Five O'Clock Somewhere

Welcome to Five O'Clock Somewhere, where it doesn't matter what time zone you're in; it's five o'clock somewhere. We'll look at rural life, especially as it happens in Rio Arriba County, New Mexico, cats, sailing (particularly Etchells racing yachts), and bits of grammar and Victorian poetry.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Wizards of Winds and Waves, chapter 8

Things start to get interesting, and then – oops!
Well, it’s not pretty.
Wizards of Winds and Waves
Chapter 8
When we came out of the tavern, the rain had stopped and the clouds were breaking up. Runyon invited Pierre and me to go sailing with him on his big boat, and we accepted the invitation.
In basic principle, sailing a big boat is not too terribly different from sailing a small boat. You have sails, and you position them on the opposite side of the boat from the direction the wind comes from. You adjust the tightness of the sails according to the direction you’re going relative to the wind – the more directly upwind you’re going, the tighter you need the sails to be. If you can do that, you can sail. Of course, there are all sorts of other adjustments you can make, with things like a traveler or a boom vang, to fine-tune the performance of your boat, but you can learn those as you go along.
All of the same basic principles apply to a big boat as to a small one. The biggest difference is that a big boat will usually need more people on board to make it work. There may be one person at the helm to steer the boat, and another person on the mainsheet to control the tightness of the mainsail, and one or two people to handle the jib sheets to deal with tacking and control the tightness of the foresail, and somebody to work the halyards that are used to raise the sails, and if the boat has a spinnaker, a big, balloon-like foresail, often very colorful, that helps the boat go faster downwind, extra people may be needed for that. And of course, in a stiff wind, it’s good to have a bunch of people sit along the upwind rail to keep the boat sailing more efficiently, by keeping the boat from heeling, or leaning over, too much. A really big racing yacht, known as a maxi, might have 20 or more people on the crew.
On Runyon’s big boat that afternoon, there were just three of us: Runyon at the helm, me on the mainsheet and sometimes jib sheets, and Pierre on halyards, jib sheets and sometimes foredeck. We made a well coordinated team; we’d sailed together on this boat often before, and we had developed a routine that allowed us to sail the boat most efficiently. Any time Runyon ordered a tack, Pierre and I were already ready, and we were prepared for any change of direction he might make, adjusting the sheets to the new point of sail almost before Runyon declared it.
We took the boat down the bay and out the channel into the open ocean. The waves were much bigger here than in the bay, and bigger than usual even for the ocean because the rainstorm that had just passed had raised some surge. But the big, heavy boat plowed steadily through the waves, surging from one to the next with a thudding, crashing splash. We took a course upwind, roughly parallel to the coast, smashing our way along. It was exhilarating; even in a boat this large, there was plenty of ocean spray splashing into the cockpit.
As the afternoon shadows began to lengthen, Runyon brought the boat about for the downwind run back to our own safe harbor. Now that the boat was running with the wind, the ride became much smoother, and Runyon had Pierre raise the spinnaker. With the rainbow-colored balloon sail, we seemed to float along, skimming the waves, and we were back at the channel leading to our bay almost before we knew it. In the golden glow of the setting sun, Pierre doused the spinnaker, and Runyon dropped the mainsail, allowing the boat to coast to a stop.
It was a magic moment. Except for the occasional cry of a gull or splash of a wavelet on the hull, all was silent. The setting sun glowed a brilliant orange among the dispersing clouds. Pierre, his foredeck duties finished, came to sit next to me in the cockpit, and I could feel waves of warmth coming from him, as well as the fragrance of good, old-fashioned sweat combined with Old Spice – yes, Old Spice, I was surprised to notice, not some fancy fifty-dollar-an-ounce eau de cologne worthy of a gigolo. The boat rocked gently on the waves, and the wind, which had abated to become a gentle breeze, brought the aromas of salt, seaweed, and a very slight fishy smell. We took off our sailing gloves, and he took my hand; I felt the warmth as well as the callused palms and chapped knuckles, but I also felt a shockwave that sped up my arm, ricocheted off my collarbone, and lodged in my groin, where it continued to pulse. I shifted on my seat to ease the pressure; he shifted closer to me, making it more intense.
The sunset went through progressing shades of orange, red, russet, purple, indigo, and finally black. I almost didn’t notice. When it was fairly thoroughly dark, Runyon started up the diesel engine and motored back to the marina.
