Moonlight on the Water
Yesterday Zorro called Batwoman to let us know he was headed for the lake. Tad had to lead a troop meeting and the Batgal had to teach, but I got the message and headed south just before rush hour got too awful.
Reaching the marina an hour before sunset, I met Zorro on the dock just after he'd docked USA 38. He'd had to sail solo because the crew he'd expected hadn't materialized, and conditions hadn't been too great with not much usable breeze. Also, he'd been unable to replace a failed jib halyard, and had been improvising by hoisting the jib with the spin halyard and not bothering with the chute.
So, we didn't have overly high expectation but went sailing anyway. That's what you do if you have a boat, a sail, and something like a breeze.
As it turned out, we had quite good sailing conditions. The breeze varied from a couple of knots to maybe eight or so, with enough consistency and variety to make the sailing interesting. Conversation was good, with plans for boat improvements and repairs, plans for regattas and sailing activitities, ideas for building up the local Etchells fleet, and news of the lake and local sailing community.
Zorro had me work on jib trim and on improving my efficiency in tacking the jib. I'd been pretty sloppy at first and had almost no practice this summer, plus Tad had been sometimes zealous in guarding his turf on Batwoman's USA 125 -- the pointy end of the boat including the forward control console and jib sheets. The great secret in tacking an Etchells jib properly is to maximize _____ and minimize ____ ; the jib should go over very ________ and ________ , without any fuss. I made a couple of dumb brain fart/absent minded goofs, but nothing too awful, and got better as the afternoon progressed into evening. Zorro also pointed out things that made the boat go slow or fast.
As the afternoon lengthened, we saw an interesting and welcome sight: another boat sailing out from the Dam Site area. We noted a colorful foresail, then a dark hull, then saw that the hull was red ... and recognized a sailboat belonging to Ranger Ben, one of the local park rangers, and sailed by him and a companion. We enjoyed hailing Ben as we spoke his boat and caught up on a couple of details.
We sailed from Rock Canyon Marina (temporarily near the dam) up to Marina del Sur, where we enjoyed some really nice wind with puffs that were just big enough to accelerate the boat nicely. One puff caught us just a bit unprepared, which allowed Zorro to show me the sound the keel makes when it gets a little bit unhappy and inefficient. Zorro was also able to point out some of the lake's hazards and shoal spots at the current lake level. (An interesting feature of lake sailing is what the fluctuations in lake level do to challenge one's local knowledge; if you return to a lake after an absence of a few weeks it can be almost like sailing on a different lake!)
With the moon at first quarter shining upon the water, dusk didn't cut off our sailing. Keeping an eye out for unlit buoys, we tacked and ran back and forth in the area north of the towering mesa that gives Elephant Butte Lake its name. The winds were fickle, coming and going; sometimes we'd outrun a breeze but then have to be alert to catch a new breeze that came in from whatever direction it might please. It became harder and harder to see the tell-tales, though on some tacks there would be just enough moonlight in the right place for me to see the leeward tell-tale through the sail. At other times, we were sailing mostly by feel; in the lighter winds I'd stand and turn my face around to catch faint breezes and changes in wind direction.
Too soon it was getting too late. We couldn't stand to return to the marina immediately even so, and sailed one or two more final passes through the area, then turned back toward the marina, got in a couple of last tacks, lowered the jib, sailed past the slip, lowered the main, and made a mostly downwind approach under bare poles in the moonlit evening. Then it was time to secure docklines and roll up sails before saying a last reluctant farewell to the boat and make our respective 150-mile or so drives home; Zorro south and me north.