Monday, February 26, 2007

On average he was perfect, but he sure wasn't average.

We often like to claim that our lake winds are perfect...
on average.

That was the case Sunday, when we went sailing during a weather window that followed Friday and Saturday's fierce gusts. Carol Anne skippered Black Magic, with me in middle, "Tadpole" on jib trim, and "Cornhusker" on bow. Initially winds were very light and variable, switching between the west and northwest, so we mostly had a close reach ... switching between a light beat and even occasional downwind bits and bits of no wind and bits with no wind on the surface and a bit of wind further aloft and bits where what little wind was present seemed more vertical than horizontal and other bits of wind where the incense (lime flavored) stick that Tadpole had lit, the Windex, and the tape streaming from the shrouds all had their own different interpretations of the wind. Oh well. I think sometimes we outran the wind, thanks to the boat's efficient shape and the momentum of our heavy keel.

As we approached Horse Island, we could see patches of wind ahead; eventually we and they met and we had on-and-off again winds, but generally much better sailing than we'd had during the first hour and a half of our sail. We passed to the west of Rattlesnake Island and beyond, perhaps a third of the way toward Rock Canyon, then headed south. Winds became stronger, again on and off, and then in a partial lull we had some major wind shifts.

But, then as we headed south past Horse Island and down the last mile and a half toward the marina, we were hit by a wall of wind that increased from 10 to 15 to around 20 knots steady, with gusts of 30 to 40 knots. We de-powered the boat to limit heel, though perhaps feathering too much at times, then dropped the jib as we approached the Elephant and the marina. This made the motion of the boat more comfortable and reduced heeling, though at the cost of somewhat greater tacking angles and more leeway, especially when the boat was pinched to far up into the wind.

After dropping the main a bit early, running it back up and then down again, we shot into the dock on a mostly downwind approach. In the strong winds and tight quarters, and with somewhat limited steerage, we didn't have room to head upwind right before entering the slip. Though we came in a little hot, we had fenders placed for just such an occasion; we let them, rather than human body parts, absorb the excess energy of our approach with no ill effects upon boat or crew. After tying up, we called the local weather information line and found out the winds at the state park office had varied from 6 to 41 mph during the past 20 minutes. Interesting sailing.

The sail had followed a weekend with some marked ups and downs.

Friday afternoon we'd journeyed south to the lake. Originally our plan had been to have Carol Anne and part of our crew take out some New Mexico State University students on a boat while Tadpole and I took a safe boating class hosted by the state park. Tadpole needed to take the class because of a new state law that mandates boater safety training for anyone born after January 1 of 1989 and I needed to take the class as a pre-requisite for perhaps becoming a volunteer instructor. With the weather forecast causing cancellation of the NMSU on-the-water class, Carol Anne also joined us for Saturday's class.

With us on the journey south on Friday were our two cats, Dulce and Tres. Tres was on prescription medication and diet because of a thyroid imbalance, weight loss, and apparent food allergies. He had lost weight, especially in the past couple of weeks. He had only recently received a blood test to check for a kidney problem and his weigh-in last week showed an alarming enough loss that we'd scheduled the next available appointment that Carol Anne could bring him to, for Tuesday, the 27th. Tres would never make that appointment.

Tres wound up having to ride next to Tadpole after having to relieve himself in his cat carrier, and therefore wound up walking across the lawn to the doublewide trailer we'd rented in Truth or Consequences. There, he ate heartily of his dinner and seemed to be more his old self for a while, but then he tired rapidly and had difficulty moving. While Tad cooked our chicken dinner, I gave Tres a long petting session, for which he showed gentle appreciation. After dinner, Tres joined Tad in the back bedroom, cuddling up nestled against Tadpole.

Tad later reported that Tres arose late in the night as a bit of outside light was just beginning in the predawn morning, purred slightly when petted, and stepped off the futon bed they'd shared. He then made a faint meow and was heard from no more. Shortly after, when we all woke, we saw that he'd died.

Losing Tres was hard for us in part because we'd never known a cat quite like Tres.

