Monday, May 19, 2008

Frustrating But Satisfying

Plans for this past weekend began to take more solid form once we’d ransomed our Expedition, Babe, for the service department at the dealership. After working Friday morning and the first part of the afternoon, I returned home to finish loading the truck, replace the air filter, and drive south to Elephant Butte Lake with Carol Anne and Gerald. We found a small obstacle at the marina; the rising lake waters had outpaced movement of the gangway to the marina, so we had to hop on boards to cross over the water.

The three of us were able to join Zorro on his Etchells “Constellation”. We sailed around to the south and east of the Rock Canyon Marina, then turned north past Long Point Island. There the winds left of for a while, but a wind line to the west and another to the north soon merged and gave us a good sail some miles north past the Monticello campground and boat ramp on the west and the entrance to Barney’s Cove on the east. Southbound, Zorro gave me work to replace viewing the scenery by giving me the chute to trim. Eventually, after more sailing around, we glided into the dock just before dark after some very nice sailing.

With the remainder of the evening we brought one of Dennis Connor’s old mainsails down to the boat, grabbed dinner at Big Food Express/Club Bossa Nova/Two Bulls’ place, and admired the new replacement tiller for Carol Anne’s boat. Gerald went back to Rock Canyon with Zorro and we checked into our motel and got a weather report.

Saturday: Tiller-Taming and a Surprise Blow

Saturday morning the winds were slow to appear, so Carol Anne and I did a bit of light shopping (athletic shoes and ear buds for Carol Anne, a couple of screwdrivers for Black Magic). We got breakfast in Truth or Consequences at Barbeque on Broadway, leaving Gerald and Zorro to try to sail in a brief window of morning wind. We brought Gerald a breakfast burrito; while he ate I removed the old, decrepit tiller from Black Magic. The new tiller didn’t fit within the bracket at the top of the rudder post, so we had to take the tiller ashore and use a jigsaw, grinder, sanding disk, and drill to match up the parts before I could install the tiller. With the gangway still sunk in the water (the marina’s work barge had been diverted south to do storm repairs at another marina), we relied on the water taxi provided by the marina staff during most of our trips back and forth between shore and marina.

By then, the first part of the afternoon was passing, but we had plenty of time for sailing. So, Zorro shoved off in Constellation and the rest of us took off in Black Magic with the new tiller and with a relatively new mainsail. We had a lot of fun doing some sort of loose tuning or mock racing around some buoys, doing mostly well though there was one beat where we went too far out to the lay line and missed a good wind shift. The winds picked up, making the sailing all the more exciting as Black Magic shouldered into the waves and the pace of the action accelerated.

After a couple of hours of good sailing, we noticed that Zorro was headed back for the marina, with mechanical difficulties as it turned out; a cleat or shackle had failed. We followed a bit later so we could help him with his boat work and take a break. But, the break was delayed because the powers of nature had other plans. Just as we arrived at the marina, the winds began to rise from the east-northeast, allowing a swell to build up through an exposed passage that wasn’t protected by the breakwater of floating tires. The winds quite quickly became fierce, slamming against our boat and Zorro’s in the exposed easternmost row. Soon the boats were jumping wildly and some boats were straining their tethers and hitting the marina. Our boat was being pushed toward Applegal’s Etchells, and a wildly jumping cruising sailboat was threatening Constellation. Waves were washing over the piers. A boat, and then another boat, and then yet another broke docking lines. A peak gust of 55 mph was recorded in the marina office. Marina workers and some of the rest of us worked quickly to tie boats up better and replaced broken docking lines. Gerald was a big help to the marina folks. I spent a lot of time during the melee adding more docking lines to protect Black Magic, but took time to jump on board a bouncing Catalina 22 and haul it away from Zorro’s Constellation, which it was trying to gouge with its motor and transom as it bounced about.

Although our Etchells had escaped the brunt of the storm by coming in to the marina, one sailboat and its crew were intrepid enough to take on the blow out on the open lake… our commodore’s MacGregor X, Aquanaememity, of all boats. Buzz and Kari managed with motor power, but found the going tricky because the waves would periodically pop the boat’s stern and propeller out of the water. As the storm subsided, they returned to the marina and Gerald helped them dock. Now it was time for a break. Soon I was leaning against the cushions on Buzz and Kari’s fine sailing machine with a refreshing beverage in hand, with Gerald and Carol Anne joining us soon.

But the break wasn’t long to last; with the winds subsiding to a pleasant level, Zorro was ready to go sailing. Gerald was content to remain ashore, but Carol Anne and I were game for another go. I helped turn Zorro’s boat into the wind and gave her a shove, then we went out for what turned out to be some excellent sailing, with more spinnaker trimming practice for me. It was again quite late by the time we returned to the marina and land, with just time for dinner at Hodge’s, to which the originally planned “raft-up” potluck had moved, so we joined Zorro, Kari, and Buzz at the “special” corner table in the restaurant (the one with a specially-labeled shovel resting in the corner). Finally, it was time to pick up a like-new mainsail that we’d bought through Zorro and turn in for the night.

Sunday: Parting is such sweet sorrow

Sunday morning dawned slowly for us. We got a weather update and called the state park weather recording, “Wendy the Weather Wizard”, which told us that winds were averaging 0 mph for the past 20, 40, and 60 minutes, and ranging from 0 to 3 mph. That was actually somewhat pessimistic, since Zorro and Gerald had enough wind for an early morning sail close to the marina, though the wind had since faded.

