Top Speed

Note: Sailing charters resume in Virginia on June 10 when the lockdown is lifted.

Longtime student and friend Corinna Caldwell joined a couple from Connecticut on perhaps the last day of summer as a cold front moved in for autumn. They had a day of sailing at top speed. Bob and Gail Sokolowski were in Williamsburg for the W&M-Villanova game, but not as spectators.

“I work the replay booth,” Bob said proudly. “I used to officiate on the field and now sit in the press box. Even if the game isn’t televised, the conference still requires four cameras to conduct replays. I’ve been involved in football for 54 years, starting with Pee Wee and high school and college.”

Top SpeedGail and Bob take three-day weekends from his law practice, where she used to be his paralegal, traveling the East Coast among three conferences to do the games. They have also traveled Europe extensively. “Now that I’m in the replay booth, I make $1,040 per game. That barely covers expenses, but this is my life.” Then he added, This is my sailing.” At top speed, for him.

I asked about his ring, clearly from Yale. “That’s the championship ring from the 1967 Ivy League. Yes, we beat Harvard. No, the Ivies still don’t play post-season. I never could have gone to Yale without a football scholarship. I’ve spent 54 years around football, 39 years on the field. I officiated for the 2004 championship game between LSU and Oklahoma. I’ve worked the Rose Bowl, Fiesta Bowl and other bowl games. Replay is more sedentary, but I’m still in the game.” To compliment his ring, Gail sported a small Yale pendant on a necklace. “That goes back a long time,” she smiled.

Top SpeedBack on the football field, I was curious how the officials avoid getting hit. “The umpire is really the only one at risk. He’s in the middle of the field where the action is. The rest of us are on the periphery, far enough out of the way to get hit. I’ve seen broken ankles, broken legs and worse.” He has to get out of the way at top speed.

Corinna and the Sokolowskis talked about France and Italy as she drove the boat faster and faster. We tacked all the way to Goodwin Island and then roared back in 12 mph winds on three successive beam reaches. Finally, as we approached Sarah Creek, we got up to a record 16 mph as Corinna heeled the boat to 25 degrees. They loved it. And then we saw dolphins in the creek and doused the sails to watch around 10 of them maneuver about the boat. They too were going at top speed.

Top Speed

Redneck Yacht

On the way back upriver, we saw in the distance a peculiar vessel that showed up earlier this season on the York. Corinna sailed on a V course so I could take photos closer. Eventually we took the stern and I raised them on marine radio. I had lots of questions.

Top SpeedWho are you? “The Sebastian Marie, though we call ourselves the Redneck Yacht,” said a refined voice that sounded anything but redneck. The thing looked like a platform straddling two long and large pontoons. It had an Army tent, Air Stream trailer, Air Traffic Controller booth and party tent – all painted camouflage green.

A thin narrow grid extended from the stern into the water. What’s that? “It’s called a long tail,” he explained. “It’s very popular in Thailand. It operates as my steering as well as propulsion, because I have no tiller.” What are you doing today? “We’ve been out in the Bay fishing for Spanish Mackeral, but to no avail. We’re headed back to the Pamunkey River. We live 11-1/2 miles up the York River in Waterloo.” We continued across the river as the Sebastian Marie lumbered toward the Coleman Bridge.

Top Speed

Boating as a Boy

Top SpeedTwo couples from Northern Virginia and Richmond celebrated a birthday and an anniversary by sailing on a warm, breezy Sunday. We scooted under the bridge to see the Navy submarine whose bow was undergoing repairs. We could see the scaffolding straddling the bow. The Navy patrol boat huddled closely to prevent any security breech from the water. My Navy buddy Ed Offley added this post on Facebook: “Bill, if you look closely you will see a number of open hatch doors for the vertical launch tubes at the bow. I’d venture the submarine is at NWS Yorktown to load Tomahawk cruise missiles.”

They celebrated their anniversary by sailingAndy and Donna Souders were celebrating their anniversary by staying at the chic Wedmore Place hotel at the Williamsburg Winery. She had never sailed before and did magnificently by quickly understanding the wheel and the turning dynamics.

Ruth and Buddy Ludwig used to sail out of Urbanna, where they kept small sailboats. She may have enjoyed it more than he did because she eagerly took the wheel and was quite comfortable until stiff heeling set in.

Buddy was content to sit and watch her. He had earlier boating troubles as a boy. “As a kid I had a Sunfish on the Rappahannock River. One time, the tiller snapped off. I drifted around and there wasn’t much wind, so I thought I was okay. But I drifted away and it took me 11 hours to get home — at midnight. My mother panicked and even called a priest. My grandfather came over from Richmond and was furious. The Coast Guard finally found me.” No top speed for him.

Then there was the sailboat

Then there was the rowboat. “I moved out in the river and stopped to go fishing. Forgot to take the anchor and was drifting along. Turned around to see where I was and I couldn’t see land any longer. I  worried about where to go, so I decided to row against the current since I had drifted out on the current. It took me hours, exhausted by all that rowing. But I made it. My stepfather was mad at me for not taking the anchor. He made me work it off.”

We made it back to port just fine, to Buddy’s relief.

Birthday Sail

Fairley family sailed fastThe Fairley family of suburban Philadelphia celebrated their daughter Hannah’s birthday by sailing in winds of 14 mph. We moved from the high seas of the main river to the other side where it was more of a lee shore. We got close enough to the submarine for father Jim to get a good luck with binoculars. He did three years in Vietnam. They likened the trip to Memphis. Ruth the mom said, “We took a boat tour on the Mississippi and the guide was hilarious. Basically we were motoring on the Tennessee side while he dissed the Arkansas side.” Hannah eventually took the helm and did a masterful job tacking six or seven times. Quite the birthday event.

Let’s Go Sail, Starting June 10

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