Weekend of April 15 at Elephant Butte Lake
Mixed winds, mixed sailing conditions, mixed feelings, and a couple of episodes of, "Oh no, not another learning experience!" But it still beats a great day at the office.
Thursday night we finished our tax returns and I brought Gerald to the community college so that Carol Anne could sign a couple of tax forms and Carol Anne and Gerald could drive south to the lake. Friday they eventually got in some practice with "Birdwatcher" and "Husker" of Carol Anne's team and coach "Yoda". C.A. didn't feel up to driving right after a stressful week and a short night for recovery, so they had Birdwatcher do the helming, which worked out quite nicely. I arrived Saturday just in the nick of time to serve cold beverages to the returning crew.
Saturday was supposed to be the day of the "Pickle Race", held for the benefit of the NM Boys and Girls Ranches. The idea was that the club would treat the youth (many from unstable families) to an on-the-water scavenger hunt, then on shore an Easter egg hunt, games, and picnic. Unfortunately, the ranch's central office had not called the houseparents at the individual ranches, so no youth came and the event had to be cancelled.
Saturday, Carol Anne, Gerald, Husker, and their coach got to practice spinnaker sets and douses while performing mock races against another J-24. It was a wonderful experience, especially since Husker had never had a chance to handle a spinnaker until the weekend before, so she was really learning fast. The sailing was followed by a de-briefing for the benefit of the crews, which was also a very useful thing.
I also had my own learning experience. Soloing Carol Anne's Black Magic for the first time, the sail went very well until the late afternoon breezes got out of hand and a few whitecaps started cropping up. I waited a while for other boats to get into the marina before heading in, but when I turned the corner boats were still milling around trying to dock in the stiff headwinds and crosswinds. (Stability of winds is not a given on mountain lakes.) The boat lost headway after I made some short tacks in the unfavorable winds and an attempt to tie up at a houseboat dock also didn't work out (bounced the forestay against the marina but thankfully Etchells have very forgiving rigs), so I had to push the boat off from the marina and accept a tow from a sailboat that was operating under motor. (On Carol Anne's boat it's very hard to try to operate the motor when single-handing ... but more about that later in this narrative.) Gerald, by now on shore with Carol Anne's crew, helped with docking, though we had to work around a very uncooperative, rude, and foul-mouthed (in front of his young children) fisherman who insisted on fishing in a boat docking area instead of using the fishing wells.
Saturday night also saw a good party at the "J-24 Fleet 141 Compound" as many sailors who had planned to help with the Pickle Race showed up for dinner or socializing at Sue and Rich's place near the RockCanyon marina. Of course, it's not hard for nearby sailors to find a place with a half dozen or more sailboat masts sticking up as markers!
Sunday morning people were busy with church or moving slowly, but one boat (Vicky and Ken) did get out in spite of very flat water and little wind. Gerald helped with an Easter egg hunt for the two sons of Sue's sister and with playing cards with Sue's mom. Eventually more people went out on the water. Sue took her sister out with Carol Anne and Husker and Gerald for a short cruise, though the presence of the guest somewhat limited what they could do on the water. Meanwhile, I soloed Black Magic again but had to drop the sail when the headboard fell off the halyard shackle and had to motor in. I hadn't yet been checked out on the motor, but my motivation was very good, so I got it started right away. The small outboard motor is several feet behind the tiller and tended to spin around (it has no reverse so it revolves in its mount), so I wound up running a control rope back to the motor so I could hold it in one hand and the tiller in another and dock. At least this time the docking went just fine and we were able to launch a sailing friend up the mast to retrieve the halyard.
Carol Anne went back out with Sue and Husker for another short sail; I followed a little later with Gerald and Ken No. 2, who wanted to take video of his friend Vicky at the helm of her J-24. This sail went very well and Ken No. 2 loved the Etchells.
We also tried to shadow the fleet sailing champ in his Etchells, but we gave up quite a bit of ground. Although we had a definite advantage of crew weight (Larry was soloing), it was not a fully coordinated crew, plus the motor was partially in the water in spite of efforts to tie it up (bracket was stuck in the down position), plus we were missing a sail batten, plus I had almost no experience with the boat or with racing and didn't know very well what I was doing (it was hard for me to learn to trim for pointing as a mostly cruiser sort of sailor), plus I couldn't hear Larry say where he was going, so I just had to follow him along ... but then that's what happens to even the more experienced sailors in our club during races anyway and they all finish way behind him, too.
Besides, I'm not any sort of real helm on Black Magic -- my job description is more like substitute trimmer/tactician and water boy/team go-fer. My helm time had to be snuck in when the skipper / Sorceress was otherwise engaged with her J-24 team and was officially for her benefit -- crew training and figuring out what needed to be improved or repaired on Black Magic.
Still, Ken got his videos and we had a great sail, getting in just about 20 minutes before the winds got really strong again. Sunday evening became a smaller-scale and much quieter version of Saturday's party, with a break for me to take Carol Anne to a nice, romantic sort of restaurant (Los Arcos) before taking my leave and heading north into the night.
Now it's only several days until the big regatta. None of the teams are as ready as they'd like to be, especially Carol Anne's last-minute, brand-new to J-24s and racing crew, but that's the way it is and neither the quarter-final regatta this coming weekend or the semi-final regatta two weeks later in Austin will wait. It's now a case of, "Ready or not, here we come!"