by Lisa Hinton-Valdrighi
The sun beamed in a clear blue sky a few Sundays ago when I boarded the Schooner Alliance in historic Yorktown. Not a cloud to be seen on a hot summer afternoon.
It was a beautiful day to be on the York River, slowly sailing under the spanned bridge and gazing at the shoreline, speckled with multi-colored umbrellas. I could hear the giggles and squeals of children playing in the water.
I had boarded the boat with about 37 others at the Riverwalk Pier and quickly found I was the only “local.” I met visitors from Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Kansas, North Carolina and Wisconsin, and those were just the folks seated around me. They were all delighted to be spending an afternoon on the water and eager to learn about the boat, the surrounding waterway and historic Yorktown.
Greg and Laura Lohse, captains and owners of the Schooners Serenity and Alliance, have been introducing visitors to York County’s history and entertaining guests on the York River for 14 years. They originally began their daysail business in Cape Charles on the Eastern Shore and in 2000 purchased the Serenity. In 2005, they purchased the Alliance and moved to Yorktown where they founded Yorktown Sailing Charters.
According to mate Harry Kempton, a student at Christopher Newport University in his second season mating on the Alliance, the ship was built in 1995 in Florida and was originally named the Kathryn B. It served as a charter vessel in the Maine Windjammer fleet before the Lohses purchased her in 2005. The name Alliance is a nod to the French and American Alliance that was instrumental in winning the War of Independence in 1781.
Kempton gave cruisers a brief description of the ship and served as our tour guide, adding a little humor to history.
“This is a schooner,” he said. “First, because it says so on the brochure.” But seriously, he added, a schooner is defined by its rig configuration, typically with two or more masts. The Alliance is a traditional gaff rigged schooner and we set five sails on that Sunday afternoon cruise. Unfortunately, the wind didn’t want to cooperate. The York River barely rippled with the breeze.
“We will sail as much as possible,” said Capt. Greg.
The maximum speed under power is nine knots, max speed under sail is 12 knots, said Kempton. We didn’t reach either on that leisurely two-hour cruise. We departed Riverwalk Pier at 2 p.m. and cruised toward the mouth of the river before turning and sailing under the George P. Coleman Memorial Bridge and returning to dock at 2 p.m.
The Alliance sails three times daily in season with sightseeing cruises at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. and a sunset cruise. Capacity on the 105-foot long schooner is 49, 12 for overnight private cruises.
Kempton told passengers about local history as we sailed past the Yorktown Battlefield and got a view of the Victory Monument with its majestic Lady Liberty statue. Many were fascinated by the Coleman Bridge, which Kempton said is the only double swing span bridge in the nation.
Participation on the cruise is encouraged and several folks volunteered as “crew members,” helping to raise the ship’s massive sails, which created a cloud of canvas and offered welcomed shade on a sunny afternoon. Husband and wife, Joel Dell and Becky Lenko, joined Kempton in “sweating the line,” which in the humid 90-degree weather resulted in some real sweating. A line can be taken into the block much quicker with a second person ‘sweating’ the line. Also known as “swigging,” it’s the process of hauling sideways on a line to gain more tension than is possible when pulling parallel with the load of the line.
Volunteers Eusdbert Salazar and Stephanie Letourneau raised the ships mizzen sail, the heaviest sail on board, according to Kempton. The mizzen mast is 65-feet tall, he said. And as we inched nearer the Coleman Bridge, everyone stared skyward. It appeared the tip wouldn’t clear the span as we passed under. But according to Captain Greg, there’s really about six to eight feet of clearance despite the illusion of inches between the top of the mast and the bridge.
Although we weren’t lucky enough, some passengers get to see naval ships, submarines or even porpoises during their sail.
“You never know what will pass by,” said Kempton. During the winter months, the Lohses sail the Alliance south, way south, to Panama, where it receives a month of maintenance. It returns to Yorktown in April.
Sightseeing Cruise Schedule April 12-November 3 Daily cruises at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.; $37 adults, $25 children 12 and younger.
Daily sunset cruises, times vary with the season, $37 per person (no children’s discounts).
Buy tickets online, sailyorktown.com; by phone, 888-316-6422, or at the boat. Advance tickets strongly recommended.
Cruises depart from Riverwalk Pier.