While exiting Sarah Creek with a couple from Phoenix AZ, I heard a radio call on Channel 16: “White hull sailboat in the York River, this is the United States Navy warning about an approaching submarine.” I looked around and saw two Moran tugboats rumbling upriver toward the Coleman Bridge, but no submarine.
The radio continued: “Mariners must stay 500 yards away from the submarine. At no time should you cross the bow or get within 500 yards.” I acknowledged that and gave my intentions, which were to stay well north of the channel. All three of us looked around and couldn’t see the sub. Off in the distance, perhaps 8 miles, I used binoculars to barely see a thin black stick, which was the conn. Navy subs evidently have better distance vision than I do, but something else was in play. Because I was motoring at a right angle to the sub, albeit miles away, its CDBG alarm went off. That signaled that both boats were on a constant bearing to the same spot — and closing. We see it on the river whenever two boats are on an apparent collision course, and boating rules dictate who gets to “stand on” and who has to yield.
Jackie and Mike Keegan were astounded to watch the tugs line up beside the sub and then jump ahead under the bridge as it transited. We could easily see workers walking on the deck, but it was unclear if they rode out there all the way from Norfolk or got up once we got in the river.
We talked about jobs and careers, and Jackie recalled her work in insurance fraud for American Express. I asked if she had any strange cases. “We once had a claim from a very rich fellow who flew in a small jet to the Caribbean. He put in a claim for 13 suitcases that got lost. One of them included fancy Texas boots up to here (knee). Now who takes that on vacation to the Caribbean? He totaled up $500,000 in items lost or stolen as well as the luggage itself. It was all bogus. In fact, logistically you couldn’t fit 13 bags on that plane in the first place.”
In the afternoon, George and Kim Loy of Monticello IN took their first sailboat in years. An hour in, something popped up near the battlefield side of the river. “It’s a whale!” Kim shouted. Instead, it was a single small dolphin swimming downriver, perhaps separated from its mom. It was the first sighting this year, quite early at that since they don’t generally show up until late May. It was the highlight of the cruise.
Women enjoy sailing today more than ever, and particularly a romantic cruise. Couples get to enjoy a romantic getaway as they sit up on the bow for privacy, and Let’s Go Sail provides professional photos for free. First-time or skilled mariners are welcome to sail a modern-32-foot sailboat in a unique setting of wildlife and Fall foliage or Spring bloom. It makes for an extraordinary anniversary idea.
Sub Up Close
Next day, two couples went sailing in brisk winds. Because the seas piped up from strong easterly winds, we opted to go to the lee shore by transiting the Coleman Bridge. From there we got to see the Navy sub up close as it was docked at Yorktown NWS for weapons transfer. I was showing the couples how the Navy patrol boat guarded the sub from any encroachment. But the patrol boat glided away back to his lean-to shed. Oh well.
We got close enough to the sub to take a good telephoto shot of the aft fin. Later I asked my friend Bill Fox, who’s an expert on Navy ships if he had any idea about the numbers on the fin. They certainly can’t be for depth since the crew already knows inside, and there’s no reason to tip off the enemy from outside.
He responded: “Great photo of the aft (rudder) fin. I am no submariner but I believe PROJ refers to the projected draft of the boat from its keel. Hull diameters are 33 ft and 34 ft, respectively, for Los Angeles and Virginia class submarines. Full load drafts are 31and 32 ft, resp. In the photo the draft is shown as 31.5 ft. so it is probably a Virginia class boat.”
Joel and Ronda Rotz live in Mechanicsburg PA, where he does consulting for the state on the remediation of the Susquehanna River. “It’s the biggest river basin of the Chesapeake Bay and the worst in terms of pollution,” he said. “I was a farmer there for 20 years, and my job now is to encourage better practices to avoid run-off and siltation. The Conowingo Dam has trapped millions of tons of sediment and it’s hard to remove. I suggested putting it back on the farms, but there are too many toxins.” He added, “The York River looks much better than the Susquehanna.”
Joel and Ronda had some apprehensions about taking their dog Wally sailing. He’s a black lab/boxer mix and did just fine as the boat rocked back and forth.
Kevin and Barb Parker are from Missouri and were staying at the nearby Hornsby House, which we captured in a photo from the river. He’s a former IT executive who switched to truck-driving. “I run long-haul back and forth across the country.” I asked what his biggest threat is, and Barb interjected, “Me!”
He no longer has to worry about bridge clearances since they are all standardized to accommodate his 13-6 height. “But there are a few around our town that I have to be careful of.”
Kevin said he learned to back up a big rig without too much trouble. “You have to be careful to get it right because there’s only three to five inches of space between the rigs when they’re all lined up.”
What do we not know about backing up? “That we laugh at flatbed drivers because they don’t have to do it and therefore don’t. They simply park in the middle of a lot for the forklifts to come up and remove the freight.”
I was a big anxious about backing the boat into the slip, but Kevin was very supportive.
Let’s Go Sail
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The best Williamsburg boat tour offers safe “social distance sailing” daily for up to 6 people. It’s an extraordinary experience for couples. Leave your worries behind. Enjoy the thrill of moving with the wind without a care in the world. Put life back on an even keel with a romantic experience for a birthday or anniversary. 3-hour sailboat cruise as a semi-private yachting charter lets you exhale and relax as you enjoy comfort, stability & speed.
A Navy sub contacted us from eight miles away to warn of its coming up the York.
Capt. Bill O'Donovan
Williamsburg Charter Sails / Let's Go Sail