Tuesday July 15, 2003 10:44AMon
"Copyright Richmond Times-Dispatch, used with permission."
The first sailing lesson came before we even stepped off the dock.
"You have to have a sense of humor to sail," said Willard Strickland, a sailor with a sense of humor. "If you don't, you're going to have a miserable life because so many things can go wrong."
The second lesson became evident soon enough: While just about any reason to go sailing on the Chesapeake Bay is a good one, occasionally reasons emerge that are particularly decent, compelling and noble. Reasons such as 4-year-old Katie, 7-year-old Hannah and 11-year-old Blake.
TO FIND OUT MORE LEUKEMIA & LYMPHOMA SOCIETY Virginia chapter, 5511 Staples Mill Road, Suite 105, Richmond, 23228; (804) 627-0400. Or visit the organizations Web site: http://www.leukemia-lymphoma.org/
They are children from Central Virginia with leukemia whose faces adorned buttons worn by those sailing in the fifth annual Southern Chesapeake Leukemia Cup Regatta on Saturday. Sixty-eight boats competed in the charity event to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
"We like [participants] to wear a button," said Judy Buis, co-chairwoman of the regatta, sponsored by Fishing Bay Yacht Club in Deltaville. "It kind of puts a face and a name on why they're out here."
People such as Tiffany Fisher, who was sailing Saturday and gladly wore a button, really didn't need a reminder. Her brother Joe Carlson was diagnosed with leukemia when he was 4. Tiffany was his bone marrow donor. She'll never forget turning 13 while she was in the hospital. She'll also never forget that Joe was the real hero.
"I spent my birthday in the hospital, but Joe spent four years of his life in the hospital," said Fisher, who lives in Deltaville. "Anyone who faces it and fights it . . . is the hero."
Joe has fought it well. He's 28.
Deltaville is a quiet, largely seasonal community 60 miles east of Richmond on the Middle Peninsula, where the Rappahannock and Piankatank rivers flow into the bay. Deltaville residents, part-time and full- time, love their sunsets - it's hard to beat the scene of the sun vanishing behind Jackson Creek in all its pink-and-turquoise glory - and their sailing.
"People here love to sail," said Roy Meyer, co-chairman of the regatta. "In this case, they're sailing for a cause."
A cause dear to Meyer's heart.
Meyer has had leukemia. Twice. Two different kinds. It is not the sort of distinction that anyone would wish for, but Meyer is dealing with it and doing something about it. After his first bout with the disease, Meyer got involved with a Leukemia Cup regatta in Annapolis - the Southern Chesapeake regatta is one of the Volvo Leukemia Cup Regatta series of nationwide sailing races - and later brought the idea to Fishing Bay.
Deltaville is one of the smallest communities to hold a Leukemia Cup regatta; all of Middlesex County has a population of only 9,000. Yet, it is among the biggest in terms of raising money. This year's event - plus a silent auction, an earlier junior regatta, a kayak tour and other activities - netted more than $115,000. Money comes from regatta registration, individual fund raising by participants, major corporate sponsors such as SunTrust, and small, local businesses.
"They're enthusiastic about it, and, frankly, I hope they feel proud of what they're doing," said Meyer, 69, a retired television news director who has homes in the Washington area and in Hartfield, which is just up the road from Deltaville. "The more research we do, the more we're going to save lives."
. . .
The sky was blue, the water sparkling and the sails full. As we glided across the bay it became evident that, while many days might be good for sailing, this one was exceptional. "A real treat," as our skipper, Owen Davidson, put it.
Davidson had invited us to experience the regatta aboard Allegro, his 40-foot sailboat. We were joined by Davidson's wife, Anne, as well as Willard Strickland, his daughter Eliza Strickland and her friend Laura Vannoy. The Davidsons, from Richmond originally, live near Christiansburg. Strickland is a Richmonder. Eliza and Laura are rising juniors at Douglas Freeman High School.
Davidson, 60, used to sail as many as 20 races a year, but he's scaled back considerably. Which doesn't mean he no longer enjoys it.
"I find it pretty thrilling and exhilarating," he said as we cruised out of Jackson Creek, where Allegro had been docked, and into the bay. The still air of the creek was replaced by a brisk breeze that kissed our faces and swelled the sails.
"I tend to get kind of cutthroat and aggressive," the easygoing Davidson said with a laugh. "Used to, anyway."
The Davidsons know sailing and they know the bay. Owen grew up around boats and water, and Anne sailed as a child with her family. They've seemingly sailed every inch of the bay.
"I think I've seen every face of the bay," Owen said. "Beautiful summer days and cold, snowy, icy days in the winter. You learn to respect Mother Nature.
"All of the bad days really make you appreciate the good days."
And we had a good one.
It was an impressive sight as we headed toward open water. There were boats in front of us, behind us and on both sides - an armada sailing to the starting line.
Of course, the starting line in a sailboat race isn't quite as obvious as one in a horse race, so participating boats began circling the official "committee boat" - on which the starter was riding - like sharks circling prey. Only these sharks smelled not blood but the start of a race.
If a starting line can be confusing at sea, imagine a race course itself. With five classes of boats with different ratings racing at once on two courses, there was a good deal of uncertainty as to who was racing where, which marks were intended for us to go around, how many laps we were supposed to take.
"Sailing," smiled Davidson, "is organized chaos."
Davidson and Strickland did their best determining where we should be going and steered us in that direction. Eliza and Laura helped pulling lines and other chores. The rest of us played "rail meat" - the lucky folks who get to sit on the high side of a tilting boat, dangling our legs over the side to help counterbalance the strength of the wind and feeling the spray of the bay.
Oh, and hoping we wouldn't fall in.
After more than an hour of this, as well as a lot of cranking winches and chatter about "windward" and "leeward," "jibs" and "booms," the horn sounded as we passed the committee boat and we were done. We had absolutely no clue as to what place we finished - or if we'd actually finished.
Turns out, we finished fourth.
Truly, a good day.
Contact Bill Lohmann at (804) 649-6639 or email@example.com