Let's Go Sail

Vessel Name: Deadline
Vessel Make/Model: Hunter 320
Hailing Port: York River Yacht Haven, Gloucester Point VA
Crew: Capt. Bill O'Donovan
About: Retired newspaper publisher runs charters daily for tourists and locals to sail the York River, where the Battle of Yorktown won America's freedom.
Extra: Professional photos, at no charge.
07 June 2017 | York River
06 June 2017 | York River
05 June 2017 | York River
04 June 2017 | Willoughby Bay
03 June 2017 | York River
02 June 2017 | York River
30 May 2017 | York River
29 May 2017 | York River
25 May 2017 | York River
24 May 2017 | York River
23 May 2017 | York River
18 May 2017 | York River
15 May 2017 | Chesapeake Bay
13 May 2017 | York River
11 May 2017 | York River
09 May 2017 | York River
05 May 2017 | York River
04 May 2017 | York River
03 May 2017 | York River
02 May 2017 | York River
Recent Blog Posts
07 June 2017 | York River

Gain Mindfulness, Go Sailing

06 June 2017 | York River

Sailing Out to Sea

Williamsburg is a great place to visit, so much so that people who live here often find themselves entertaining house guests. I get sufficient business from one particular subdivision that thrives with house guests who stay too long. I suggest you send them sailing out to sea.

05 June 2017 | York River

Sailing vs. Fishing

Two sailing parties from Richmond had a lot in common with medical institutions. Joe Karch brought his wife Paige. He’s a general surgeon and she’s a nurse. They knew a lot of the same hospital friends of the Grover family.

04 June 2017 | Willoughby Bay

Sailing to Certification

SAILING TOWARD CERTIFICATION - Local sailors from all over Hampton Roads converged on Willoughby Bay to learn the basics for certification. They joined the ASA 101 class under SailTime Virginia Beach, where they practiced all five points of sail in light winds on a magnificent Saturday for boating. Jasper [...]

03 June 2017 | York River

Sailing Experience Matters

In the trials of “Sailing Fails” there lies the successful outcome of a bad situation. While sailing the York River on a magnificent day with his wife and family, Bob Benton recalled his sailing experience from long ago.

02 June 2017 | York River

Sailing with Union Members

On this warm day of mild winds, we encountered a coincidence. America’s labor unions have shrunk drastically in the past 50 years, so it was a surprise to encounter three people affiliated with disparate unions.

Gain Mindfulness, Go Sailing

07 June 2017 | York River
Capt. Bill O'Donovan


One special impact of sailing is the new rubric of mindfulness. It is simply abandoning one’s worries of the day in the moment of appreciation—while under sail. Call it Zen.

Other modern concepts of psychology termed this The Zone. Writers get into The Zone when they find themselves caught up in their text, moving quickly and effortlessly through hundreds of words.

Athletes get into The Zone on the field, with total concentration. Musicians get into it while performing, and sometimes while practicing. Time flies and yet stands still. Contrast this experience with doing your taxes, going to the dentist, or raking leaves. Time crawls.

"The Concept of Flow" dates to the 1970s and was updated in a paper by Jeanne Nakamura and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. They list several characteristics that apply wonderfully to sailing:

"Intense and focused concentration on what one is doing in the present moment • Merging of action and awareness • Loss of reflective self-consciousness (i.e., loss of awareness of oneself as a social actor) • Distortion of temporal experience (typically, a sense that time has passed faster than normal) • Experience of the activity as intrinsically rewarding."

Another definition of mindfulness is “a mental state achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one's feelings, thoughts and bodily sensations.”

I prefer the definition offered by mindful.org: “Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.”

Note that this just doesn’t happen. It’s a “basic human ability to be fully present,” in another words, actively thinking. Under sail, the feelings entail graceful movement through the seas while the wind whistles through the rigging.

Again, thoughts drift away from the daily grind into a moment of movement that is eerily quiet. Bodily sensations include bracing oneself as the boat heels 5 or 10 degrees out of the wind.

For many, mindfulness requires a daily practice of yoga to reach a meditative state. That’s not how I envision sailing. Instead, people should just let themselves go and enjoy it for what it is. Try not to overthink it.

Note as well that kids on cellphones do not qualify. Kids with autism do. Their capacity to concentrate is sometimes enhanced in the majestic outdoor setting of the sea.

Let’s go sail, mindfully.

Sailing Out to Sea

06 June 2017 | York River
Capt. Bill O'Donovan
Williamsburg is a great place to visit, so much so that people who live here often find themselves entertaining house guests. I get sufficient business from one particular subdivision that thrives with house guests who stay too long. I suggest you send them sailing out to sea.

The thing to do is take them sailing with you—or better yet, without you. They can find plenty of entertainment on a sailboat by observing nature, taking in the History Cruise, learning how-to on the Lessons Cruise, or watching the US Navy transit ships in and out of Yorktown. People who don’t live here are amazed by the diversity of the adventure.

