Sailing with Grass: on the Chickahominy

Sailing the Chicahominy River

I have enjoyed sailing on and off since I was a kid. For a few summers I remember going to Biloxi Mississippi and sailing on my granddad’s sailboat in the Gulf of Mexico. I am pretty sure we mostly motored and the few times I recall having the sail up were either dull or horribly frightening. Perhaps that is what has keep my interest in them, trying to find some middle ground experience. I also love the idea of being under wind power and traveling around the world and am working on Kate’s attitude about that as well.

In the meantime I will settle for an easy day of sailing with my wife Kate and father-in-law Bill across the Chickahominy river in a 20 foot sailing dingy, Pipsqueak! Bill has a larger sailboat that could go around the world but the water pump is on the fritz. Since that makes it very difficult to navigate a marina we opted for the lil’ guy. Just as well in my opinion. Setting off in the larger more capable craft may tempt me to just keep on keepin’ on and seeing how far around the globe we could get.

Driving the Grass Mini sailboat to the river
Driving Pipsqueak the sailboat to the river.

With the smaller boat we could drive a few minutes to a county park and launch the boat, sail a bit, and get back home in time for dinner. For a few dollars the county has setup a nice boat launch facility for anyone to use.

Bill shared a story of a new boat owner recently showing up to launch for the maiden voyage. An interesting fact about sailboats is that they have very tall masts. In order to tow a sailboat you need to lower the mast to avoid reducing its usefulness when it is driven into a bridge or even a power line. Once you arrive at the marina you hoist the mast while it is still on the trailer, since walking on pavement is much easier than water. The trick is that you don’t want to hoist the mast until all bridges and say, power lines have been cleared. The problem at this marina is that it has a power line fairly close to the launch. This poor fella, not being a veteran captain and such, missed this fact and hoisted his mast outside of the “drop zone”, as it were. Apparently he started backing the trailer down the ramp area and those power lines had another idea and tore the mast right out of his boat. I imagine that ruined his day a bit. Lesson learned: watch where you hoist your mast’s yo!

Launching the grass mini sailboat into the river
Launching Pipsqueak the sailboat into the river.

We, that is to say Bill, pulled the trailer around to where the power lines would have nothing to say about our plans and set her afloat for our afternoon tour of the Chickahominy river. Everything went smoothly with getting into the boat with Bill sharing another yarn.

This time Bill was the main character and while no power lines were involved a fair amount of swimming was. As you may know boats float on top of water. This means they are at the whim of surface tension. They like to rock back and forth at the slightest suggestion. This is important to understand especially when in a small boat that doesn’t weigh very much. Apparently one time Bill got a little fast and lose with his interpretation of Physics and boats. As he entered the craft he stepped a bit too close to the edge causing the boat to pitch towards the vertical. The surface tension was very angry about that and gave Bill a choice to make: Either roll all the way around with your boat to what is known as a capsize, or take one for the team and taste some Chickahominy River water. Bill, being the natural decider that a captain must be, opted for the latter option and created a wonderful way to teach others about how to step into a small boat. Lesson Learned: Step towards the center of a boat that is narrower than you are tall.

So we launched and were floating and sailboating!

Bill rowing the grass mini sailboat on the river
Bill rowing Pipsqeak on the river

Well, almost anyway. At this particular launch there is a nice grove of trees which provides great shade but also likes to block the wind. Without wind a sailboat is an unmoored buoy. Fortunately Bill had outfitted this boat with a 2 stroke engine made of some timber and a strong back. Handmade oars by Bill allowed us to get out of the tributary and into the Chickahominy where the wind was freed from the forests interference and we were sailing!

Bill driving the sailboat on the river
Bill driving Pipsqueak on the river

It was fun to remember some of the terminology and mostly be corrected with the correct terms by Bill. No skin off my back as I am never going to pretend to know anything about ships. That doesn’t keep me from guessing wildly.
-Never! Sheets man, sheets!
Just keep your head out of the booms way and everything will be hunky dory.

Kate and Bill falling over I mean sailing on the river.
Kate and Bill falling over I mean sailing on the river.

The wind was blowing us up river and after one trip across the river we realized the rest of the day would be spent tacking back to the marina. Kate took the helm and I helped by releasing the sheets and tying them down and also taking photos.

Roger sailing on the river
Roger sailing on the river

I used a wide angle lens for this shoot as I knew it would be close quarters and since we would be having fun the distortions of the lens would be perfect. With a polarized filter on most of the water reflection was removed allowing me to be pretty free flow with lighting conditions.

 Bill and Kate glam shot sailing on the river
Bill and Kate glam shot sailing on the river

Of all the shots this one is my favorite. We are heading East with the sun off to camera left but a bit forward as well. The lens hood helped keep to much aberration from happening. Obviously the Sun is the Key light for just about every outdoor shot. The cool thing about this shot is that the main sail acted as a giant white reflector. When the sun hit the sail it bounced back and acts as a fill light on Bill and Kate. Bill’s pose is perfect with that shit eating grin and the bright yellow Nike shirt works with the deep blue sky.

The Sail of Grass mini sailboat on the river.
Pipsqueak’s sail on the river.

After a dozen or so tacks we made it back up to the tributary. Once we got on the other side of the forest we kicked up that 2 stroke rowing machine again. We got to the launch and wrapped up a lovely afternoon quietly going with the wind.

Here it is your moment of Zen…

Sunset sailing on the river
Sunset sailing on the river
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