Saturday, April 17, 2010

Wet Weekend at the High Lake

Today was forecast to be a continuation of last night's soggy experience, when the hillside rills and rivulets turned into roaring cataracts as torrential rains soaked the high country of far northern New Mexico. Those of us who planned to participate in the work party for the New Mexico Sailing Club's Heron Lake Marina expected to be working in the rain and prepared accordingly. For example, I appeared in rubber boots.

As it turned out, the heavens had essentially emptied themselves out overnight and today was almost entirely free of rain and even saw a bit of sunshine and blue sky in the afternoon. Last night's rain (and almost an inch of snow as well) was replaced by a mild spring day.

That let the crew get plenty of work done, including unlocking gates; setting out fire extinguishers, life rings, and solar lights; screwing down loose deck boards; cleaning and putting three club dinghies in the water; moving the work barge; re-marking numbers for the slips; installing the VHF radio; and mounting a nice new sign on one side of the marine pavilion.

Moving the work barge turned into a bit of a workout because it's motor wouldn't stay running; it might have an issue with something clogged in the carburetor or perhaps a fuel filter or some such. The engine would run, but quit after from a few seconds to perhaps a minute. So, we wound up doing some paddling.

One other measure of recent rains was found in a metal garbage can located under the eaves of the roof of the vault toilet above the marina. The cover had blown off and the metal can had collected water until it was overflowing... about 40 or more gallons. The little creek that we cross en route to our cabin was also running high, reaching a flow rate of perhaps a thousand cubic feet per second and even now running at probably 800 cfs or thereabouts.

As I write this, the season's first dockmaster has probably just put his boat into its slip. Mark will have one other boat to look after; while we were setting up the marina the first boat of the season arrived, a Hunter 240 named "Desert Bleu".

It's also good that I wasn't running too late because it turned out that I was the first volunteer to get there with keys!

After the work party, there was a short board meeting to make decisions about ongoing marina renovation and projects. It looks like the sailing club will be purchasing a truckload of encased foam "Rhino" floats to replace all of the floats in "C" dock and the connecting walkway. C dock should get done this season, perhaps even early in the season, though the connecting walkway might take longer to re-float.

One other novelty for this year is that cell phone service has been improved with the addition of a tower in south Tierra Amarilla. The marina has 2 to 3 bars (out of 5) for Alltel/Verizon customers and our cabin has 4 bars. That's a big improvement; last year we couldn't get any voice signal and could barely get text messages at our cabin.

We've been enjoying what might be the last fire of the season in our cabin's fireplace. Much of the wood is aromatic juniper and some is also the aromatic pin~yon. Dulce, the cat (or leopard in her mind perhaps) doesn't mind the warm fire at all.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Meetings Happen, even for sailors

Monday morning some of us wound up having a meeting with state parks officials to try to get the mast-up storage lot project back on track. One difficulty is that a neighbor has apparently gotten and been spreading some mis-conceptions about the purpose and impact of the sailboat lot. So, now it looks like we'll have to make presentations at a public comment meeting, well after we thought the sailing club had complied with all the requirements given us for setting up the lot. Yikes. I wonder if they'll have coffee and doughnuts?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Sailing Fun; Spring Series 3 at Elephant Butte Lake, April 10-11, 2010

Last week I'd been ill and was worried about being able to sail in last weekend's Spring Series Regatta. As it turned out, I was in decent enough shape to hold up to Saturday's somewhat breezy conditions while doing foredeck duty on Carol Anne's Etchells, "Black Magic". "Penzance" helmed and Carol Anne and "Cornhusker" were also crewing.

Despite a spectacular spinnaker blowout partway down the run for the first race, we had fewer things going wrong and more fortunate course selection than the other Etchells on the course and were even able to save our time against the J/24's and J/22's even without flying a spinnaker after the incident. I don't think we'd ever scored back-to-back bullets but there must be a first time for everything and we were fortunate on Saturday.

During Sunday, "Penzance" had returned home to play his horn in a concern and we were joined by "Boothbay" and his son, while "Cornhusker" sailed her Freedom sloop. But, lack of wind prevented any races from being run Sunday morning, so we returned to Rock Canyon Marina and then adjourned for lunch at Hodges.

Afterwards, we returned to the marina and found a nice breeze had begun to fill in on the lake. "Cornhusker" and I ferried Black Magic across the lake in increasing, if slightly unsteady, breezes. Upon our arrival at the courtesy dock, though, we saw a big herd of bass boats gathering for a weigh-in at the end of a bass tourney and preparing to haul out on the boat ramp. So, we sailed around the marina and bay for a while in 10- to 20-mph winds under mainsail only to kill time. The bass fishermen were very competent and efficient, so it wasn't long before the ramp was clear and we were able to haul Black Magic out and put her away in the mast-up storage lot.