Tres was many things, but none of them were standard-issue feline. Tres was our "flower child" cat in contrast to Dulce, the practical cat. We'd gotten Tres as a young cat, perhaps 8 months old, still full of teenage catling awkwardness and Dulce had eventually figured out that this was a kitten who needed her help and guidance. Later, Tres overcame most of his clumsiness and invented all sorts of acrobatic tricks, perchang on top of open doors, or riding on our backs and shoulders. Often he would run full tilt through the house, then charge vertically up a wall and do a backflip or some other gold-medal acrobatic stunt. In addition, Tres was the "rubber cat", capable of stretching to great lengths. He'd never jump when he could simply stretch or ooze up or down or across between furniture.

Tres was also the computer cat, learning quickly that he could get all sorts of attention by pressing on one or more keys when Carol Anne, Tad, or I were using the computer. Besides the usual "cat-like typing" he even learned to shut the computer down. Even when he wasn't in sight, sometimes too late we'd see a paw reach up out of nowhere, then gently curve down and stroke a key or two to some dramatic result.

More than anything else, Tres was the most empathic, doglike, and loyal cat we'd ever known. Often he'd follow us around the house; we learned to watch our steps or else we knew we'd soon be saying, "Excuse me, Tres!" It was not very hard to get him to come when called. He seemed not the least whit concerned about maintaining traditional cat standards of dignity or aloofness. When I sat at our dining table, Tres would take the next chair; the chair between mine and Tad's became his. He would then reach out a paw to touch my knee while his tail twitched across Tad's lap. Tres enjoyed using his large vocabulary of strange meows, chirs, squeaks, and other odd sounds whenever near his humans. And, whenever someone in our family was down in the dumps, Tres could be counted upon to sense distress and offer to help by clinging, snuggling, and purring.

His good behavior extended into the vet's office, where he was always a gentle, well-behaved patient. For much of his life, he was known to others as the "Ghost Cat" because of his bashfulness among strangers, especially adults, but he always enjoyed the company of children and even enjoyed a bit of rough-housing with young people. After getting on thyroid medication, he became more mellow and much more friendly with visitors in our homes. We often thought he'd have made a good therapy cat for people in distress. Tres also seemed very much socially motivated; attention was far more important than food or treats.

Today, Monday, I took his body to the pet crematory. Left to us will be the ashes, pictures, and memories.

Excuse us, Tres. Our ten years together passed far too quickly. You were the most loving cat we'd ever known, and you did your bit to make life better for us and bring a smile to our faces. If there's a better place for felines, you're probably now helping run the place and providing comfort to those in need.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Fire in the hole!

We wondered why Zorro called at seven in the morning. Now we know.

Early this morning, he was awakened by pounding on his front door and then by a whole bunch of commotion with neighbors gathering and the fire department arriving and crashing through his driveway and into the back yard.

It turns out that the building in his backyard that houses his gym and sail loft had caught fire. Possibly an electrical wire had been dislodged or damaged and ignited a couple of boxes containing two good spinnakers. The resulting fire, soot, and smoke, along with the response by the fire department, led to further damage, but at least the fire was put out quickly, before it could spread into the building's roof or ignite a nearby gas line or neighboring structures. It's also a good thing that Intrepid's bottom paint wasn't near the fire. And, very fortunately, none of the local felines were inside the gym, including "Mama Smokey", who'd recently given birth to a litter.

So, instead of going in to work as usual, Zorro wound up giving news interviews and calling to set up repair estimates. That's probably okay, though; the sailing weather isn't expected to be good until tomorrow along with Sunday and perhaps Saturday.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Last photos from the Marina Cup race

Chi and crew enjoy the run down past the pin.

Etchells 125, Black Magic, leads USA 574, White Lightnin', on the downwind run toward Rattlesnake Island. In background is Turtleback Mountain, which rises to the north of Caballo peak and to the south of the towns of Truth or Consequences and Elephant Butte.

La Soñadora eases downwind and would eventually finish to score the third victory for the Rock Canyon team.

Black Magic at the Marina Cup Race

Black Magic runs downwind on a reach. Behind her can be seen part of White Lightnin's spinnaker. Further beyond are other boats in the fleet and some Waverider trimarans that were having a regatta.

Black Magic and Chi enjoy the spinnaker run.

