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.
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
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Recent Blog Posts
30 May 2017 | York River

Sail Army & Marines

Sailing attracts a different demographic, usually better educated and more outdoors oriented. Now and then you run into people who are not only fascinating but selfless. On this day we sailed with a police office, an Army soldier and a hospital nurse.

29 May 2017 | York River

Sailing 6-Meter Boats

Two couples from Arlington came to Williamsburg and celebrated their dual anniversaries by sailing the York River. They navigated a beautiful east wind that eventually turned to a light rain. A Florida sailor and her friend joined us in a fast day of excitement.

25 May 2017 | York River

Sal Cheap

SAIL CHEAP - Our charter company Let’s Go Sail offers a special Boat Buyer Cruise for those inclined toward acquisition. The three-hour cruise is a challenge because the prospective buyer is often a fellow whose wife isn’t all that crazy about the idea. In fact, some women are hell bent against it. For [...]

24 May 2017 | York River

Boating Fails and Tales

23 May 2017 | York River

Sailing with Dogs

Two cousins who’ve known each other for decades took a therapeutic sail on the York River with a family holding two dogs.

18 May 2017 | York River

Zen Found on the Bow

“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 [...]

Sail Army & Marines

30 May 2017 | York River
Capt. Bill O'Donovan
Sailing attracts a different demographic, usually better educated and more outdoors oriented. Now and then you run into people who are not only fascinating but selfless. On this day we sailed with a police office, an Army soldier and a hospital nurse.

John Barkas is training at Ft. Eustis in helicopter repair, Blackhawks to be precise. He took his mom and his girlfriend sailing near Williamsburg in light winds. On Memorial Day, a dozen or more boats sailed or motored on the York River.

Karen Barkas is from Quincy, MA. “I’ve been a police officer there for 17 years, currently in PIO. Quincy is the next town north of Boston, yet we don’t have nearly the murder rate of Boston. We also have 21 miles of shoreline on the Atlantic, so we have three police boats. A retired Coast Guard officer runs that operation.”

I mentioned that the York Sheriff is notoriously slow putting out news releases about crimes committed. Sometimes he waits a month, which makes it ridiculous to read, “The suspect had dark pants and shirt.” He probably changed clothes in the meantime.

Karen said, “Maybe they had a suspect and thought they could arrest him, but it didn’t work out. Or they just want to keep the perception up that there isn’t much crime going on.”

John is about to be deployed to Germany for three years to train other how to fix Blackhawks. I admired his mechanical ability. “I’m not mechanical. I have no idea how I got into that. I’m into nursing, actually.”

Amy works in adult oncology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. “Some of the patients have leukemia, which comes as a shock. They present in different ways and have no reason to think of leukemia. Once they get over the initial shock of the diagnosis, they are wonderful patients who fight hard.”

All three had a fine time sailing and relaxing. We briefly spotted a pair of dolphins, but all the boat activity scared them away. Amy summed up the experience: “Awesome!”

In the afternoon the Eric Mason family of Chattanooga TN went sailing as the light winds got lighter. All of a sudden, the wind shifted from west to north and the air got perceptibly cooler. The wind piped up from the east and we were off to the races in 10 mph winds. It was astonishing.

Marsha Mason was concerned her older son Jake would get sunburned, but he shrugged it off as he gripped the helm while heeling 15 degrees. Jake is going into the Marines shortly to a 13-week boot camp at Parris Island SC. His dad Eric asked if the Marines let them use sunscreen.

“They make you put the entire bottle on and then you have to roll around in the sand. They call it sugar cookies.”

I wondered if the suntan is why Marines are called leathernecks. “No, that comes from leather bands they used to put on to protect them from swords cutting their heads off.”

On this Memorial Day, I was impressed with Jake's T-shirt, where the word COLLEGE was crossed out for the word ENLISTED instead.

Sailing 6-Meter Boats

29 May 2017 | York River
Capt. Bill O'Donovan
Two couples from Arlington came to Williamsburg and celebrated their dual anniversaries by sailing the York River. They navigated a beautiful east wind that eventually turned to a light rain. A Florida sailor and her friend joined us in a fast day of excitement.

Denisse Paz reluctantly took the wheel instead of her beau Jay Sasporlas, and she did admirably by holding course in lumpy seas. No whitecaps, but an excellent wind of 10 mph. Their friends Jorge Pado and Xiomasa Plaza-Medira went up on the bow briefly.

The helm then belonged to Shari Hough. She looked forward to this trip ever since booking it from her home in Leesburg, Florida.

Shari said, “I used to race six-meter boats in the Pacific Northwest.” Her friend June Ward quipped, “She can go up to the crow’s nest if you need her to.” Shari replied, “It never pays to be the smallest, lightest person on board. They make you climb the mast”

Coming in at less than 100 lb., Shari packed a wallop on the wheel by deftly dodging waves and building speed.

“Those six-meter boats were half the size of the 12-meters that used to race in the America’s Cup, before they turned into spaceships” That is, the six-meters were 38 feet. “They were post-World War II boats, all wooden and all work. They had none of the modern technology this boat has.” Shari marveled at the self-tailing winches as ingenious. "Of course, we had no wheel, just a tiller." It must have been quite large to maneuver a 38-foot boat. "Yes."