Just as we were finishing, "Zorro" called and offered a ride on his boat, "Constellation". So, Carol Anne and I zipped back to Rock Canyon and hopped on board. We sailed down the lake a couple of times with returns under spinnaker in 7- to 17-mph breezes which made for fantastic sailing, keeping us entertained until almost sunset before it was time to sail Connie into her regular slip and put her to bed.

So, it was a weekend with quite a bit of good sailing and time on the water.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Log Entry: Finally a Sail

During last Saturday's "Pickle Race", the sailing club had plenty of boats and skippers to take the youth from the New Mexico Boys and Girls Ranch out sailing but was short on ground crew to set up the picnic for their return. So I and a few other folks helped some of the boats get launched and out onto the water, where they would travel to various buoys in a short of treasure hunt for numbered cards.

On shore, we joined "Dumbledore" in setting up the grill and volleyball net. About an hour before the boats were expected to return with the youth, we started hiding candy-filled plastic Easter Eggs, and about half an hour before the boats returned we set out the real, hard-boiled and dyed eggs.

In due time the young people and their skippers returned, the Easter Egg hunt was held, and a representative of each crew traded numbered cards for playing cards to make a poker hand to determine who won the big prize -- a large jar of pickles! That was followed by the picnic, some egg-toss and balloon-stomp and running games, tug o' war, and volleyball before the youth were well and properly worn out and ready to return to their ranch. The games were held in a relatively flat, sandy, and protected area that reduced the wind to a nice breeze.

By this time, well into Saturday afternoon of Easter Eve, the winds had come up to where the lake was a mess of whitecaps -- lots of "sheep in the meadow". Carol Anne motored Carguy's Catalina 30 south to Marina del Sur, preparatory to a haul-out, but even under motor with sails stowed the boat had a good heel. It was too windy to launch Carol Anne's own boat, the older Etchells, USA 125 "Black Magic", so I helped with putting away from the picnic and then with retrieving boats from the water and loading them onto trailers. Carguy's Catalina 30 was being hauled out on a modified trailer that had never been used before with the boat, so hauling out required ongoing adjustments to the trailer stands and pads that took quite a lot of time. I wound up attaching the boat to the front top post of the trailer and getting the sky ride on the boat as it left the water. It was well after dark when about ten of us dribbled in to the Big Food Express restaurant.

Sunday we did launch Black Magic from the Rock Canyon Boat Ramp. The plan was for me to solo-sail the Etchells south to the Marina del Sur ramp and then for us to load the boat onto her trailer. Carol Anne would help Carguy with preparing his Catalina for road travel while I was sailing south. The joy of plans, of course, is when they unravel just a bit.

Upon launch, winds were much lighter than predicted and I had to change a bunch of adjustments so the boat would move decently. But, after tacking away from the ramp cove and getting part way down the lake, the wind came up a bit to some nice sailing breeze. Then, I was joined for a bit by Constellation and her skipper, who expected the wind to freshen yet more. Soon I could see a wind line coming from the south, so I started making more adjustments and undoing some of the previous adjustments before the wind hit. And hit it did, increasing from about 6 knots to 15 in a minute and then starting a bizarre cycle of oscillations, gusts, partial lulls, direction switches, and general frustration and busywork covering the 6- to 24-knot spectrum.

Now, this is when a solo Etchells sailor begins to feel somewhat like a one-armed wallpaper-hanger. In a breeze. More wind. Less wind. Different wind. I got pretty tired of adjusting this that and the other (Etchells have rather a few this thats and others) as the wind absolutely refused to settle into a pattern or steady itself.

As I passed the narrow channel to the west of Rattlesnake Island, a pontoon boat and crew changed course to shadow me and perhaps get some good pictures. Apparently I was putting on a bit of a show for the powerboaters and campers.

Nearing Marina del Sur, I dropped the jib. With breezy conditions and with controls set for a single-hand crew, that greatly increased weather helm; I actually had to back the boat down and to the side to get moving again and approach the ramp. Finding a spot vacant on the windward side of the floating courtesy pier nearest the ramp, I went a few boat lengths to windward in the tight space between the boat ramp, a point of land, and Marina del Sur, where various powerboats were maneuvering. This was something that had to be timed carefully; if the sail were to jam and not go down I risked grounding or collision and even in the midst of lowering the big main I had to watch out for inattentive boat operators.

