8 Ways to Sail
13 March 2018 | Key West, Florida
Sunny and windy.
Sailing season has officially started on the York River in Virginia with the relaunching of Let's Go Sail into the water after a long winter of maintenance. People associate sailing with owning a boat, but there are many ways. Here are eight.
Caribbean Day Sail—The common expectation for a trip on a yacht rental in St. Thomas or St. John is to fly in and take a bareboat out for a week with another couple or two. Fine and dandy, but pricey and tricky unless everyone is a competent sailor or crew. The easier alternative is to take a half-day or full-day charter sail on a sloop, fetch or schooner. They leave in the morning and come back in the afternoon. They usually offer snorkeling at an anchored spot. Make sure they sail the damn thing, though. My wife and went aboard a 60-footer in Grand Cayman Islands where the captain never raised the sails, preferring to motor instead. Once under sail and having insinuated yourself with the captain, he or she will likely give you a turn at the helm. It’s exhilerating to sail at that level.
Substitute Crew—Everyone says they want to crew, but they can’t always make the Wednesday night or Saturday races. You can endear yourself to the racing set by serving short notice to crew. This assumes your schedule is clear and that you can move quickly. Let the racing team know that you’re available on two hours’ notice, and watch how frequently you get called.
Ice Sailing—Here is a unique, fast and dangerous adventure that is limited by geography and weather. Ice sailing clubs are active in New Jersey and New York, notably on the upper Hudson River. It’s hard to say how to insinuate one onto a boat. First, go there and make yourself known, perhaps helping with the equipment. For more on the history of the sport, check out my blog here.
Lunch Hour—If you work downtown near a harbor, chances are you can find a rental boat to latch onto for 90 minutes. Check out com for what’s near you. Once you make the first arrangement, you’ll be able to go back more easily the next time. If you’re ASA qualified by 101 or 103, you can take out sailboats of 22 feet and 36 feet. The smaller is more suited to lunch hour. Don’t worry about the time required to set up the boat. Advancement in boating technology has made today’s new sloops virtually ready to go. Make sure the engine is working well, though.
Videos—Hundreds of videos are out there on You Tube to show all manner of sailing, from how-to to harrowing races. Sailing Anarchy has excellent clips of races. The beauty of videos is that you see them quickly and bookmark sections that may be useful for further study. ASA has the best set of how-to videos. Review them before attending class. ASA also developed a nifty app through Brainrush that has keen challenges for points of sail, apparent wind, trimming, tacking/jibing, right of way and docking.
Sail Virtually—Better than videos because they’re more lifelike. Virtual Regatta claims to be the world’s largest such community. These are video games for grown-ups, providing a rush without getting wet. Many other sites offer virtual sailing as well. You’re not likely to qualify for extreme sailing in the America’s Cup, but you can get your thrills with these games.
Mentally—While stuck in traffic, instead of checking your email start thinking about making a turn on a port tack. Consider easing the main as the wind builds. Sit off to one side to work the jib sheets toward better aerodynamics. Are all three sets of telltales flat and horizontal? Perfect! Time yourself to see if you can keep them flat and horizontal for 10 seconds. That’s longer than a cowboy can stay on a bucking bronco. Congratulations. HONK!! HONK! Oops, the light turned green.
Alone—The video above shows sailing around the world alone, which is a surprisingly popular idea. Children as young as 16 have done it. But it’s sufficient to sail a few hours alone. Commentator/explorer Lowell Thomas once said, “Separately there was only wind, water, sail and hull, but at my hand the four had been given purpose and direction.” Without interruption from crew, the skipper can relish every movement and moment on the water. Time flies with purpose and direction.
Given these eight ways to sail, now imagine sailing every weekend. The plan requires carving out time on a given Saturday or Sunday, even if it’s only a few hours at first to watch videos or virtual sailing. Before long, the day gets filled and then another. The mind boggles.
Old Herreshoff Lands
07 September 2017 | York River
Capt. Bill O'Donovan
A rare work of art blew into Sara Creek at Gloucester Point with the arrival last week of a 1926 Herreshoff sailboat. The name is famous as the manufacturer of America’s Cup boats going back a century or more. The Herreshoff Marine Museum in Bristol, Rhode Island, heralds the sailboats and the Cup. Herreshoff still builds classic boats in all lengths.
The boat here is 27 feet long and owned by Chuck Shaffner, seen lately fitting out new lines in his slip on G Dock at York River Yacht Haven. He’s been working on the boat since 1975. He recently retired from Newport News Shipyard after 40 years, where he ended up as chief of construction and accuracy control superintendent.
“I’ve completely rebuilt it over the years with a new deck, new sheer strake, new frames, new transom, new transom, new strongback, new sternpost, new brass portals and new plank keel. The boat has been completely rebuilt, only better without any iron. 75 percent of the original hull planking is original. The boat is built to the original plans. This is the second rebuild, actually. I wanted to do it to last the rest of my lifetime. The boat is listed in the Herreshoff Registry as Hull 1015.”
The wooden mast was hand-made by a private company. It is considerably raked and assembled in several parts. “It’s hollow inside, for cable to run. The pieces were glued up on a profile with West System to get the rake effect, and then varnished eight times.”
A thin stick attached to the base of the mast serves as a spinnaker pole. “The rig originally had a smaller chute. The boat had two [spinnaker] chutes for two different classes. A 25-foot halyard was for the Bristol class in Rhode Island while a 28-foot halyard was for the Long Island class.”
“The boat was damaged in 1978 during an ice storm when it dragged 200 yards in Chisman Creek. I replaced some of the sheer strake (molding).”
The boat has come a long way locally. “You know Harry Barritt?” he asked, referring to the boat broker with Bluewater Yachts. Harry works 100 feet down G Dock. “I bought the boat from a guy in Annapolis, and he bought from a guy in Hampton. Harry traced the lineage back to him, where he raced it out of Hampton Yacht Club. If he’s still alive I’d like to take him out sailing.”
The Hampton owner had the boat during the 1950s and has since died. Harry said, “His name was Dr. E.V. Siegel. But there are still plenty of people at Hampton Yacht Club who know that boat. It was on a mooring and was named Sea Gull.” The name today is Dolcefariente, or Pleasant Idleness.
Over the years, Chuck has moored the boat on Chisman Creek, at Cook’s Marina, and in Norfolk. Why Gloucester Point now? “I live a mile from here.”
The boat is tucked into a slip that makes it difficult for an amateur to maneuver without power. “I have an outboard but don’t use it. I’m anxious to see if I can sail in and out of here. The sails are so big and the boat so small that it can sail anywhere, on any wind. In fact, I sailed in here a couple of times years ago to get beer. I wreak havoc.
“The boat has no concept of hull speed,” he said, referring to a sailboat’s top speed based on its length. “It can easily sail four to six knots. But on an east wind heading downwind, it will surf on the water and reach 18 knots. White spray shoots up over the bow,” he said, throwing his arms up to show the height.
The boat originally cost $4,600, according to the registry. I wasn’t crass enough to ask the value today, restored. But I looked up similar Herreshoffs of current model years and found they run around $100,000. Harry said Dolcefariente is worth much more than that, and I found a 33-footer from 1926 listed by Yachtworld for $175,000. My guess is that the value to Chuck is more like priceless.
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?
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