“Our boats had no cabin, and they had two back stays that ran to each side. As we turned, we'd tighten one stay and loosen the other. We had a rule that when you went out in a race you had to come back with all the crew.” It was a joke, but the others thought she was serious.

“The fleet consisted of 18 boats, and they all turned out on Wednesday nights. This was in Seattle, where it’s always raining. To get to Puget Sound for races there, we had to go through the locks.”

Does she miss racing? “Not racing so much as I miss the water. Anything on the water, I’m for it. Every year I made a trip to Daytona Beach to go sail with a captain on a boat about this size.”

We could see a foggy mist off in the west and soon it began to drizzle. I fired up the engine, and Shari made it into port before the rain got bad. Everyone found it quite exciting, but no one more than Shari whose face reflected sheer intensity that I took for happiness. “I’m glad we got this in. I’ve been looking forward to sailing for a long time, and I would have been a very grumpy companion if we got rained out.”

Sal Cheap

25 May 2017 | York River
Capt. Bill O'Donovan
SAIL CHEAP - Our charter company Let’s Go Sail offers a special Boat Buyer Cruise for those inclined toward acquisition. The three-hour cruise is a challenge because the prospective buyer is often a fellow whose wife isn’t all that crazy about the idea. In fact, some women are hell bent against it.

For both of them, I suggest getmyboat.com and boatbound.com as alternatives to ownership. You get to rent a boat near you and take it for the day. Kick the tires, rev it up, sail till you drop,maybe sleep on board overnight, and generally get the urge out of your system. Then if you’re still interested in buying a boat, I offer them four specific tips.

Location, location

Determine where you’re going to sail, because unless the boat is trailerable you’re pretty much stuck at a given marina. The distinction between trailer boats and mid-size boats is the keel. If you can crank it up to slide the boat onto the trailer, fine. All others have fixed keels and are known as keel boats. They require large steel trailers driven by semi-trucks.

Trailer sailboats are less expensive and can go anywhere on land. Not so much on the water. The small size (up to 21 feet) limits the speed and therefore the range to a few miles at a time, maybe ten tops in a day. With our trailerable 16-footer, we sailed for 11 years on the James River before moving to the York River 16 years ago with keel boats. The 32-footer used for Let's Go Sail can sail the entire Chesapeake Bay, which is fantastic.

Anchor out

Consider the illustration above of anchoring the boat in a cove vs. a marina slip. A mid-size slip at York River Yacht Haven runs $3,000 a year. But during the spring and summer, people come into Sarah Creek and simply drop anchor for days or weeks at a time. It’s free! Others tie off to a mooring ball, which precludes the threat of fouling the anchor.

The scene is picturesque, as shown in photos of Catalina Island, Sarasota Bay or Monte Carlo. But you have to climb into a dinghy to get back and forth to shore. Marina life is much more enjoyable if you have a slip because you get to enjoy the people and the amenities. And if there's a storm coming, you definitely want to be in a slip.

Go partners

Compatible couples and friends find nice arrangements by throwing in together. One group I know agreed to every other weekend schedules, with a third weekend together. The permutations are endless, the savings considerable. Try to bring a mechanical guy in the mix, since he’ll prove invaluable.

Some sort of contract has to be drawn up to cover contingencies for moving away or otherwise backing out. It can be hard to find a replacement. The aggravation is worth it for the immense cost savings. A variation of partners is to own a boat in the Caribbean for leasing by companies. Moorings is the leader.

Buy used

Sailboats depreciate just like cars. After a few years the declining value tends to stabilize. I’m on my sixth boat, and only the first was bought new. You get the benefit of a lower price along with knowing the engine is sufficiently broken in. Look for key features: overall cleanliness, no Fiberglas cracks or spider cracks, crisp and clean sails, bright and clean running lines, tight rigging, clean head, minimum odor, no mold inside the cabin, dry bilge and clean engine. If the boat lies in a slip, get the buyer to throw that in free for the rest of the season. (He already paid for it and won’t get a refund anyway.)

Let’s go sail, inexpensively

Boating Fails and Tales

24 May 2017 | York River
Capt. Bill O'Donovan


“We went offshore in New Jersey looking for bait fish,” said Colleen McGowan while taking her children for a sailing lesson on the York River. Hers is the first of several bizarre boating tales this season encountered by Let's Go Sail.

“We ran into a crowd of fish so great that it felt like there were more fish than water. So it was easy to scoop up the bait. Suddenly a whale came up out of the water, the size of my boat. It scared us all to death. I had a newbie on board and I think he crapped in his pants.”

Justin Connolly lives up the Hudson River in Newburgh, New York. “I have a 28 Donzi that can get up to 55 mph. It takes at least an hour and a half to drive the Palisades Parkway into New York City from my house, but I can make it in 40 minutes to South Street Seaport. They charge $50 an hour to park there. And my gas mileage is terrible at 55 mph.”

