Kathy and Dan Clodfelter of Newburgh IN went sailing on a bright sunny day along the York River, where they got to see a US Navy submarine up close.
Kathy had taken sailing lessons in college years ago and wondered if she could still do it. She got a crash course in how to sail. She did a masterful job on the helm in fluky winds that built from 3 mph to eventually 10 mph and back down to 7. Dan was perfectly happy enjoying the ride.
A loud message came over marine radio. “Attention! US Navy submarine approaching the Coleman Bridge! Mariners are advised to stay back 500 yards at all times!” I looked around and couldn’t see anything, so I called the harbor security boat at the nearby Naval Weapons Station. He implied the sub was heading out from there, but that didn’t sound right because there was no conn or sail visible. I told him I was moving north of the channel to get out the way, and he agreed with that.
A big cruise ship was getting ready to weigh anchor at Yorktown. He radioed the Navy for advice and was told to sit tight until the sub passed.
Suddenly a Navy gunboat came up on us, and a young man in Marine fatigues who was dressed to kill shouted, “You are in the channel! You cannot cross the channel!” I shouted back, “I just got clearance to go north to avoid the channel!” He responded, “No, turn around and go south!” Only then did I see the top of the sub, perhaps 200 yards out with another Navy gunboat ahead of it. I turned and sailed south, as directed. The sub sailed past and went under the bridge to Naval Weapons.
A sub is unusual in the York because the crew is trained to load and unload weapons and bombs at see. One fellow I saw later said he’s lived on the York for 30 years and never seen a sub, so it was unusual for him. For me, it was unusual to be yelled at by a 19-year-old carrying a machine gun.
The next day, Devon and Adam Stein of Stephens City VA took their two young children sailing on the York. What they got was slowly rising winds from 3 mph to 10 in a perfect outing for everyone. They were in town for the girl’s gymnast competition at the Williamsburg Indoor Sports Complex.
Adam quietly rolled out the largest SLR camera I’ve ever seen, this side of a football field. “We started Stein Photo some years ago with a friend,” Adam said. “I took a picture of a future mom with ‘Baby’ printed on her belly. Her husband had ‘Beer’ printed on his belly, and their little girls had ‘Apple Juice’ on hers. The thing went viral on Facebook. You can’t plan that.”
The business grew and now it occupies their weekends, “We shoot as many as three families a day,” Devon said. “Each takes 800-1,000 pictures, which I then edit.” They do no advertising since it’s all word of mouth, reinforced by their Facebook site. Adam’s day job is web work for an online tax service.
We cleared the annual Blessing of the Fleet and sailed down the York on several tacks. We came back on two broad reaches and then resumed speed. Adam put their son Jackson on the wheel for what turned out to be my best shot of the day.
Back to Sailing
A couple from Governor’s Land outside Williamsburg had three beautiful children along for what was feared to be a rain-out. Instead, the skies held and we went past three hours.
Caroline Fornshell enjoyed getting back to sailing. She grew up in Eastport, Annapolis, made famous as a renegade community that “seceded” from the city. “My dad taught us on a 25 Cal and we later sailed in the Caribbean for a week at a time. Eastport had a different vibe from Annapolis. You weren’t supposed to go there. My dad has since gone over to motorboats and now lives in Key Largo.” Earlier we talked about the osprey, and she said, “We were swimming in the James once, and when we got out on land we saw an osprey attack a moccasin snake right in front of us — and fly off.”
Jon Fornshell sailed under the Coleman Bridge so we could show their son and two twin girls the US Navy submarine that came in earlier that week. I pointed out the Navy patrol boat standing watch. Inexplicably the boat left the scene as we approached. I guess after all these years the Navy realizes I’m not much of a threat. But wait! The patrol boat returned, perhaps reloaded with ammo.
Later I sent Caroline and Jon some Get My Boat leads for Deltaville and Annapolis. Getting back into sailing would change their lives.
At the other end of the spectrum of submarines, we have extreme sailing. Check out the Sail GP hydrofoil races held in May on San Francisco Bay.
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While sailing the York River near the Coleman Bridge, a US Navy approached with an escort of three gunboats.
Capt Bill ODonovan
Williamsburg Charter Sails
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