Written by Rob Carter
In the early 1990’s, I bought an old Columbia 24 sailboat with an Atomic 4 gasoline engine. I kept the boat at a private pier on Town Creek off the Corrotoman River and sailed mostly in the Rappahannock River with my wife Terry and our Golden Retriever Ginger.
After a couple of years, I was confident enough to invite my brother-in-law George and his two teenage sons for an adventure: to sail with me from Town Creek, out the Corrotoman and Rappahannock Rivers, around Stingray Point, and into Jackson Creek where a friend of mine, Harry Thompson and his wife Barbara, had a cottage.
The plan was to meet up with our wives and the Thompson’s for dinner at Taylor’s Restaurant in Deltaville. The day for the sail arrived and it was beautiful: a few clouds, light wind and calm seas. We set both the main and the genoa, but the going was slow so we motor sailed until we cleared Stingray Point.
As we turned for Jackson Creek, the wind picked up. So I killed the engine and the boat took off like a dog released from its leash. The wind was increasing so we began flying along, something that thrilled the boys who by this time were getting bored. George, an experienced boater, was at the helm.
Then, suddenly, the wind picked up even more and shifted sharply causing us to turn in a very tight circle, in effect corkscrewing. The next thing I knew, the genoa started to rip apart. In spite of the confusion, I managed to bring the mainsail down (while inadvertently stepping on one of my nephews who had sought refuge in the cuddy cabin).
By this time the seas had grown to four feet and the genoa sheets were thrashing about dangerously. So I turned on the engine and then went forward to try to corral the whipping lines. By the time the foresail was secured, I was queasy from bouncing around and had to lie down in the cockpit. George asked me what to do? I looked up, located the entrance to Jackson Creek, told him to point the bow in that direction before laying back down.
The wind and seas were against us, so we did not make any forward progress, but at least we were holding our position. After what seemed like a long time, but was probably only fifteen minutes, the wind began to abate and we started to make headway. By then my stomach had settled and I was able to take the helm.
Once we tied up at the Thompson’s pier, we showed them the shredded genoa and related what had just happened to us. Barbara Thompson then told us she had heard what sounded like a railroad train going up the creek. We had apparently been caught in a twister of some kind.
George and his sons declined my invitation to help me bring the boat back to Town Creek.