Black Magic in the lead at the halfway mark of the race.

Black Magic passes by the pin on the way to mark 8.

After a rough late start, which Zorro blamed on flakey shifting winds right before the start, the crew of Black Magic searched hard for wind on the first windward leg. Eventually they were able to pass their rival several boatlengths before the windward mark, set spinnaker for a reach, and power ahead downwind to keep their lead.

Rio Grande Marina Cup news

Chi (left) and White Lightnin' approach the middle of the course on the run as a paddleboat kayaker enjoys a pleasant day on the water at Elephant Butte Lake.

White Lightnin' passes Chi on the spinnaker run.
White Lightnin' approaches the pin on the downwind run to mark 8 near Rattlesnake Island, Saturday, February 17, 2007.

White Lightnin' passes by the pin on the way south.

Etchells USA 574, White Lightnin', with Turtleback mountain behind.

The Rio Grande Marina Cup Team Challenge was a success in spite of light winds that challenged and sometimes frustrated skippers and crews. Six boats started on Saturday, February 17, 2007 in about three to four knots of wind from the north-northwest. Despite one weather service prediction for stronger winds, conditions remained light and variable, with almost windless patches on the beat and significant wind shifts near the windward mark.

Light and variable winds made the start a challenge for many boats, but "Sutherland" and crew White Lightnin’ got a very good start in clear air and led the way upwind and continued to find good areas of wind, only to finally be caught a little ways before the windward mark by her rival, Black Magic. The smaller Victory 21, Chi, was one of the leaders all the way up and continued downwind in hot pursuit of the two Etchells.

First to finish was Black Magic, followed about twelve minutes and 45 seconds by White Lightnin’ and then, after a similar interval, by the modified Victory 21, Chi. Chi kept the pressure on the leaders throughout the race and was well ahead of her rival when she finished. Subsequently Wind Rush retired from the regatta, as did Kachina. However, the new skipper at the helm of La Soñadora kept plugging away in the J-24 pairing of the race, building a lead over Lisa Carlson and a crew of student sailors on Kachina, and crossing the line to earn the third and final point for the Rock Canyon team.

Watching the proceedings were sailors on Kilo Whiskey and Stan's Newport 30 Mark II.

While waiting for other boats to finish, the two Etchells started a second race, with Chi joining in the light-air challenge. However, the winds became even flakier and lighter upwind, particularly in the upwind part of the course, so the race committee eventually had to signal abandonment, weight anchor, pull the pin, and motor up to take Black Magic and White Lightnin’ in tow. As the returning boats entered the pass west of Rattlesnake Island a breeze sprang up; it lasted just long enough to allow the two Etchells to cast off their towlines and sail to their marinas.

The (slow-moving) on-the-water action was followed by dinner at the Casa Taco, where J.R. and crew welcomed the sailors and kept the place open late for their enjoyment.

The race begins; Rio Grande Marina Challenge Cup at Elephant Butte Lake

White Lightnin' heads upwind after winning the start.

Black Magic works on getting traction in very light conditions shortly after the start.

Black Magic is trimmed to ghost upwind in extremely light conditions.

Kachina sails up past the starting line in light conditions with Lisa and a crew from New Mexico Tech on board.

Kachina at left follows Wind Rush and La Soñadora.

Lake conditions at Elephant Butte and Heron lakes, New Mexico

Elephant Butte Lake status, 4 a.m., February 20, 2007:
4,346.00 feet above benchmark elevation, 585,997 acre feet.
Up .10' and 1,402 a.f. in 24 hours; up .32' and 5,78 a.f. in 71 hours.

