High Street Landing in Portsmouth, a hot summer day. I had stopped to get a sandwich and a cold glass of tea. Tied up nearby was the schooner Spirit of Independence, waiting to take on guests for a sail that day. I had enjoyed seeing the schooner out on the Elizabeth River for a few years, traded tacks with her on breezy days, exchanged compliments with the captain now and then as I crossed behind her stern.
That day at High Street Landing a man came over and introduced himself. It was J.C. Waters, the captain, builder and owner of the Spirit of Independence. Like most people I know out on the river, I had known him only by a smile and friendly wave across the water. I was glad to finally meet him in person. We talked about how much we admired each other's boat, how much we enjoyed being out on the river. I was surprised that a man who sails such a big schooner, one that he had built with his own hands, could take delight in my little boat.
We exchanged phone numbers that day, even made plans to get together for a sail. I could pick him up one morning at the docks in Portsmouth for a sail on Spartina. That afternoon we would leave Spartina at the docks and go for a sail on the Spirit of Independence. I was excited about a sail on the schooner. J.C. told me he had been wanting to sail on Spartina for some time. Yes, let's get together and do it.
J.C. Waters died Tuesday in a plane crash in Missouri. I met him in person just that once - the day we made plans to sail.
I know he was a popular man on the Portsmouth waterfront and he will be missed. I will miss him too. I will think of J.C. when I'm out on the Elizabeth on a sunny summer afternoon, and wish we had made the time to get together for sailing our boats, both big and small. And I will remember the smile I had seen when he was at the wheel of his ship, the Spirit of Independence heeling in the breeze and heading downriver.