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Photos by Harry Kollatz Jr.
Dido sails for the first time.
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We departed north on the Boulevard. Dido seemed to travel well, flying her Siewers Lumber warning flags.
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The boat’s mast is lashed to the roof of Verlon Vrana’s truck, with Mathews Baptist Church in the background.
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Gwynn’s Island from where the boat met water.
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This vessel, Vrana tells me, was built by Sea Scouts some years ago and won in a raffle. But she never felt the water. The land is reclaiming her, and a tree grows out of her deck.
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A chart of our location, just a little below Gwynn’s Island.
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Dido prepares to emerge.
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Vrana successfully gets her out.
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Vrana rigs Dido’s mast.
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By Thursday morning, Dido is back on Boulevard, but the boat cannot return to the living room. He’ll find a friendly home for her.
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Dido sets sail
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Dido under sail
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Dido is real.
Editor's note: This is the second installment of a post from earlier in the week. (Read part one here.)
Verlon Vrana’s Dido began her journey to the water in the back of his Ford pickup truck. He spent the morning preparing his boat and himself. He made sure supplies were squared away and brought along his American Library edition of William Faulkner stories that includes "The Mosquitoes."
“It’s all about artists and bohemians who get stranded on a yacht and their silliness,” he grins. “The book made more sense to me after I was hanging out with artists and bohemians.”
We traveled though a still, gray day, interspersed by rain, seeming not to favor a sail.
But the day before, Vrana and friends brought Dido out from his living room, where he’d built the boat, and on this morning he sought to demonstrate that even “an old man” could bring her out, rig the mast and set sail. A major reason for this effort is to demonstrate that, with the proper tools and training, one could make such a craft. He hopes to use this as a selling point for a youth boat-building program he’d like to implement along Richmond’s riverfront.
Once off a short interstate jaunt heading east, we went past the shoals of readymade suburban houses into woodlands and farm fields that were deep and verdant for late August in Virginia, when usually nature is scorched brown.
We rolled past signs describing Stuart’s Ride Around McClellan and The Battle of Savage’s Station to Orapax, where Powhatan once lived and where he took Capt. John Smith after his capture and the Treaty of 1646 that Chief Necotowance signed, thinking he’d secured some security for his people, only to have their lands violated again shortly thereafter. We traveled the route George Washington and the Comte de Rochambeau took on their march to victory at Yorktown. Here, owners of property put out signs proudly proclaiming that they’ve been here since 1671. We crossed a high bridge spanning the broad Mattaponi River.
The houses were farther apart and longer, and boats started to appear in driveways. At a convenience stop near Mathews Baptist Church, an elegant wood frame building that I wondered if shipwrights built, Vrana made a satirical assessment of Dido poking out of the Ford. “Would you look at that? Who’d shove a boat in a truck like that? That’s just silly.”
We arrived at the launch place near the mouths of the Piankatank and Mattaponi rivers, but Vrana wanted to first check in with the Coast Guard at nearby Milford Haven station.
He needed to reconfirm their number and that of the swing bridge operator, just in case.
Then began the laborious process of removing Dido from the truck, easing her onto the grass, sliding in the centerboard, installing and rigging the mast and attaching the skeg, rudder and tiller.
Before putting her into the water, Vrana poured Bell’s Oberon Ale over her bow and, on his instruction, we each tossed a quarter into the water, “It’s for Neptune,” he explained.
Once Dido’s pieces were assembled, Vrana jumped into his boat and began her first trial run. Dido took her first wind across from Gwynn’s Island. I considered how you can take a boat from here into the Chesapeake Bay and begin a true voyage — if you are a capable sailor.
Vrana estimated the breeze at 15 knots, when it bothered to move at all. Dido slid out toward Gwynn’s and caught some wind to glide past trees on the opposite shore. Then the wind quit. Vrana maneuvered closer to shore and a dock. He jumped out and tugged her back to deeper water. He joked, “I’m just walking back from a sail.”
This inaugural sail meant something to a man who built a boat in his apartment’s living room. As he dragged Dido to the beach, he observed that she’d gotten salt water on her and a few scratches. “She’s real now,” he said and patted her gunwale. “She’s real.”
For further information on how Vrana built Dido, and for his concept of a youth boat-building program, call (804) 926-4739.