Elephant Butte Lake Elev. (feet) . . . . Storage (acre feet) . . . Date
4,346.00 . . . . . . . 585,997 . . . . . . . Feb. 20, '07 (0400)
4,343.98 . . . . . . . 557,894 . . . . . . . Jan. 31, '07 (1200)
4,340.54 . . . . . . . 511,683 . . . . . . . Dec. 30 (0800)
4,336.52 . . . . . . . 460,330 . . . . . . . Nov. 30
4,331.24 . . . . . . . 397,510 . . . . . . . Oct. 31
4,327.10 . . . . . . . 351,800 . . . . . . . Sept. 30
4,325.18 . . . . . . . 331,550 . . . . . . . Aug. 31
4,308.50 . . . . . . . 183,870 . . . . . . . July 28 low point
4,339.88 . . . . . . . 503,030 . . . . . . . March 5 high point
4,334.06 . . . . . . . 430,410 . . . . . . . January 1, 2006

Lake Conditions as of Monday morning, February 20, 2007

Heron Lake is at 7,135.82 feet, 165,182 acre feet; it is down .13’ and 452 a.f. in 71 hours,
with contractors taking about 175 acre feet per day and the lake going down about a half inch a day.

The lake will likely reach its low point in mid-April, with the marina reopening in early to mid May.

The Heron Lake marina is in about 10 feet of water (with probably still quite a bit of ice).


Monday, February 19, 2007

View from the committee boat

Black Magic, at right, has tacked to starboard and will cross the port-tackers during the early part of the Marina Cup Challenge race.

Black Magic leads the downwind parade on a beautiful winter day at Elephant Butte Lake in southern New Mexico. Carol Anne helms with Zorro and Twinkletoes as crew. Pat enjoyed a good look from the committee boat.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Snow Day

One of our Sunfish is loaded on a utility trailer. Carol Anne's Etchells, Black Magic, waits in her slip in the marina, with a couple of kayaks alongside. Our MacGregor waits just a mile from the lake. Another Sunfish and a Snark are on a trailer next to our cabin in the snowy north. Carol Anne and Tadpole don't have to teach or go to school today. So, why don't they go sailing?

A weekend at the club ... studying

The Houston Yacht Club overlooks the upper end of Galveston Bay from its location in Shore Acres. We spent most of our waking hours in a room called the "Porthole", studying sailboat regatta management at the US Sailing Advanced Race Management Seminar, then taking our essay and objective exams. Now that we've passed, we need to get a lot of experience helping run regattas, especially in larger or more formally organized (particularly for regional or national certifcation) races outside New Mexico.

So close to the water and so close to so many pretty boats ... and we didn't get out on the water for even the briefest sail. Next time we're in the neighborhood?

Heavy traffic is common on Galveston Bay; sailors are wise to respect the Law of Gross Tonnage.

In the background, a dredge works to keep the Houston ship channel navigable.

Crew works at the crane.

So close to so many boats.

Overcast skies, but nice boats

These boats look lonely for a crew. Despite gray skies, the winds on Galveston Bay were good last weekend. Too bad we were cooped up in a room, just 50 yards from the water.

None of the Etchells at the Houston Yacht Club got wet the weekend of February 10, 2007, except for perhaps some light drizzle. Etchells Fleet 23 has boats at the Houston YC, Texas Corinthian YC, and Lakeshore YC (plus Dave Whelan's yard).

Monday, February 05, 2007

Weekend Outline

On Friday after working into the middle of the afternoon, I picked up Carol Anne and Tad, who had boxed and loaded the felines into their carriers. We stopped at Quarters so Carol Anne could get a case or so of boutique beer, then changed drivers to allow Tad to get driving experience on the trip south.

En route we stopped at the Socorro Springs brewpub to fill Carol Anne's growler. I was the designated beer refiller, so I chose "Brown Eyed Molly", a nice dark ale with a little bit of everything in the way of taste.

Enroute we learned that Dino was back in El Paso; we also learned we'd need to move our temporary Team Black Magic southern ommand center out of the apartment in Truth or Consequences and into a double wide. Dino had just returned from a trip to a south Texas hunting ranch (deer, pig, turkey) where he got to ride in a helicopter that was used as part of a cattle roundup. He also was relieved to find out that Your Mom was almost entirely unscathed after a storm severely damaged the marina in Kaneohe Bay on the east side of Oahu, breaking up some piers and causing the failure of Your Mom's mooring. Your Mom had grounded, fortunately, in a muddy/sandy area and barely scratched her paint, as a subsequent survey discovered.

We spoke with Zorro; learned of rear-end trouble in part of the Panzerflo"te. Conner had joined with cats in voting down Blondie's Hawaiian proposition but office product sales were up.

