Zen on the Bow

Zen on the bow of a sailboat
Queen Elizabeth II

“The great thing about [horse] racing is she can get deeply immersed for two or three hours at a stretch. And it is completely different from her everyday work—a switch-out from what is going on in the world that is worrying or unhappy,” said Michael Osmond. “One of her private secretaries told me it has a very good, therapeutic effect.” – “Elizabeth the Queen, the Life of a Modern Monarch,” by Sally Bedell Smith

Sailing is very much like that, a switch-out as we commune with the water from a few feet off the surface. It is, in the title of the magazine cover illustrated above, a voyage. (At $100 a copy, the magazine costs almost as much as a cruise with Let’s Go Sail.)

Zen on the bow of a sailboatTo be sure, sailing is fun and healthy and athletic. But it is a voyage of discovery, and nowhere is that more the case than riding on the bow of the boat. Couples relish the quietest part of the place, where the loudest sound is that of the water lapping at the hull as it cuts through the water. In the case of the York River, the waves splash 12-18 inches up the side, but not enough to get you wet. People fall asleep on the bow, and they fall in love. Several have gotten engaged up there, and Let’s Go Sail takes professional photos for free. 

Zen on the bow
Princess Anne

[Princess] Anne wrote that sailing gave her “an utterly detached sensation that I have only otherwise experienced on a galloping horse. Testing your skill against nature, your ideals, and the person you would like to be.” –Sally Bedell Smith

Avoiding Gridlock

A woman on the boat was talking about her doctor. He said his patients are reluctant to drive from Williamsburg to Hampton to see a specialist. 

Get Away from Gridlock by SailingHer point was that traffic is so bad on Interstate 64 as to discourage any travel on it, never mind commuting to work. Routine traffic inexplicably halts due to clogging. Accidents paralyze the route for an hour or more. Things are getting rectified with a $150 million expansion to three lanes in both directions between Williamsburg and Newport News. The work has proceeded in three segments beginning in mid-2015 and wraps up in 2020.

Interstate 95 south of Washington is even worse and offers no reprieve in the way of expansion. It’s already five and six lanes across in Northern Virginia, with no shoulder for emergencies. One family on the boat took 11 hours to drive here from northern New Jersey. When I ask guests for their biggest headaches in life, the rank commutation and their lousy boss as the top two.

Get Away from Gridlock by Sailing

No such gridlock is found on the water. Instead, one finds Zen on the bow. Unlike Annapolis, a.k.a Sailing Capital of the World, the York River is wide open every day to all manner of boat traffic. Unlike San Diego, where sailors have to dodge Navy ships in the harbor, the York River has only one or two Navy ships transit the Coleman Bridge every week. The 30-second video above shows a panorama at Yortown from the bridge to the mouth of the river, with not a single boat to be seen on a bright and beautiful afternoon. I like to tell people that the only time we can predict boat traffic is on Sunday afternoons in the fall. That’s because the Redskins are losing.

I went into my credit union one day and watched a scrolling screen of pleasant images. All of a sudden Let’s Go Sail popped up. That’s my boat! They hired a freelance photographer to shoot magnificent outdoor scenes on the water, and mine was one. That photo is now the landing page of my website. Talk about Zen on the bow!

It might be more fun to have a half-dozen sailboats to play with, and that certainly is the case on the weekends. During the three extended summer weekends, dozens of sailboats turn out and look magnificent. Otherwise it’s clear sailing up and down the river. People love it as it adds to the serenity of the experience.

Sunset cruise

Sunset Cruise

The romance of a sunset cruise is undeniable.

The axiom “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight” is a helpful indicator that the sky will remain clear. Except when it doesn’t, and rain falls—in the dark.

After a long day at work, couples enjoy a sunset cruise to relax, but not so much for a boat captain. After his or her long day, it’s like playing a night baseball game. The day drags on until the evening finally arrives, and it’s hard to get one’s game face on.

Sunset cruiseThe sun sets in different western locations as the summer proceeds, and the idea is to wind up on the water at the best spot at the critical moment when the sun hits it. This isn’t Key West, where the sun sets in virtually the same spot beyond Mallory Square.

And unlike Key West or the Gulf of Mexico, the sun sets over the York River into the trees. It’s an annoying surprise to guests who automatically assume all sunsets from the water are sunsets into the water. But it hardly  harms the Zen on the bow.

Evening storms

Seasons matter once the sun goes down. Late summer is best because the skies remain warm in July, August and September. But during March-June and October-November, things get chilly pretty quickly. If the wind picks up, as it can do with any temperature change, that makes it worse.

Summer poses another challenge, with evening thunderstorms. Sometimes they pass quickly but are still ominous. Occasionally thunderstorms linger for a half-hour or so, which sucks. I had a family onboard last July when a squall reached over the bridge and crashed on us near the buoy R-24. We got the sails down in time, but the sudden waves rocked the boat for 20 minutes. 

The coup de-grace in summer is the Fourth of July. Scores of boats assemble off Yorktown to watch the National Park Service fireworks. But the fireworks don’t start for an hour or so past sunset. Afterward, there’s a mad dash to the surrounding marinas, where the creeks narrow precariously. Imagine 20 boats trying to round Daymark 8 in a small channel—at night.

Experienced skippers hate to sail at night for fear of hitting a crab pot or worse. The line of the pot (cage) can hang up on the rudder or the prop. If  the engine is running, it stops abruptly. That’s the end of any zen on the bow.

Let’s go sail, Zen on the Bow

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Zen on the bow of a sailboat

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