Creola, in my soula. The 4th and final sailboat that owned me was a 1988 O’Day 322 we named Creola. While all of the boats I’ve had the pleasure to call mine have had their charms, I think this was my favorite.
She was a little more modern. 10 years younger than Sea Span. She was more comfortable, with a real owners cabin under the cockpit, broader at the beam which made her more stable, a great sail plan, a winged keel, which was the hot new innovation from the Australian Americas’ Cup boats just a couple of year previous, more accurate instruments, a slightly bigger engine … just a really nice sailboat. And we got her almost by a fluke.
Becky was considering a job back in the Midwest. Ohio. We were so sure she was going to get it that we put Sea Span on the market before the deal was done. And of course, shortly after we sold the boat, the job fell through. And again, we were boatless. If she hadn’t thought she was getting that job, we would never had sold the Hunter.
We found the 322 up on the Susquehanna River, which drains a large portion of Pennsylvania into the Chesapeake Bay. I knew I wanted the boat as soon as I stepped aboard her. And so, the deal made, we went to take possession.
My then-brother-in-law Steve Koper joined me on this cruise, as did Pete Lowenstein from NPR, who owned an O’Day 302 “Stormy Monday”, and TJ (who’s, God help me, last name escapes me), the owner of a Catalina 27 “3/4 Time” in our marina. And as ill-fated as my previous experience taking delivery on a boat had been, this one was spectacular.
Our crew went up to northern Maryland on a Saturday afternoon, with a plan to sail down to Deale on Sunday … Mothers Day. We were up before the sun (Pete’s snoring pretty much kept us awake half the night anyway … sorry Pete), and with the wind on our nose, started motoring down the river to the bay.
I can still see clearly looking to our stern and seeing a fleet of high-speed bass boats coming at us like the helicopters in “Apocalypse Now”. There had to be 75 to 100 of them on a chilly Mothers Day morning … fishermen in camouflage hunkered down behind tiny windshields against the 40 miles per hour relative wind. I’m still not sure why fishermen need cammo. I don’t think they need to hide from the fish, or if they’re just trying to make their boats look abandoned, or what. But there they were, and they went screaming past us, wave after wave of flats boats rushing to what ever favorite fishing spot they had for what ever Mothers Day tournament they were fishing. Soon enough, they were past and left us in peace.
The wind stayed on our nose for about the first 2 hours or so we motored down the bay, but as we got in sight of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, it had shifted just enough to get the sails up and shut down the engine. And then the fun began.
The wind continued to clock around to put us on a nice starboard tack close reach. We were taking turns at the wheel, but my crew allowed me the privilege of sailing under the bay bridge. As impressive as the bridges are here on the St. Johns River, they’re nothing compared to the engineering marvel that is the Bay Bridge. At the center span, it was still probably 150 to the road deck from the top of our mast. As we cleared the bridge, we were able to fall off the wind just a bit more. The boat loved to sail a beam reach, and in no time, we were past the Thomas Point Light off Annapolis and only about an hour from Deale. It was a perfect day to sail.
Creola was the best of the boats I’ve owned. I’d always thought she was a bit of a pig running flat before the wind, until I had her in about a 15-20 knot southerly wind sailing north on the Bay. I spread out the sails wing and wing … the main on the downwind side of the boat, and the genoa fully unfurled on the other side, and she just flat flew up the Bay. At that point I knew I had a real sailing vessel.
But life, as they say, happens. It was my fault the marriage fell apart, and I was moving to Atlanta. I still remember the last time I sailed Creola. She had “For Sale” signs on her, and Jenni was about 7 or 8. Becky didn’t go with us, and I had my last sail on that boat with just my daughter. I was so proud. She handled lines, trimmed sails, and picked up the dock lines as I backed her down into the slip for the last time.
And more than that, even now 10 years later, I can’t write right now.