We spoke with Seattle and learned that the NM Tech sailors were about to get the vice presidential yacht. That is, the neglected J-24 belonging to the vice president/provost for research was going to be donated to the student sailing club.

Leaving the cats at the apartment, we ran to Bullocks for groceries. Some great small-town bargains were soon ours, such as five pounds of potatoes for eighty-nine cents and twenty-five key limes for a buck. At the store we saw Marina Manager Mike and Captain Groovy and chatted with them for a few minutes. We had a nice dinner and Tadpole also practiced on his cello into the night.

Zorro's car trouble kept him away and Cornhusker was off in Cruces with Bassmaster. So, we were short on both crew, and as it turned out, wind; very light breezes made the idea of sailing a bit of a yawn.

The ring base was now too flat for the boom and we couldn't locate replacement needles for the stitching awl, so we had to accept another delay in setting up a mount for the spin pole.

We went to the marina, seeing Sutherland, Dixie, and Teddy Bear on White Lightnin' approaching the Dam Site courtesy dock. Pat kayaked from Rock Canyon marina to the boat ramp and courtesy dock next to the Dam Site marina, then returned after getting in a nice half hour of exercise. And, even though I'm no swift paddler, in the almost non-existent winds my kayak was the fastest thing moving on the water. (The only power boaters in the neighborhood were drift-fishing.)

Pat brought Carol Anne and Tad to the Dam Site restaurant overlooking the harbor for a lunch and the more-or-less first-ever and Organizational Meeting of Etchells Fleet 31. Actually we did discuss several fleet related topics, along with a hot-button issue for the White Lightnin' crew: how to get from the cockpit to the foredeck. We may be able to give them some steps.

Especially Pat and Tad lots more packing, organizing, and cleaning. We also cooked up a nice dinner, our last in the Myrtle Street apartment.

That night, Carol Anne suffered her first bad migraine in years, and I got to suffer along a wee bit, too and try to help.

We learned that Zorro had patched up one of his Mercedes and would be up that morning. Husker was staying home with a cold. We went by Desert Lakes Realty to get the key for the elderly double-wide we'd be moving our lake stuff into; after a few hiccups the errant key was apprehended and turned over to us.

Upon approaching the cove in the southern end of Elephant Butte Lake we saw the White Lightnin' crew at the Dam Site ramp and visited; Sutherland and Dixie planned to sail White Lightnin' a few miles north to the main marina boat ramp, where Teddy Bear would be waiting with Sutherland's truck. Winds extremely light, around 1 kt. Carol Anne was invited aboard and decided instead to go to Rock Canyon and rig Black Magic, wait to see whether Zorro arrived first or Sutherland and White Lightnin'. White Lightnin' took about 45 minutes to arrive; Zorro about 65 minutes, so Carol Anne was on White Lightnin' and a short distance from the marina when Zorro arrived and rigged USA 38, Constellation.

About that time, a nice wind arrived, allowing for good sailing for the two boats. Constellation quickly caught up with White Lightnin' and sailed some lazy circles around her while Sutherland called out various detailed sorts of commands to his crew. After White Lightnin' arrived at the main marina, Carol Anne jumped ship (the 574 crew was famished for lunch but Carol Anne was more in need of quality on-the-water time) and sailed with Zorro. The wind faded, but didn't wholly die before they came to within a quarter mile of Rock Canyon marina.

Meanwhile, Pat and Tad were busy with moving. We relocated Black Magic's trailer to a corner parking spot, and moved Syzygy (our MacGregor 26) to dry storage in Elephant Butte at CD's place where we updated him on our happenings and paid three months' rent. We moved a couple of loads of furniture, boat gear, and miscellaneous household stuff, including one load in our 6x12' utility trailer, to the small double-wide. There we met a new neighbor and got help finding the water cutoff and Tad began to attack the grime in the kitchen. Dulce got very excited when she saw a mouse in the bathroom; we think we'll now call the doublewide Dulce's Hunting Lodge. Tadpole had a brief conversation with the months-old remains of a Mickey D's Happy Meal in the fridge that seemed to have evolved far enough to have acquired crude powers of speech.