Walking back to my apartment that night, I was once again leaning on Pierre, but this time it wasn’t a show for onlookers, or physical exhaustion on my part. We stopped at the seafood market down the bay to get something to cook for supper, although that late in the day, there wasn’t much to choose from. I picked out a couple dozen fresh oysters, which also happened to be on special.
“Aren’t those the wrong sort of thing for an ingénue to be sharing with a dirty old man?” Pierre asked.
“The bit about them being an aphrodisiac is a myth,” I replied. “I learned that in college, if nothing else. Any effect they have is purely placebo – if you believe they work, that makes your body respond.”
“I guess it’s a good thing for me that the women I’ve dated have bought into the myth – it works for me!”
“Besides, I like them, and it doesn’t hurt to have something nice once in a while.”
When we got to the apartment, I took the oysters into the kitchen. “You can work on cleaning that sofa, while I fix these up.”
Pierre set about spraying the sofa with shampoo and scrubbing the suds into the upholstery, while I set about preparing oysters Rockefeller, a treat I have seldom been able to enjoy, but which I wasn’t going to miss out on now. Wearing protective gloves, I used a short, fat knife to pry each oyster open and pry the oyster flesh from the shells, leaving each gray blob of flesh sitting on top of one of the shell halves. I spread a layer of rock salt onto a cookie sheet, and nestled each oyster-on-half-shell in the coarse salt. On top of each, I put some crushed garlic, some fresh parsley, some bread crumbs, and some fresh-grated Parmesan cheese. Then the oysters went into the oven for a brief toasting, while I whipped up a quick Hollandaise sauce. In minutes, the oysters came out of the oven, transformed from gelatinous blobs into tender, tasty treats, ready for a dollop of Hollandaise. While we waited for the upholstery shampoo on the sofa to dry, Pierre and I feasted.
“Now I’m wondering,” Pierre said. “Are you sure that oysters don’t do what they’re supposed to do? Maybe we don’t need to bother cleaning up the sofa. Maybe I’m not going to need it.”
“Hey, I’m innocent, remember? You’re supposed to put the ladies’ man thing on hold while you’re my guardian angel.”
“So then why did you get oysters, of all things?”
“To test your worthiness and morality?”
“Oh, shut up,” Pierre said, slapping an oyster into my mouth. I retaliated by popping one into his. He swallowed that one, then put another into his mouth, then suddenly leaned forward, pulled my face up to his, put his mouth over mine, and squirted the oyster into my mouth. In reflex action, I swallowed. The oyster went down my throat, and the shockwave that went with it continued downward to join the earlier shockwave making earthquakes in my pelvic region. His tongue, meanwhile, was doing some sort of tango with mine. His arm wrapped around my waist, pulling me up from my seat as he rose from his, until our bodies were pressed tightly together. We were so close to equal in height, neither of us needed to bend over. Pierre’s scent of sweat and Old Spice swept over me, and the heat from his body was coming across in pulsing waves, in unison with my heartbeat, which was pounding both loud and fast. His tongue began wandering over my chin, down to my throat, and then around and up, where he began nibbling on my ear, breathing gently into it, while his hands began moving down my sides. Suddenly, a sharp shock hit me like an icy knife in my lower gut.
I pulled away, gasping for air. “No! … This isn’t … right. …” I felt a feeling like a frigid claw in my chest gripping my heart, and the earthquakes lower down had been replaced by a feeling of a cataract of ice water splashing through my lower abdomen. “Something’s wrong.”
“What is it?” Pierre asked, tentatively extending a finger to dab a tear from my cheek.
“I don’t know.”
“Can I do anything to help?”
“I just need … I need … I need to be alone for a little while.”
“I’ll go and see if the suds on the sofa are dry enough to vacuum up. You go and get some rest.”
I got into my nightshirt and crawled into bed, barely aware of the hum of the vacuum cleaner as Pierre glumly prepared what was probably going to be his permanent bunk, at least at my place.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Poetry Corner: W. S. Gilbert

An interesting view of justice

WCMIK and I have just spent a lot of time cleaning up hubby’s laptop. It had been operating at a glacial pace. Partly, that’s because it’s a really slow computer to start with, but it had more problems than that. For one thing, that computer has been using IE as its web browser, making it far more vulnerable to spyware attacks than if it had been using Mozilla. For another, hubby let his antivirus software lapse, giving the spyware purveyors a three-month window in which to really burden the computer.

