Brent Russell surprised his girlfriend Andrea Lefont with a sailing cruise on the York River, where he proposed marriage on the bow. She was stunned.
He and I had arranged it so that we would sail downriver in brisk seas and then turn around and sail back with flatter seas on a beam reach. That way they could proceed to the front of the boat with less fear of getting rocked by the waves in what built to 15 mph winds.
Two things happened. First, she was ambivalent about the waves. As a US Navy aviation electronics technician, she has been to sea numerous times. “I’ve been in storms up to 80 mph. I once slept completely through a hurricane.” She works on the flight deck of the latest aircraft carrier, USS Gerald R. Ford. “Every aircraft is chained to the deck at all times. At 60 mph they go out and double chain the helicopters and jets.”
The other thing that happened was that since was unaware her life was about to change dramatically, she phoned her grandmother to wish her a happy Mother’s Day. That delayed the proposal by 30 minutes, so we did more tacking and gybing. At one point they came back from the bow to get warm, and this time Andrea called her mother. Finally, we were heading in to port when I announced that I needed them back on the bow. Brent was so nervous that he forgot that we had hid the prop ring up on the bow. “Oh, right.”
He got down on bended knee and pulled out the ring box with a fake diamond that we hid beforehand in a nook. You could see the look of surprise in her face as she quickly covered her mouth in astonishment. She said yes, and he was relieved. They lingered up there, laughing and enjoying life like never before. Back at the dock Brent exchanged my prop ring for the real thing. He came out of the cabin with a large ring box. As he opened it, Andrea gasped and covered her face. “It’s morganite. I’m a sucker for rose gold.” Off they went to a promising future, but first I cautioned that they may want to name their first baby Capt. Bill. They laughed heartily.
First Dolphins Sighted
Fully a month ahead of schedule in waters already 76 degrees, we sighted our first dolphins in the York River. Heather and Chris Coyne brought their twins and daughter out and enjoyed big winds on a sunny day. Chris was hold one of the kids at the bow when he pointed and shouted, “Look! Dolphins!” Here they came, at 2 o’clock off the bow and swimming rapidly to the boat. Within seconds, they dove underneath and fluttered away. The kids were awestruck.
People can’t resist the idea of comparative sailing. They love to recall their first experience, latest experience, and of course their worse experience. Chris Coyne recalled, “We got engaged on a whale watch off the California coast. We were out there for three hours and everyone else threw up. I had the engagement ring in my backpack.”
“We got on an America’s Cup boat in Bermuda,” Peter Murphy announced. “Our daughter lives there and they have one on display. Amazing that it can get up on hydrofoils to sail 50 mph.
“This is great,” he added. “We’ve sailed the Hudson River, sailed in Chesapeake Bay, and now the York River. Next month we’re in Boston to sail the Charles River. We’ve sailed on a friend’s Island Packet, but this is much more responsive.”
Peter used to run a live theater in New York City and has a prodigious memory for Hollywood history. By coincidence we had a videographer on board who was shooting Let’s Go Sail for promotional purposes. Joey Fontanez is a first lieutenant in the US Army at Ft. Eustis, and his wife Taylor is a Reserve lieutenant.
“The first recorded material was the kinescope,” Peter said. “They shot a scene off the TV monitor with 35 millimeter film and developed it. The Jackie Gleason sitcom ‘The Honeymooners’ is completely preserved as kinescope. Next, a comedienne named Lucille Ball approached CBS with an idea about a zany woman married to a Cuban. CBS wasn’t interested, so she hired her own crew and got a studio and produced a prototype. CBS liked that but said she needed to swap out the husband for an Irish fellow instead. Of course, that didn’t happen. She was the first to shoot the show using three cameras in what has become known as the Three Block. It’s still used today.”
Earlier a couple from Stafford VA went headed out the York River on a beautiful spring morning, Dallas and Vicky Martin of Stafford VA took in the sights while passing a fleet undergoing the annual Blessing of the Fleet. They are retired Postal Service executives who now write software for the service.
“You know that receipt that you get at the counter, the one with the survey website at the end?” Vicky said. “I wrote that software.” Dallas said they’re trying to change the survey. “Make it more instant and put it on the kiosk as you sign through the transaction. Rate our customer service from 1 to 5. That way there’s no time lag and we’re more likely to get greater participation.”
We chatted about postal policy, lobbying and the famous US Postmaster, Jack Potter. Dallas added, “You should try Informed Delivery. That’s a service where we provide you a photograph of every envelope of first class mail you’re getting later that day in the mail.” I had to process that and then looked at him with a WTF expression. Who wants that?
“If you’re anticipating an important letter or document and it’s not in the queue, you can start the process of appealing for it.” Vicky added, “If the image is in color, it’s a flier. Click on the image and it will take you through to the website of the store.” Dallas considered my apathy, “Well, we’re postal, so we like it.”
Back to sailing. “I was on my Hobie catamaran on the Potomac one day in March and somehow it flipped. Two FBI guys came along and rescued me. They even righted the Hobie. Lucky for me, they were out there doing surveillance on a guy engaged in a big drug transaction. They towed my boat back for me, too. The water was so cold.” I’m guessing 40s, which can be fatal.
Sailing Back on a 320
Next day, Frank Young of suburban Richmond brought his stepdaughter Ella to reprise his life on an earlier boat. We sailed in moderate winds under 10 mph that picked up to 15 and died down again. Ella proved quite competent on the helm, as of course did Frank.
“I used to have a Catalina 320, which I kept at Little Creek. I had a sailing buddy who would go out with me in the worst weather so that we could get used to it.” I know the place, dangerously close to the Atlantic Ocean. “He moved to North Carolina, and I sold the boat. I sure miss it. I sure like this one, though. “We sailed in all kinds of weather, and it really tests you. But I could never master docking.” He considered the boat faster than his because it’s narrower. He particularly liked the in-mast furling.
Out on the horizon as a rare morning fog lifted we could see two big Moran tugs approaching, which meant only one thing. A half hour later, the USS Nitze aka Warship 94 came around the top of the river and headed in on the south side channel. The ship tried to raise the tender on the Coleman Bridge, to no avail twice. I stepped up. “US Navy warship 94, this is the sailing vessel Deadline several miles off your bow. I don’t know why the bridge isn’t responding, but you’re loud and clear.”
One of the tugs piped up, “Coleman Bridge, this is the Marcy Moran on Channel 13.”
The bridge tender woke up. “Yes, Coleman Bridge here. I guess my radio was a little low.” Guy has one job, right?
To my surprise, the tug called the ship to arrange for a pilot to board to take the Nitze into the pier of Yorktown Naval Weapons Station. Usually these versatile destroyers do it themselves. As the ship transited in the haze, we got distracted when Ella lost her hat in the wind. Three tries to rescue it failed, and we saw the hat sink slowly in the water. Other than that, it was a brilliant day.
“I’ll be back,” Frank said, obviously pleased with the sail.
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She Said Yes While Sailing
He took her up on the bow of Let's Go Sail to propose marriage. She said yes.
Capt. Bill O'Donovan
Williamsburg Charters Sails T/A Let's Go Sail
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