Getting the main down, I used the boats remaining bit of momentum to start toward the windward side of the floating pier and did a bit of sculling. A small motorboat had docked in the middle, naturally, leaving only a small space, but I was on target and began walking forward to take a dockline off the bow and secure alongside.

Wham! A gust hid and swung the bow over, grazing the end of the pier and then blowing the boat away from the pier before I could get a line off. Had anyone been on the end of the pier a line could have been taken and all would have been well.

But, no one was around and Black Magic was drifting toward a couple of boats and shallow water beyond. Once I was able to avoid the obstacles, I had two choices: go downwind away from the marina and raise the mainsail in the whitecapping breeze, or try to scull with the rudder in a circle to try to dock again.

I chose sculling as a safer/more controlled, albeit more exhausting choice. Sculling usually isn't viable in a good breeze but I was desperate and the water near the boat ramp was partially sheltered and not too choppy. So, stroke, stroke, stroke and around the boat came, although she didn't like being sculled directly to windward so I found that "tacking" and "sailing" at an angle of about 45 degrees to the apparent wind was what worked best. This time, at least, I had a good landing on the 20-foot end section of the pier that was available for the thirty-foot sloop and stopped Black Magic just a couple of feet shy of the motorboat's transom.

By then, I was pretty darn tired and had energy only to roll up and stow the jib (foresail) and secure the mainsail. Conditions were too windy (and at a bad angle) and I was way too tired to try to put the put the boat on the trailer, so that waited until closer to sunset, when winds did moderate, making the job far easier.

Even though the sail wasn't terribly long, I felt like I'd been through the wringer. I may have been in the early stages of a "bug" that got me later in the week, so that may also have contributed to the feeling of exhaustion.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Sailing's Big Misperception

As sailors, how many mis-perceptions do we live with and how to they affect our sailing and our sport?

Misperceptions can be big things or little things; they can be as small as a delay in sensing a small change in the wind to as big as a public perception that keeps people away from sailing.

It's this latter, public perception of sailing that is of particular concern to me. Supposedly, to the extent that the non-sailing-connected public knows or cares about sailing, the perception seems to be of exclusive guarded and gated private clubs peopled by elderly multimillionaires in ascots and blue blazers and their hireling crews. Unless people know sailors, they have little more than this sort of image to go on; certainly the recent America's Cup antics and legal shenanigans haven't helped.

An image of wealth and exclusivity might be of benefit now and then. It can entice companies that sell luxury products ("carriage trade") to sponsor sailing events. And, it could entice some people into the sport who want to affiliate themselves with sailors they think are wealthy and consequential.

But, as a whole, the image of sailing exclusivity hurts the sport and keeps people away. The image of guarded gates scares people from the sport. The idea of sailing as being a millionaire's sport is a turn-off to many people. The difficulty in too many parts of the country of finding places to try out sailing and learn the basics makes the sport less accessible than it should be.

Sailing, along with other sports that require a significant commitment of time and skill, is declining in numbers in most parts of the US. To stay vital, sailing needs new blood. Sailors need other sailors to teach and to learn from, to race with, to go cruising with, and to band together to fight for waterfront access, stewardship of the waters, and sailor's rights and needs.

Sailing has room for all sorts of sailors -- and certainly not just the super-wealthy. Sailing has room for them, but also for clerks and truckers who need a healthy escape, harried professionals desperate for fresh air, students who need a break, and lots of retirees. And sailing desperately needs more families.

Readers of the big advertisements for boats featured in the sailing magazines might be shocked to know that the price of a decent used 22-28 foot sailboat is in line with the price of a used car... and that for a boat which might even have enough living accommodations to qualify for a second-home tax write-off. And smaller sailing dinghies, which are excellent for learning sailing, are even cheaper. You might find a serviceable Sunfish or Laser in someone's garage for a thousand dollars or less!

What too many people don't know is the dirty little secret that sailing isn't really that inaccessible. Yes, sailing is both an equipment-intensive and skill-intensive sport and we shouldn't pretend otherwise. Frequently, I tell novices that sailing is a sport whose basics can be learned in a day -- but which can take a lifetime to master.

Sailing is quite accessible, however, because sailing happens at many levels, in many kinds of boats, and in many unexpected places. People can learn to sail at commercial sailing schools, in community sailing centers, from sailing coaches, and through programs sponsored by yacht clubs and sailing clubs.

A corner of US Sailing's web site has some basic learn-to-sail pointers, and another has learning materials, and libraries will have some of the many books that have been published about learning to sail, and, in some fortunate cases, videos as well.

