For the second day, the NOAA research vessel Thomas Jefferson was stationed in the middle of the York River. At one point a tiny red submersible steamed around the big white ship. I radioed the bridge for details, but they would only say it was a surface ship instead of submersible. I asked for why they were hanging out in the York, and they were cryptic. “We’re conducting hydro-graphic testing of the river bottom.”
Later I looked up a better explanation, from their website: “Home-ported in Norfolk, Virginia, NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson is a hydro-graphic survey vessel that maps the ocean to aid maritime commerce, improve coastal resilience, and understand the marine environment. Officers, crews, and scientists aboad the ship log the data that NOAA cartographers use to create and update the nation’s nautical charts with ever-increasing data richness and precision.”
Two newlyweds and her mom accompanied us with a Chicago couple visiting the area. Huge winds from the passing front calmed down to around 13 mph, which we negotiated with a reefed main and later a reefed Genoa. Everyone had a great time, especially Regina Leigh.
“Tom and I are planning to buy a big sailboat and cruise the Caribbean as live-aboards. First, we want to spend two years cruising the Chesapeake Bay to learn about the boat and improve our sailing skills. We’re looking at a 52 Irwin, very much like that one right there,” she pointed to a boat docked as we passed by. “Haven is owned by friends of ours. We got spoiled once on a 52 Oyster, which is like sailing a hotel room.” Regina did fabulously on the wheel in steady winds of 12-13 that occasionally gusted.
Before long, the Coleman Bridge opened and Navy warship 109 came barreling down the river. I reported to the ship that I would sail to the north side of the York River closer to Thom Jeff, which was fine with the Navy. No. 109 is the USS Jason Dunham, a 510-foot destroyer. I managed to capture both big ships together in a silhouette. Shortly after we returned to port, a Navy submarine came into the York River to the Naval Weapons Station. That’s the second sub in two weeks, unless it was the first one returning for more repairs.
With Regina were her daughter Emily and husband Patrick Buchholz. “We got married yesterday,” Emily said. Patrick added, “Everywhere we go we’re the youngest couple.” He got his ASA 101 rating and is looking to ASA 114 to qualify for offshore catamarans. As the Navy destroyer came by, he said, “They make a laser weapon now that can destroy ships with one zap.” Let’s hope this ship isn’t retrofitted.
Regina and Tom got their certs from USA Sailing. “We were on a 17 Colgate in Hampton harbor when it flipped. As we landed in the water I laughed as I watched my sneakers float away. The instructors asked if we really wanted to do this and we said. Yes. Tom righted the boat and executed the proper MOB drill to pick me up. When we get our 52 Irwin it will be in Connecticut. We’re not naive enough to think we can sail it ourselves from there. We’ll have someone help us.”
Next day, the NOAA ship was gone and the Navy destroyer was replaced at NWS by a Navy sub. The middle of the river was occupied by giant barge and matching tug from San Francisco named Innovation. I radioed the tug with an estimate of the cargo and he confirmed it as 35,700 barrels of oil, which translates to 1.5 million gallons. The tug is unusual in that it is “married” to a matching oil barge that’s 560 feet long.
Teresa and Theo Crowe brought their daughter Diane sailing, and they were quite comfortable in 10-12 mph winds. Teresa said, “We live on the Chesapeake near Annapolis. Edgewater is on the South River.” Theo added, “It gets pretty windy, but we’re buffeted by trees and other houses since we’re inland. We see some big ships come into Baltimore,” he added with a nod to the barge. “The clipper winds of winter tear right through you there.”
Diane tooled along with all the aplomb of a world-class skipper despite having only sailed a Hobie 16. She tacked and gybed smoothly, leading me to ask if she was a musician. “Piano, as a kid.” She handled the wheel adroitly when Theo and I went up to the bow and raised the spinnaker.
“We’ve seen some horrible accidents,” Teresea said. “Last summer a guy jumped off his motorboat at night and went down feet first and got stuck in the mud. It was awful watching the helicopter hovering over the river looking for him. They found him standing straight up.” Theo added, “The mud was like quicksand.”
We talked about long distance sailing. Teresa said, “A man I know sold everything and set out to sail around the world — alone. He got divorced and off he went,” She reminisced about growing up on the Bay. “As kids, our mothers sent us down the shore of the Patapsco River to look for the Chessie Sea Monster. We did that while fishing for crabs in a rowboat. I’ve always lived on the water, couldn’t imagine anywhere else. Where we live now is rural. We had a community meeting and they said if someone had a heart attack it would take 11 minutes to get EMS response.” I looked at Theo and said you’be dead. He replied, “But envied.”
Off in the distance the black diesel smoke of the tug rose into the air. “Innovation on Channel 16 and 13 alerting all vessels that we are heading out to sea.” I radioed bewilderment because I thought he was offloading at the oil terminal, not onloading. “Yes, out to sea,” he responded pleasantly. And into the approaching Tropical Storm Nestor.
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Tiny red surface vessel was among several spotted on the York River during a busy afternoon.
Capt Bill ODonovan
Williamsburg Charter Sails
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