OpSail (Opportunity to Sail)

“Gloria” the Colombian ship 


We’re going to skip around in time a little bit.

Fast Forward > Rewind > Play

A month or so ago I got an email from Steve Earley over at Log of Spartina with a rare invitation to go sailing. OpSail 2012 was coming to Norfolk in June, would I be interested in seeing it from Spartina? He was making plans to sail aboard one of the tall ships, the Picton Castle, from Martha’s Vineyard for work. Might need someone to tend the tiller while he gets shots of them parading out of Norfolk.


Steve Earley in “Spartina”


Steve is not one to go out of his way finding people to put in his boat. Anyone who follows his blog knows he spends several weeks a year sailing in Spartina on extended expeditions to remote areas of the Chesapeake and Outer Banks. Alone. (In fact, he’s on one this week.) He likes it that way, and for good reason. Two people in an open boat can be a crowd – even for a short trip.

There’s a book I refer to often, written in the 1895, called “Boat Sailing in Fair Weather and Foul” written by Captain A.J. Kenealy. I like it so much I hunted down an early hard copy. A wonderful book, full of great wisdom and tips for small boat sailors from the apex of the age of sail, knowledge nearly lost now. Remarkable, though, how little of it sounds dated today. One bit of sage advice always makes me think of Steve:

Of course one must exercise some wise discrimination in the choice of a cruising companion; for when once at sea there is no way of ridding yourself of an objectionable mate except throwing him overboard, which would not be exactly fair to him. Besides, he might throw you overboard, which would be bad for you.

Wise words indeed when you plan to spend 10 days at sea in a small boat.

So, my advice to you is if you happen to get such an invitation, do not turn it down. I did not, despite terrible weather forecasts and various logistical conundrums.

Steve tells me the name OpSail actually comes from “Operation Sail.” An event initiated by President Kennedy, perhaps our last avid sailor president. OpSail doesn’t occur on a regular schedule, instead returning anywhere from 6 to 12 years apart. And, don’t ask me why, but for some reason each event has to be approved by an act of Congress. No joke. No wonder you can’t predict when they’ll happen. The next one might be a decade or more away. Lucky me.



As it turns out, Steve did such a great job documenting the tall ship experience from onboard the Picton Castle during the trip south that the editors no longer felt the need to do it from the water. He has some great photos from the series here. So this became a pleasure cruise, and we picked up one of his daughers, Grace, from the wharf.



Steve and I have led parallel lives in many ways. Two daughters each, all in college (one of his and one of mine at the same school, in fact) and we share a lifetime of working in photography and the media industry. So much so we actually have very little to talk about in those areas – it’s been said already. That means we only need to talk about boats or books.

On this occasion, it was all boats.



Hampton Roads, Norfolk Harbor, and the Elizabeth River are very busy pieces of water. There’s the Navy docks bustling with everything from aircraft carriers to patrol boats, the Shipyard, cruise ships, commercial shipping, industrial barge traffic, watermen, pleasure boaters, tourist boats, etc.. And that’s just a normal day. Add an Armada of tall ships, all the boats that come out to see them, and an additional navy of Homeland Security, Coast Guard, Coast Guard Auxiliary, and local police boats from all over eastern Virginia, and yes, you have quite a floating circus. Steve had to keep constant vigil for all the crisscrossing traffic so we didn’t get run down – all the while taking photos, carrying on a conversation, and of course sailing the boat. In the video you’ll notice he is understandably a little distracted, though somehow he remains calm and confident.



We spent a good four hours winding back and forth and up and down the harbor around the ships. Several are really enormous. Masts like skyscrapers on a floating city block. Some crews, numbering in the hundreds, wore color coordinated uniforms and stood, even danced, along the spars and yards and in the rigging high overhead as the ships eased slowly and silently out to sea. Well, mostly silent – one had a marching band on board.




















Spartina is a terrific boat. I’ve been in Kevin Brennan’s Navigator, so I was curious how the big sister boat would compare. I was amazed at how handily she could tack and turn in a tight place. Finessing the jib and mizzen lets you spin her like a weather vane. She moves quickly and reliably in both strong and light wind, and no bad habits as far as I could tell. With her rounded hull, like Kevin’s Navigator, a sudden gust does get your attention as she rolls to leeward, but she rights herself quickly as she accelerates. In unstable air I believe both Steve and Kevin like to tie a reef in the main to give themselves a some slack, just so they don’t have to stay quite so alert.



Rain and storms held off all morning until the show was over. Then just as we were making ready to simply play for a while they blew in quickly. Steve set me off on the docks and took off toward the ramp in a downpour.




Too bad. I would have liked to spend a couple more hours chatting and exploring.

Maybe next time. Thanks Steve.


I’ll should be able to post the video in a day or two.







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