And, those yacht clubs are not the unassailable fortresses that some people might think them. Many have paper or website bulletin boards where would be sailors can express their interest in crewing on boats, which is another good way to learn to sail. And many are happy to give people tours and perhaps hook them up with a membership or race committee member who can give them pointers and ideas about how to get on the water. Clubs often host boating safety classes and other events that are open to the public.

And, yet another way to get on the water is to volunteer to help with a club's race committee. Working on the race committee boat gives you lots of access to sailors, including some old-timers who know everybody, as well as a ringside seat at the start of every race. By watching sailboat races close-up, you can learn a lot about boats and sailing.

It's also true that yacht and sailing clubs are not all the same and that there's a club for just about everyone; from posh, elite establishments that require big financial commitments to very minimalist clubs that are surprisingly affordable. Clubs can look the same on the outside, but be very different in their programs, focus, affordability, and the welcome they give people, but most are friendly and there to support sailing.

That's also true with boats; you don't have to own one of the expensive, glossy, super-hi-tech monster yacht from the advertising pages of a sailing magazine to have loads of fun and become a skilled and respected sailor or even a feared racecourse competitor. Most boats are good for at least one purpose; some boats are fairly good at several things, such as racing, cruising, entertaining guests, gunkholing, ocean sailing, trailering, and so on; but very few are bad boats. There may not be one perfect boat, but there are plenty of good - and affordable - boats.

Almost every boat has its purpose, and the best way to match a would-be boat owner is to have her or him try out lots of boats. Crewing is, of course, a great way to do this. Some people will gravitate to sporty Hobie cats or other beach cats or maneuverable Lasers, whereas others will just want to putter around in shallow gunkholes on a West Wight Potter. Some might like the family camaraderie and trailerability of a Flying Scot or other "big dinghy". Some might want something like a Hunter to keep in a marina to either entertain guests dockside or escape from the rat race. Some might want to race on a J/24 or other one-design racing class in short-course day races. Some might want to sail on big blue water boats far from sight of land. Some might want to give a kid a little pram dinghy. All of this is sailing; all of this is time on the water.

Sailing, for its own part, could do more to make sailing more accessible by making it easier to find places where would-be sailors could try out sailing and by providing more know-how support to community sailing programs and for starting new programs. But, the fact remains that there are lots of ways for people to get into sailing and the image of sailing as exclusive territory of blue-blazered aristocrats is far from true.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Strange Sports Fantasy

Take the top 25 male and top 25 female athletes from the past 20 years in your city, state, province, or region, who are still physically fit and competitively active.

During a period of several days, have them participate in the following events, with time penalties or bonuses awarded according to performance in each event:

standing broad jump

pole vault

shot put

javelin throw

field goal kicks

basketball free throws

speed chess

bench press (normalized for body mass)

obstacle/rope course

tennis (shortened matches)

small bore rifle prone, kneeling, standing indoor 50' range

wind surf (no sailing rules except avoiding downed boats or persons in water)

kayak (mix flat and white water)

Then, start them on a pursuit mini-marathon according to their accrued bonuses or penalties on a course with:

1/4 mile lake swim

10 mile trail/cross country run

15 mile mountain bike trail/cross country cycle.

Who wins in your area? By how much? Who are the closest contenders?

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Almost back to sailing

The post-funeral week has passed rapidly.

Sunday afternoon after our return from south Texas we unpacked and then Gerald and I retrieved the leopard of the house from "grandpa and grandma".

Monday I took Gerald to Monroe's, where he had a New Mexican feast with lots of green chile -- a green chile burger, green chile chicken soup, a chile relleno (covered in cheese), and onion rings, flan (custard dessert), and a sopapilla (fried inflated tortilla thingy with honey).

Tuesday I was up very early to drop Gerald off at the Sunport so he could board a plane to Phoenix and return to Tempe in time to participate in the "Ignite" media conference and discussion.

Wednesday afternoon I traveled to the Elephant Butte Lake and visited the site of the new sailboat mast-up storage lot, spoke with a couple of sailors, took some checks to the sailing club treasurer, and used a grinding wheel to remove the base and frame of an old manual bilge pump from Carol Anne's older Etchells sloop.

And then I had a real panic after realizing my wallet had disappeared -- luckily for me it turned up where it had fallen out while I was wiggling around in the confined bow space of USA 125.

Wednesday was quite windy and probably a better day to work on the boat than to sail her.

Thursday there was a brief Optimist Club meeting, where I picked up some materials to use in the sailing club's "Pickle Race" this weekend, in which club members will be treating NM Boys and Girls Ranch youth to a sail, Easter egg hunt, picnic, and games.