By the way. the subdivision is Ford's Colony. I can't for the life of me figure why they drive more business than Governor's Land, Kingsmill, Green Spring or Williamsburg city, but they do. I get grandparents, grandchildren, siblings, old friends from up North, college roommates from 50 years ago, and former business associates. Ford's Colony is a big place. I'm thinking of using the illustration above as an ad in the Ford's Colony homeowner newsletter.

Oh yes, they won't really go out to sea. Let's Go Sail sticks to the calm waters of the York River, sheltered five miles in from Chesapeake Bay. They'll enjoy the adventure so much that they may hurry back to visit you.

Sailing vs. Fishing

05 June 2017 | York River
Capt. Bill O'Donovan
Two sailing parties from Richmond had a lot in common with medical institutions. Joe Karch brought his wife Paige. He’s a general surgeon and she’s a nurse. They knew a lot of the same hospital friends of the Grover family.

Joe and Paige spent the entire time on the bow, using the hatch to move in and out of the cabin for champagne and lunch. “I don’t want to leave,” she lamented afterward.

Stephanie’s dad Patrick had never sailed before. “I fish instead. I have a 300-acre farm in Sussex County, and I can take a kayak out or fish from shore on the Nottoway River. It’s only 50 to 70 yards across and you can walk it. Out on the open water, I fish for cobia, spot, croaker and sea bass.”

His family is proud that he remains athletic in retirement. “Besides fishing, I play golf, soccer and rugby.” Rugby? “It’s a slower version of what you’re thinking. Actually, it’s safer than football because we don’t have pads and don’t want to smash into each other.”

Pat had great wind on the helm and tacked several times before the wind simply died. It was eerie because the waves were still rocking for some time. Eventually the wind clocked around from south to east, but it took time. I asked if chop made a difference while fishing.

“I prefer not to fish in chop. Flat water is better. But if you have chop, that’s okay. It’s more than just about the fishing.” We went from 10 mph to zero, but sailing is more than just about the wind.

In the afternoon, the Rickabaugh family of Winston-Salem NC were a little late because they drove down from Washington. Sailing the York River was a pleasant relief. Older son Thomas was an experienced hand, having sailed a schooner in the inland waterways and Pamlico Sound of North Carolina.

The family saw the Smithsonian museums on the Mall and got a tour of the White House. They also toured the newly restored U.S. Capitol, including the Rotunda.

Jeff and Thomas were happy to hear about the Siege of Yorktown and see the famous painting from the Rotunda, “The Surrender of Gen. Cornwallis at Yorktown, Oct. 19th, 1781.” The painting is wonderful for several reasons, and even though it’s named for Cornwallis he didn’t show up for the surrender. History is like that.

While I was cleaning up the boat, I heard a huge blast and looked around. Over on D Dock the Shadow L was weighing anchor for departure after several weeks at York River Yacht Haven. It was a sight to see a 143-foot mega-yacht turn around and head out of the channel, led by its $600,000 tender that they keep on board. The yacht cost $35 million.


Sailing to Certification

04 June 2017 | Willoughby Bay
Capt. Bill O'Donovan
SAILING TOWARD CERTIFICATION - Local sailors from all over Hampton Roads converged on Willoughby Bay to learn the basics for certification. They joined the ASA 101 class under SailTime Virginia Beach, where they practiced all five points of sail in light winds on a magnificent Saturday for boating.

Jasper Campbell is a USCG Academy graduate stationed in Portsmouth with Coast Guard Hampton Roads. I pointed out the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower at the Naval Base. It’s been undergoing repairs to the restraining system, which malfunctioned at sea.

Jasper added, “They figured as long as it was here they would replace the nuclear core. Beside the Ike lies the Ford.” Sure enough, you could see the distinctive sharp edges of the flight deck of the USS Gerald R. Ford, a $5 billion prototype whose costs have ballooned.

“One of the big problems is the restraining system on the Ford, which is way too complicated and too expensive.” How ironic is that.

We passed a dying red drum fish, which struggled to swim upside down after being struck by a passing motorboat prop.

Jasper has been to sea and as a young man sailed the USCG flagship Eagle. “It has more than 20 sails and dozens of lines for each sail. It’s coming to Op Sail. You really need to tour the ship since it’s magnificent.”

He proved to be highly skilled on the tiller and during one stretch of light winds he tried something new. “Everyone sit on the leeward side to give the boat some list.” Sure enough, it felt like we picked up a little speed even if it was only an illusion.

We also encountered a new J-80 with a lot of young people on board. It looked like they were amateurs because the boat turned too sharply while tacking, but a closer approach explained it. Boys were using the spinnaker halyard to leap off the stern as the boat turned. Their centrifugal force accelerated the turn as the flew 260 degrees around the boat before dropping into the water. It was wild.

