Thursday, January 07, 2010

Just Barely versus the Swamp Monster

Etchells sloop Constellation in the winter sun, January 6, 2010 at Elephant Butte Lake in southern New Mexico.

Carol Anne was a bit under the weather and Gerald was still quite comatose at 1100, so I drove south alone to meet "Zorro". The plan for the day was to give Zorro a check for buying trophies for the sailing club, work on boats a bit, and sail if conditions allowed.

In the distance can be seen Rattlesnake Island, superimposed upon the Elephant, which is about two miles further to the south.

Zorro arrived first and did some boat fiddling, including re-adjusting and marking Carol Anne's boat's backstay. I attempted to remove some old machine screws that wouldn't budge, so we saved that task for another day when we'd be prepared with more power tools and an adapter. Zorro and I each set sail on the slender, thirty-foot Etchells boats; Zorro on Constellation and I on Black Magic.

As it turned out, there was wind to sail, but only just barely. The breeze was about two knots from the east; there was enough wind aloft to maintain steerage and maneuver the Etchells, but not much more. The lake surface, as can be seen in the photos, was almost entirely flat and calm, broken only by the tiny wakes of waterbirds and the barely more noticeable wakes of the two Etchells sloops.

View from the cockpit of Black Magic as "Zorro" rounds mark 25A and heads west.

Soon after this picture was taken, "Zorro" put up a chute to get back toward the Rock Canyon Marina a bit quicker -- or as quick as could be managed in a two-knot winter zephyr.

The day had promised to be peaceful and relaxing, with no other boats out on the water save for a cruising sailboat that motored slowly back to the marina while we were sailing. Gulls, pelicans, cormorants, grebes, ducks, and geese flew overhead, swam along the shoreline, or rested upon the tire-wall wave barriers in front of the marina.

But then we heard a frightful din.

Constellation glides along in a very light breeze

A horrid roar.

Louder than any boat we'd ever heard on the lake before.

Louder than a speeding locomotive.

Rudely yanking us from idyllic natural peace into something more like the end of an airport runway or the flight deck of an aircraft carrier or some sort of combat battle zone.

Then we saw the Swamp Monster.

It was an airboat, and might as well have been a giant jet airplane buzzing the lake.
The noise it might drowned out conversations even when it was a quarter mile or more away. On this otherwise quiet, peaceful winter day it could probably have been heard two or three miles away. I hope the occupants had some serious ear protection; otherwise their hearing may have been damaged for life. The drivers of the airboat spent a lot of time revving their engine and using it to splash water and blow sand on the boat ramp and courtesy dock, then took off toward the east side of Long Point before returning. It seemed that they were doing some sort of test of the boat.

The presence of the airboat made no sense on this segment of lake, either. Airboats are creatures of swamps and are designed to glide over shallows and mudflats and in vegetated areas where conventional propellers would be tangled and jet drives would be clogged. This portion of Elephant Butte Lake had average depths of around seventy-five feet and few shallows.

Had the airboat been launched several miles further north, closer to the head of the lake, its users might have found more shallows and water vegetation and overall more suitable challenges.

As it was, the operators of the airboat disturbed us, the roosting and swimming birds, anyone else in the marina, and residents of the Rock Canyon residential area that was immediately adjacent to the source of the head-splitting racket much of the time.

Unlike more typical high-performance speedboats, which have their engine noise muffled by underwater discharge of exhaust gases and have exhaust manifolds, the airboat apparently had no form of engine muffling and may have had an air-cooled engine or other unmuffled exhaust. That made it an entirely boorish neighbor. While the big wakes that it was pushing across the lake made for some extra sailing challenges in the light air, it was the noise that assaulted and beat upon us that was really disruptive.


At 8:44 AM, January 14, 2010, Blogger kakqsjakla said...

So beautiful!

At 10:04 AM, January 14, 2010, Blogger Lee Winters Cruising Blogspot said...

I wish I would have found you guys 3 or 4 years ago! My first boat was a Catalina 22 I used to sail all the time on Cochiti just north of ABQ. Eventually sold it and bought the cruising boat I am on now down in Colombia. Cheers and enjoy the lake sailing. I miss sailing in those mountains.

s/v Jargo


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