I also ran a quick side errand to Alco, where I was able to buy a couple of gallons of bleach for cleaning the trailer more intensively than we'd originally planned upon, but found they were out of key blanks for duplicating the trailer key. In between a couple of our trips, we visited the Rock Canyon Marina and had a lengthy conversation with Rodeo Mom, who has the idea that the lake level will go down a bunch this year, which doesn't seem likely to other people I've asked. We phoned Carol Anne, who with Zorro was sailing slowly near Rattlesnake Island at the time. We visited Husker and got her signed on board as the registered agent for Etchells Fleet 31 - a requirement incidental to incorporating the Etchells Fleet as a New Mexico nonprofit corporation. Husker was feeling better and also reported that GI Jane had enjoyed the first session of the sailing class at NMSU, led by Dumbledore and Mother.

Tad and I made a final trip back to the old apartment to get the last few things out of there and found the new tenant was already starting to clean and prepare to move in. We gave her some useful hints about the apartment and how things worked in it and introduced ourselves to her and her teen daughter.

We caught up with Carol Anne and Zorro shortly after they'd returned to the marina and de-rigged and covered their boats. Zorro signed some Etchells Fleet 31 paperwork and we traded information. Zorro's estimates for the lake this year are about 30 or 40 feet of elevation more positive than Rodeo Mom's estimates.

Before returning to the trailer, we and Zorro convoyed up to the main marina, where the 574 crew was hauling out their boat ... again as it turned out; when being dipped into the water to try to remove some slime, White Lightnin' had not been tied to her trailer, with no crew on board, and drifted out into the harbour, to be chased down by a marina employee in a pontoon boat. There was also the response to "Throw me a line" and the long-distance key throwing competition. Ah, the joys of "oh no, not another learning experience!".

Returning to Dulce's Hunting Lodge, we organized a few more things. Unfortunately, we didn't have time to do much unpacking or find out whether the water heater or furnace were working. Even though we've tried to set up the lake apartment in "camping" style and minimize junk, we still have quite a few hours ahead of us before to trailer will be quite civilized.

Then we headed for the nearby La Hacienda restaurant. The waitress was happy to turn on the small television so Carol Anne could see the third quarter of a football game; that also pleased the cook, who also seemed to be a football fan. The albondigas (meatball) soup was great and the meals were good values; also, Carol Anne was pleased that Negro Modelo and Bohemia were only a quarter more than domestic beers. Unfortunately, she later learned that Da Bears didn't quite win in spite of hanging in there and leading for parts of the game.

Soon it was time to leave. Tad got to drive all the way north through Socorro to Albuquerque, getting more valuable driving hours and getting to tow our utility trailer (and get more hours of night driving, which he may have as many of as daytime driving - I guess our family is more nocturnal than most.) In Socorro we stopped at NM Tech to retrieve one of our Sunfish sailing dinghies; it had been used as a prop to attract attention at the NM Tech Club Fair the previous Monday. We also fueled Babe and refilled Carol Anne's growler with "Get Well Pale Ale". It was rather late by the time we returned to Albuquerque on Sunday night.

Coming soon:
Bureaucracy and the Dawn of the Corporation. Bankers' rules.
Sutherland and Susy Q plan a knot-tying adventure.
Managing the race -- dashing to the gulf.
The challenge.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Anticipating the shift

Watching for wind shifts on mountain lakes is tricky because the relationship to what the wind is doing on land and what it'll do on the water isn't always obvious. Because we're often sailing near the shore, we may only see a change in wind patterns on the water very shortly before they arrive.

Because of the surrounding mountains, hills, and cliffs, some of the wind doesn't reach the water's surface to give us a reliable telltale clue -- but does sometimes reach the top of our high-aspect main -- if not at the same angle it would have reached or sometimes reaches the surface. Wind shears can be tricky.

And, the wind is sometimes channeled in strange, three-dimensional directions by near-shore topography. Last Saturday we were sailing with Zorro on Constellation northnortheastward under spinnaker with a moderate following breeze. As we passed the Elephant, however, suddenly we were hit with a eastnortheast headwind that plastered the chute against the forestay. Then, in a few minutes, we again got a southerly following breeze.