George Mikhailovsky is a Russian computer specialist, and we were all dying to ask him about cybersecurity and hacking. But this was not the time. “I lived in Siberia for a while.” I asked if the authorities sent him there as punishment. He laughed. “No, it was for work.” How cold does it get? “Twenty below. It’s worse near the polar circle. I worked at the White Sea where it was much colder.” I had heard of the Black Sea but not the White Sea. Who knew?

Sailing Experience Matters

03 June 2017 | York River
Capt. Bill O'Donovan
In the trials of “Sailing Fails” there lies the successful outcome of a bad situation. While sailing the York River on a magnificent day with his wife and family, Bob Benton recalled his sailing experience from long ago.

“We had 20 people on a 27-foot sailboat, if you can imagine that. Seven of them were adults, the rest children. We went out on Lake Michigan and had a good day sailing. Then we saw the storm approaching. The water turned black in the distance.

“Suddenly the skipper ordered all the kids below deck and instructed the adults to stay topside and to put on our life preservers. The wind hit us hard and he put us all on one rail to balance the boat against the wind. Then the way the wind blew made it faster to sail in than motor. He thought we could beat the storm, and we did. Once we got back to the dock, the storm hit us hard but we were safe. I was 17 years old, long ago.”

Some memories get seared in the mind.

That afternoon, I took Leigh and Barry Lazos out for his 60th birthday. “I lived in Gloucester County for 20 years beginning in the 1980s,” while working for NASA. “I saw them put in the new bridge and saw a lot of growth.”

Today he and Leigh saw a Navy patrol boat stand armed off the Naval Weapons Station pier as we coasted downriver on the spinnaker. It seemed like overkill, but Leigh pointed out that the nation is on a higher alert these days. As the wind dropped, we slowly coasted past. The patrol boat moved along the perimeter as if running interference between us and the pier. I had radioed earlier and was well off the 600-foot limit, but it's like Leigh said.

Sailing with Union Members

02 June 2017 | York River
Capt. Bill O'Donovan
On this warm day of mild winds, we encountered a coincidence. America’s labor unions have shrunk drastically in the past 50 years, so it was a surprise to encounter three people affiliated with disparate unions.

Scott Weiler clarified that he isn’t in the union but contracts with the Painters Union of Cincinnati. His wife Jennifer is in the Teachers Union and teaches first grade. David Wright of La Porte IN is a union man in heavy-duty HVAC construction.

“I always wanted to sail,” David said, “so I acquired a 16-foot Sunfish with two sails. It belonged to someone I was working for who gave it to me in trade. I sail on Stone Lake when I can. First time we went out, Lydia got scared because we ran aground and couldn’t get off in the wind.”

Lydia recalled a slightly different version. “We went out too late in the day and after we ran aground it got dark. I was freaking out.” They recalled the story like it was yesterday, but it happened years ago.

David served in the Marines as a young man. “I wanted to become a sniper but I had a bad eye,” he explained while running the helm. “It’s still bad. Sometimes when I’m in traffic I have to close my eye to see with the other.” Jennifer asked, “Are you driving with one eye now?” and everyone laughed.

David got to talking about a new technology that scrubs the air around you. This came up because he asked about the big chimney vents at the nearby VIMS campus. I explained that they vented toxic fumes from chemistry labs.

“I know about that,” he said, “because I’ve cleaned out the filters in them and they have a lot of toxic materials. At the end of the day, I have to detox myself with ionized water and pure air. We had a worker who cut his hand near that stuff, and it swelled up like a football.”

The pure air comes from machines made by Vollara. “They remove all manner of particulate and gases. People with chronic conditions swear by them for freeing up their breathing. I had one customer who was so impressed with the results that he bought 60 of them on his credit card. Another guy used experimented with the home version of the machine, and his wife made him keep it because he finally stopped snoring after 25 years of marriage." He showed me a video on his phone of how the machine can dissipate smoke into a fine powder.

Jennifer asked about a big nest atop the Coleman Bridge over the York River. I explained that it’s the VIMS Osprey cam and that several nests are live or filmed at any given time. During the course of the day we saw osprey dive for fish from 30 feet up.

The air felt light and shifty, so we motored around Buoy R24 and followed a motorboat into Yorktown. I pointed out the remains of Redoubt 10, where Alexander Hamilton made his fame in the 1781 Battle of Yorktown.

“We drove there on the battlefield,” Jennifer said. “We called up Google Earth to see the lay of the land close-up from overhead.” Imagine that, Mr. Hamilton.

While opening the boat, I encountered a fellow named Greg who works the docks at low tide. He carries a double-ended net on stick to catch small blue crabs clinging to the pilings. “It’s not exactly low tide. I look for the barnacle line and find them there. Today I’m going fishing for Cobia, so these will be bait.” Fishing, sailing, it's all good on the water.

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