Hurricane Sandy sunk Colleen McGowan’s boat and did terrible damage to her marina. “Our dock master was trying to clean up the marina and wanted to get rid of a 34-foot sailboat that was okay but the guy simply walked away. He was way behind on the marina dock fees. The dock master told my friend Fred, ‘This sailboat cost $150,000 new and I’ll give it away for $6,000.’ Fred went right out and got hold of $6,000 and bought the boat. Years later the original owner showed up. He lost out because of marina salvage laws. Fred sailed that boat to Florida.”

Boaters make great comrades, but so do neighbors. Jo Anne and Tom Bell live near Great Bridge in Norfolk and vacationed in Chattanooga. They took a dinner cruise on the Mississippi and found a comrade.

“We went up to the bridge of the riverboat. The captain of the boat turned out to be from Great Bridge,” Tom said while sailing off Yorktown. “We talked about neighbors and friends when suddenly he asked, ‘Would you like to take the wheel?’ Well, I don’t have a captain’s license but I have a Virginia boater’s license. They’re not the same, but I said sure.

“Only it wasn’t a wheel, it was a joystick. I tried my best and got the gist of it, but it was very sensitive. Someone came up from below decks and asked what was going on. Dinner guests were throwing up below.” Jo Anne interjected, “He was weaving back and forth across the Mississippi, turning the riverboat this way and that. Yet the captain was okay with Tom driving.” Tom added, “The joystick was very tricky.”

Later along the Mississippi, Jo Anne recalled, “These dinner guests were very devout Christians. We passed by a boat full of college kids who were drinking. They were totally naked and mooned us. The Christians were horrified. That was the funniest thing of the entire trip.”


“I fell of a sailboat once,” said Korine Arseneau’s mother Kathy while sailing with the family on the York River. “I was a teenager out with other friends on the St. Cloud River. I was sunbathing in my bikini on the bow when my boyfriend turned the boat and I slipped into the water. We were close enough to shore that I could swim. I’m a good swimmer and it wasn’t rocky, so I swam until I could walk in. I just sat there on the shore waiting for them. They eventually came back for me. I didn’t date him anymore.”

Sailing with Dogs

23 May 2017 | York River
Capt. Bill O'Donovan
Two cousins who’ve known each other for decades took a therapeutic sail on the York River with a family holding two dogs.

Ellie McCulloch arranged the cruise with Debbie Anderson, whose husband died a month ago. Debbie lives far up the York River, near West Point. She asked for a life preserver and held onto it.

Ellie is from New Orleans, where she races a 27-foot Cape Dory on Wednesday nights. “It’s heavy and slow, but I usually win on points. Different size and class boats show up, and they carry a handicap rating called PRPH. I’m leading the club on points.

“I fly a spinnaker that I just got, so I’m still learning. It’s a full symmetrical, requiring a guiding pole. I’ve been on the foredeck running it. It has no chute, but at least it’s folded to come out of the chute.”

I explained to Debbie that folding the spinnaker properly is analogous to folding a parachute. Her husband was in the 5th Special Forces Airborne Ranger in Vietnam. “In the Central Highlands,” she added. I shuddered to think what mayhem he encountered.

Ellie was a champ on the helm and stayed with it all day as we ventured downriver into 2-foot swells brought across the Bay on an east wind. We tacked and went downwind to get into the lee under the Coleman Bridge, where the winds and waves were lighter. She was game.

That racing club she leads? “We have 70 boats out there every Wednesday in one of the largest regattas on the Gulf.” More like an armada than a regatta.

Gail Opatut of Freehold, New Jersey, brought her husband Sid and grown daughter Genna along with two small dogs. One was a therapy dog and the other a service dog, but I didn’t get the distinction between the two. But they were precious.

When Gail went up to lie out on the bow, Martini the therapy dog tried to escape from Jenna’s arms but she held him. The dogs were so quiet as to be unnoticeable, and so cute that we couldn’t take our eyes off them. One spent the entire cruise tucked in his little carrying bag, peaking out. They’re 10 years old and each weigh around 7 lbs.

Debbie took a phone call. “This is from my contractor,” she said. “He’s finishing off our entire attic as a reformatory.”

A reformatory?

She corrected me. “Dormitory—a girls’ dormitory for our five grandchildren, all of them girls and two of them identical twins. They range from 16 months to 6 years old. ” I asked if she could tell the twins apart and she said yes. Yet neither she nor I could tell the voices apart when our grown children call. “You have to wait for them to give you a clue, usually about the children. Then you know which one it is.”


Zen Found on the Bow

18 May 2017 | York River
Capt. Bill O'Donovan
“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 like that, a switch-out indeed as we commune with the Great Outdoors. It is, in the title of the magazine cover illustrated, a voyage. (At $100 a copy, the magazine costs almost as much as a three-hour voyage.)

Of course, 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 sailboat. Here we are on the quietest part of the boat, where the loudest sound is that of the water lapping at the hull. In the case of the York River, the waves rise one or two feet height. People fall asleep up here, and they fall in love. Come with Let's Go Sail and get engaged on the bow.

[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
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