When conditions are stronger, we can get sudden changes in wind direction and partially vertical downdrafts coming from the Elephant. We call these "Elephant Farts". They can be annoying, as when they force us into endless tacks on headers -- or dangerous, if they catch a crew unprepared.

Sailing near Rock Canyon Marina, Elephant Butte Lake

Portion of sailboat row, Rock Canyon Marina. Far right are houseboats in their sheds; empty slip at near right belongs to USA 38, Constellation. Next is Black Magic, USA 125, in her slip along with a couple of our kayaks, and then at left are some cruising sailboats. Note how low and close to the water Black Magic's decks are in comparison to those of the cruisers.

USA 125, Black Magic, snug in her slip at Rock Canyon Marina, Elephant Butte Lake State Park, New Mexico. Note that as of last Saturday, she was still missing her boom, which was being re-assembled with a new forward end plate and gooseneck fitting. Although more than thirty feet long overall (twenty-two feet of waterline length), Black Magic looks like a dinghy when adjacent to cruising boats with less length but much greater freeboard and beam.

Except for the occasional winter storm (more frequent this year than in most years), Elephant Butte Lake is very quiet in winter. Gone are the goofy jetskiers and partiers; remaining are but a few fisherfolk and the occasional cruiser or sailor. Some of the houseboats in the marina are quite large and luxurous, with lengths of 80 to 100 feet, large covered upper decks, full flush plumbing, and luxurious kitchens -- no mere marine heads or galleys. Visible beyond and astern of the houseboat is the Rock Canyon Marina office and store. Because of the past year's low water levels, Rock Canyon Marina is now located near the dam at the lower end of Elephant Butte Lake. However, as water levels continue to rise, the marina may have to return to its normal location several miles to the north, just to the north of the area where the Rio Grande Sailing Club conducts races.

As of Friday morning, February 2, 2007 (6 a.m.), Elephant Butte Lake was at 4,344.16 feet above benchmark elevation (benchmark elevation is somewhat higher than mean sea level, perhaps by about 25 feet), with 560,382 acre feet of water in storage.

Elephant Butte Lake in Winter

North side of the mesa that gives Elephant Butte Lake its name. When viewed from the south, the west profile of the island is said to resemble an enormous pachyderm.

Constellation heads south back toward Elephant Butte and home. Visible at right are the sheds covering portions of the marina; beyond the marina is the dam (far right) and Turtleback Mountain and peaks beyond. Sailing in high mountain lakes is always challenging; conditions can change rapidly.

Sail ahoy!

A beautiful day for a downwind run. USA 38 is thought to be one of the last Etchells built by Skip Etchells at the Old Connecticut Boatworks and is the senior member of the new USA Etchells Fleet 31 now being formed in the southwestern US. Unlike most Etchells fleets, which are based in a single harbor or at most scattered among a few yacht clubs or otherwise in close proximity, Etchells Fleet 31 will represent go-fast sailors in west Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, and possibly beyond. Fleet 31 will also be the highest-altitude Etchells fleet in the world; the lakes that are home to Fleet 31's boats range from about 4,400 feet (1 340 m) above sea level to 9,017 feet (almost 2 750 m) high.

Snow in Truth or Consequences?

Snow or Turtleback Mountain, Truth or Consequences, New Mexico.

Old-timers say that many years have passed before residents of Sierra County, New Mexico, have seen this much snow this close at hand. Snow even accumulated in the towns of Truth or Consequences and Elephant Butte during January 2007, but the warm high desert sun soon made most of it vanish. (Saturday, January 27, 2007, after some of the snow had melted and evaporated.) Even El Paso, Texas had the unusual challenge of what to do with several inches of snow; this being a particular issue in a town whose residents hardly know what a snow shovel looks like.

Sailing with Seymour Junior and Co., Elephant Butte Lake

"Zorro" in foreground; forward, from left, "Seymour", "Seymour Jr.", and Carol Anne, all aboard USA 38, Constellation, sailing northwest toward Rock Canyon Marina from the Dam Site mooring area. (Saturday afternoon, January 27, 2007, Elephant Butte Lake State Park, New Mexico.)

Seymour prepares the spin pole for a jibe. Later, Zorro had me play bowman.