Last week, hubby finally got around to renewing the antivirus subscription, but he didn’t realize that just downloading the updates wouldn’t take care of unauthorized software that was already running. So this evening, WCMIK and I actually ran the full disk scan. We found nine unauthorized scripts running.

So, after about two hours of cleaning up the laptop, it now should run better – it’s still going to be slow, but not glacial any more. And hubby gave WCMIK permission to install Mozilla, and we made hubby promise not to let his antivirus software lapse again.

Meanwhile, hubby was thinking about what would be an appropriate way to deal with not only the spyware purveyors, but also the spammers and hackers. One possibility: putting them on an isolated island where there is no technology, especially no communications technology. What we want to do, more than anything else, is make the punishment fit the crime.

Thus, I present an example of some ways of making the punishment fit the crime, and I invite all of you to come up with suggestions for doing so with spyware purveyors, spammers, and hackers. Extra credit if you can make those suggestions fit into Sir Arthur Sullivan’s music.

A More Humane Mikado

A more humane Mikado never
Did in Japan exist,
To nobody second,
I'm certainly reckoned
A true philanthropist.
It is my very humane endeavour
To make, to some extent,
Each evil liver
A running river
Of harmless merriment.

My object all sublime
I shall achieve in time —
To let the punishment fit the crime —
The punishment fit the crime;
And make each prisoner pent
Unwillingly represent
A source of innocent merriment!
Of innocent merriment!

All prosy dull society sinners,
Who chatter and bleat and bore,
Are sent to hear sermons
From mystical Germans
Who preach from ten till four.
The amateur tenor, whose vocal villainies
All desire to shirk,
Shall, during off-hours,
Exhibit his powers
To Madame Tussaud’s waxwork.

The lady who dyes a chemical yellow
Or stains her grey hair puce,
Or pinches her figure,
Is painted with vigour
And permanent walnut juice.
The idiot who, in railway carriages,
Scribbles on window-panes,
We only suffer
To ride on a buffer
In Parliamentary trains.

My object all sublime
I shall achieve in time —
To let the punishment fit the crime —
The punishment fit the crime;
And make each prisoner pent
Unwillingly represent
A source of innocent merriment!
Of innocent merriment!

His object all sublime
He will achieve in time —
To let the punishment fit the crime —
The punishment fit the crime;
And make each prisoner pent
Unwillingly represent
A source of innocent merriment!
Of innocent merriment!

The advertising quack who wearies
With tales of countless cures,
His teeth, I’ve enacted,
Shall all be extracted
By terrified amateurs.
The music-hall singer attends a series
Of masses and fugues and “ops”
By Bach, interwoven
With Spohr and Beethoven,
At classical Monday Pops.

The billiard sharp who any one catches,
His doom’s extremely hard —
He’s made to dwell —
In a dungeon cell
On a spot that’s always barred.
And there he plays extravagant matches
In fitless finger-stalls
On a cloth untrue
With a twisted cue
And elliptical billiard balls!

My object all sublime
I shall achieve in time —
To let the punishment fit the crime —
The punishment fit the crime;
And make each prisoner pent
Unwillingly represent
A source of innocent merriment!
Of innocent merriment!

His object all sublime
He will achieve in time —
To let the punishment fit the crime —
The punishment fit the crime;
And make each prisoner pent
Unwillingly represent
A source of innocent merriment!
Of innocent merriment!