By the time Carol Anne and I arrived around 10:30 that morning, Zorro and Gerald were on their second sail. We pushed off from the pier, did a downwind hoist in the light air, and sailed out on Black Magic to rendezvous with Constellation a quarter mile out from the marina. There, Carol Anne crawled onto Constellation, leaving me to sail Black Magic south toward the boat ramp at the Marina del Sur, which was steep enough for our launch rope and trailer to work well for hauling out Carol Anne’s boat.

The sail south started out slow but the breeze picked enough for me to enjoy a leisurely sail south. En route, a pontoon boat passed by close to allow one of its crew to shoot camcorder footage of the pretty sailboat and I had to put up with a lot of boat wakes. Sunday was sunny and warm, so power boats and jet skis had come out by the dozens, unlike earlier in the weekend. Most of the sail was restful and relaxing, yet I had to keep alert to the wakes and power boats, as well as responding to some moderate wind shifts.

My thought had been to beat upwind until I could finish the last half mile to the marina on a spinnaker run. However, the winds had other ideas, becoming very shifty, squirrely, and sometimes non-existent as I passed Rattlesnake Island. Twice I was ready to hoist the chute, with the pole ready to go and the spinnaker ready to go, when the wind shifted, vanished, and did strange things. Between the flakiness of the wind (or non-wind) and the frequent powerboat wakes, I decided the chute wasn’t going to work. The wind vanished, went east, went southeast, went southwest, went north, went northeast, went south – and did some more vanishing between some of the shifts. Yuck. Oh well, that too is part of a sailor’s life. And even though the winds were far from optimal (or even sufficient all too often), I did enjoy the challenge of making the boat go, keeping it going, and picking up on subtle changes and variations in the breeze. That’s the part that I came to call “frustratingly satisfying”.

Nearing the marina, I lowered the jib and sailed into the floating breakwater, passing close between the marina and power boats that were coming and going. Maneuvering into the close confines of the space between the marina and the boat ramp, I passed within eight feet of a monstrously huge (about ninety feet long) houseboat, where a young girl exclaimed excitingly about the passing sailboat, then tacked back out among the swarming power boats.

As it turned out, Carol Anne and Gerald hadn’t been able to park near the boat ramp and get the trailer in the water because the area was too crowded. Not only had the warm, sunny weather brought out lots of powerboats for cruising, skiing, and sightseeing, but a big bass tournament had been scheduled for the weekend; 30 bass boats were finishing hauling out as I approached the marina. So, while Carol Anne and Gerald hiked up the hill to fetch the truck and trailer and launch the trailer into the water, I got in some more close-order sailing drill under mainsail only, sailing within a few feet of the marina and not far from the swarming powerboats, tacking within a few yards of the breakwater and marina at times.

Once the trailer was in the water, I was able to sail to the ramp area. By then, however, the wind had shifted and strengthened, so I would have been trying to sail dead downwind onto the trailer in a very tight space in the middle of a bunch of powerboats, with no time or room to coordinate getting the mainsail down while trying to steer for the mostly submerged trailer and avoid other traffic. A mistake under these conditions, and with Carol Anne watching, would have had nasty consequences.

So, it was time for a new strategy. I tacked away from the crowd, around a corner of the marina, and hauled down the main. Then I used the boat’s momentum and some tiller wiggling to steer around the corner and down a bare-pole broad reach to the trailer, lining up and “sailing” the boat onto the trailer under bare poles. Attaching lines to hold the boat securely on the trailer, I then signaled Carol Anne and Gerald to bring the boat partway out of the water so I could make sure the boat was centered on the aft trailer pads. Then, I remained aboard and started putting away sails as they finished bringing the boat out of the water, chocked the trailer wheels, and backed the truck down to hitch it to the boat trailer. I was still rolling up sails and doing housekeeping as they drove to the mast-raising pole.

At the mast pole, we had a lot of work to do, because it was the time of year when Black Magic makes her summer migration to Heron Lake in the cool, high mountain country of northern New Mexico. So, we had to disconnect the rigging and remove the boom and mast to prepare for trailering. The process is somewhat involved on a thirty-foot racing boat with its many lines and controls. This time, Carol Anne stood by the winch, Gerald did much of the work on deck, and I spent a lot of time down below in the cuddy space to disconnect halyards, the topping lift, and the mast moving system.

Eventually we were done with packing the boat for moving north, with the mast cushioned and strapped horizontally to the deck and the boat strapped to the trailer. We stopped at Pat’s Chevron to top off the air in the tires and top off the fuel tank. Unfortunately, while I was backing around to maneuver and make room for a fifth-wheel trailer and giant motorhome, the trailer backed down off a curb and I had to do some tight maneuvering to free the trailer.

By the time the trailer had been freed, it was time for a break. We had a late lunch at Hodge’s Corner, parking the boat right in front where everyone could admire it, including a state parks marine enforcement officer who dropped in while we were enjoying our food. After the lunch, we then drove to Socorro to refill Carol Anne’s half-gallon growler jug with ale, where the proprietor admired the boat. Just as night descended we parked Black Magic at home in Albuquerque.

Now our plan is to take the boat north to Heron and launch sometime mid-week, so the boat will be at home in her northern berth in time for Memorial Day weekend. We have an immense amount of boat work to be done, as well as all the things that need to be done at the Heron Lake Marina, Shroyer Center (community center), and out cabin, where we still need to replace the water heater. It should be a busy week.

Tally for the weekend: Three days of sailing (16th, 17th, and 18th days sailing this year for me). Replaced a nasty old cracked tiller, bought a like-new mainsail, fitted and worked with another sail, sailed on two boats, spent around 12 hours on the water, rode out a storm, got in a few hours of spinnaker trim and a solo sail.


Post a Comment

<< Home