Monday, September 26, 2005

Sailing in New Mexico?

______ writes: Greetings, I own a Cape Dory Typhoon(18 1/2 full keel vessel) which I currently keep on a trailer at home. We are contemplating relocation to Albuquerque from _____ . Some real estate agents in Albuquerque have ridiculed my intentions to bring a sail boat to New Mexico, stating, "There's no sailing anywhere in this state!" My spouse apparently prefers to take their word rather than my asserting that there are at least two websites purporting to be sailing clubs in New Mexico.... Thank you.

Dear ______ , I would be very glad to gently "re-educate" those real estate agents, but even more glad to welcome you to the New Mexico sailing scene. Given long driving distances, occasional droughts, and flakey lake winds, sailing in New Mexico takes some special effort. However, our sailors would challenge "there's no sailing in this state". Recently, on Sept. 16th, we had 17 boats participate in our "Sunrise Regatta" 10- and 25-mile races. Spring and fall "buoy races" (PHRF or Portsmouth handicap races on an improvised Olympic circle using navigation buoys) typically attract from 6 to 12 boats; summer is a time for casual "beer can" races, "raft ups", or escapes to cooler mountain lakes, such as Heron Lake near the Colorado border, or ocean adventures.

(A. Bouffard photograph of "Catalina Cruise" boats from NM.)

We even have a few folks who have raced at regional, national, and international events. Some of our sailors have cruised quite a few of the corners of the world (one couple trailered a boat and then sailed from Puget Sound to Alaska and back this summer), while others are content to do all their sailing here in New Mexico.

The Rio Grande Sailing Club is a small, casual club, with 116 members who are current for 2005 (57 couples/families, 34 singles, and 25 associate members). Elephant Butte Lake State Park is home to the RGSC, which is affiliated with US Sailing and the Sailing Association of Intermountain Lakes (regional sailing association). Membership in either the RGSC or the New Mexico Sailing Club is one of sailing's best bargains. The NMSC is similar in size to the RGSC; it has about 145 members.

Typical boats: Catalina 22, Catalina 25, J-24, MacGregor 26, Hunter 24, Etchells, Venture, MacGregor 25, etc. These are mostly smaller keel boats with some water ballast boats, daysailers, the occasional dinghy or multihull, etc. A 34' S2 is the largest of our boats that sails at the Butte; some other members have big boats that they keep on the ocean and one couple is preparing a thirty-five footer to move to perhaps Ventura or the central coast.
Popular sailing venues:

Elephant Butte Lake, in southern NM, now has about 10,750 surface acres (close to 20 square miles) at current levels with about 352,000 acre feet in storage; it has about 36,600 surface acres when 100% full with about 2,000,000 acre feet.

Three full-service marinas with fuel, convenience stores, overnight or annual slip or buoy rentals, etc., are available; one is set near historic civilian conservation corps buildings and all can accommodate sailboats. Mast raising poles and concrete surfaced ramps are adjacent to each marina. A mast-up storage lot is adjacent to one marina and a remote boat ramp is located at a campground on the upper part of the lake. Many commercial services for boaters are nearby (boat repair, motels, restaurants, etc.) in Elephant Butte or Truth or Consequences.

In this high desert setting with nearby desert mountains, winters tend to be short and sunny; the RGSC takes about a two-month winter break. The biggest boats on the lake are a few 80' houseboats; the most annoying are the occasional PWC, though these become scarce during cooler weather.

Heron Lake, northern NM, currently has about 230,000 acre feet; it has 400,000 acre feet and 5,200 surface acres (about 8 square miles) when full. Heron is the home of the New Mexico Sailing Club. A limited service (no store, no electric hook ups) marina is operated seasonally April through October by the New Mexico Sailing Club with 100 slips; guest slips are $5 per night.

Heron is a high-altitude mountain lake inhabited by cool-water fish and bordered by juniper trees and ponderosa pines with views of sometimes snowy cliffs and crags; visits are a cool escape from warmer parts of the state. Wildlife viewing is good in the area and Heron is close to the historic Cumbres and Toltec scenic steam railroad.

A mast-up storage lot, mast raising pole, two improved boat ramps, and improved campsites are in the state park; commercial services are available outside the park. Heron Lake is recovering from a drought that lowered lake levels and caused closure of the marina for two years until it reopened this summer. Prospects for a normal season next year look good at this point.

Cochiti Lake is authorized to hold 50,000 acre feet; it is relatively close to Albuquerque and Santa Fe and popular with sailboarders and catamaran sailors. Some very friendly sailors are there (Boat Owners of Cochiti) who, however, have to deal with challenging conditions/limited infrastructure.

Several other large lakes are in the state, but these are more of interest to powerboaters, except for Navajo Lake (1,600,000 acre feet) in the far northwestern part of NM/sw part of Colorado, which is home to the San Juan Sailing Club, where we have visited and enjoyed a friendly reception.

Our family's MacGregor 26 "classic" is "migratory"; from June through Sept. we keep it at Heron Lake in northern NM; then in the fall we move it to Elephant Butte Lake. New Mexico's varied topography creates different climates that let us enjoy sailing most of the year. Our family adventures are more or less chronicled here and at .

I'd be glad to send you a "Foghorn" newsletter. Let me know your current address.

And, please let me know if you'll be visiting New Mexico.

Rio Grande Sailing Club
PO Box 13953,
Albuquerque, NM 87192

New Mexico Sailing Club
PO Box 1795
Bernalillo, NM 87004


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