie and you get stiffed,  you would still have recourse. People understand that about bookies.”

We talked about police shootings and mistrust. “People need to know their police. They should feel comfortable telling us if they’ve seen something suspicious. We’re here to help.”


He handled the helm with aplomb. “We sailed on a 50-foot sailboat once in St. John’s. Three couples rented a house. It was very peaceful. I got up in the morning and sat on the porch reading. It was a great way to relax. So is this.”

Sailing with the sheriffSince it was the first sunny day of the week, a few more sailboats were out. Several came at an angle to suggest a collision course, which I used to explain the vanguard formation of the Battle of the Capes. Mary and Duke got pretty good at setting up the collision course, without hitting anyone of course.

Hurricane approaching

We talked about the approaching Hurricane Matthew. Mary said, “We have a beach house in Barnegat Bay, New Jersey. Hurricane Sandy did a lot of damage, but not to our place. Houses down the street were completely blown away, but we were fine. The high water ruined the air conditioning units, but that’s about it.”

Sailing with the sheriffIronically, “Our damage came last winter when a pipe froze and flooded the house. A neighbor called to say we had water coming out of the garage. I gave her the security code to get in and she reported back that it was the hot water heater. Okay, fine. Then I gave her the house code to go inside. She called back: ‘Oh my God! The first floor is flooded.’”

They hadn’t winterized because they were anticipating going down once a month in the off season, but that didn’t work out. Duke said, “We didn’t go there all summer because of a dispute with the insurance company over the repairs. This is the first time we’ve been out on the water. We’re thinking of selling the place and getting a condo. We still want to be on the water.”

Offshore fishing

They enjoy offshore fishing off New Jersey. Mary said, “My father had a 42-foot boat and would go 300 miles off the coast, fishing for tuna and swordfish. Duke caught a 500-pound shark once.” He beamed, “I have the teeth mounted in my office.”

Sailing with the sheriffMary recalled, “The only time I ever got sick was when we got all the way out there, and my dad had to reload the fuel tanks with portable tanks of gas. The fumes really got to me. He said, ‘No puking allowed!’ but I thought I was going to die.”

There was no puking on this day as the boat cut through the waves at a steady 10 mph. Mary and Duke became so adroit on the wheel that they began to relish heeling to 15 degrees. “That was wonderful,” Duke said afterward.

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