Friday, November 25, 2005

Another Good Place to Be

Call me sentimental, but sometimes sentimental is where it’s at

Right now, Five O’Clock Somewhere is a very good place to be. We had our Thanksgiving dinner – it was just the three of us, plus the cats, but it was the full deal: a 13 pound turkey (fresh, not frozen; I splurged on that), dressing, mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce, fresh-baked bread, sweet potato fries, asparagus with Hollandaise sauce. It was a bit challenging, but I pulled it off, even if I took a couple of shortcuts – I used a bread machine for the bread, store-bought mixes for the potatoes and dressing, canned cranberry sauce, and a blender to finish the Hollandaise. It was rather like conducting an orchestra, getting everything to come together all at more or less the same time, but it was a success. The gravy and Hollandaise came out particularly well; maybe in addition to being the Grammar Goddess, I could consider myself the Sauce Goddess.

And Pat now has something he says he’s been missing for many years: a fridge full of leftover turkey. For many years now, we’ve been going to visit his dad in south Texas for Thanksgiving, and we have either not had a real Thanksgiving dinner, or we have gone out to a restaurant, which has meant no leftovers, no turkey sandwiches, no turkey tetrazzini, none of the great things that can be done with leftover turkey.

Now, I consider the holiday season officially begun. We have the tree set up. Because of the high ceilings at Five O’Clock Somewhere, we have a nine-foot tree. I’ve also put a rotation of Christmas music on the entertainment center. Last night, I sat on the sofa, with my alpaca shawl wrapped round me, one cat on my lap and another at my shoulder, sipping eggnog (we were out of rum, so I had to use brandy in it), watching WCMIK decorate the tree, listening to Mannheim Steamroller’s and Dan Fogelberg’s Christmas music, and relaxing after all of the work of putting together the Thanksgiving meal.

Man, this is a good place to be.

Thursday, November 24, 2005


Sometimes, what the subconscious mind does defies all explanation

I have had this recurring dream. I have had it since I was in eighth grade. In the dream, I pack up all of my important possessions, including whatever cat or cats I have at the time, into whatever car I have at the time, and I drive to Wisconsin.

I haven’t the foggiest notion why I take off for Wisconsin. I’ve never been to Wisconsin. At the time I first had the dream, I didn’t even know anybody from Wisconsin. One of my eighth-grade classmates eventually went to the University of Wisconsin, but his family was originally from Texas, so that doesn’t make sense either.

Adding to the frustration of this dream is that I never actually get to Wisconsin. I usually wake up sometime about when I get to Omaha.

I don’t even know a whole lot about Wisconsin, aside from there’s a lot of good football that goes on there, especially at Lambeau Field, and there are a lot of cows that produce milk to make a lot of cheese. So why, from the time I was 13, has Wisconsin been this unattainable Holy Grail of my dreams?

Perhaps it was originally a desire for the different. Perhaps, to my eighth-grade mind, nothing could be more different from New Mexico – lush and green, rather than arid and more-or-less brown. But why, then, would the dream recur even when I was in green places, like England and Houston?

Or is there something in Wisconsin, calling me? Will my life never be complete until I have actually, physically, set foot in Wisconsin?

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Wizards of Winds and Waves, chapter 7

We learn some important background.
For those of you who only just arrived, a bit of background: This is a work of fiction. In particular, it is the novel that hit me in the middle of October, when I should have been working on planning for my NaNo novel, and insisted on being written immediately – I would have loved to wait until November to use it as my NaNo project. But it wouldn’t wait, so I counted it as a warm-up to NaNo, and now I’m serializing it here.
The story so far: Our heroine, Sarah, has discovered that the people she sails with are not merely skilled sailors but also wizards, and she, too, has magical talents, which the evil Others want to eliminate. The wizards have appointed ladies’ man Pierre to guard her.
Wizards of Winds and Waves
Chapter 7
After we got the dishes washed and the kitchenette tidied up, we got my beat-up, 20-year-old Toyota out of the basement parking garage to go to the grocery store. “Next time, let’s go in my car,” Pierre said as he settled gingerly on the sprung springs of the passenger seat. “I can’t go around with ripped pants all of the time.”
At the store, in addition to the basic foodstuffs on my shopping list, we got skim milk and diet sodas for Pierre, a can of upholstery shampoo, and a promising-looking bottle of Australian cabernet that was on sale. We returned to the apartment to put the groceries away, and then we headed down to the marina. It was still raining, too wet for sailing to be at all pleasant, but we both had maintenance to do on our boats; Pierre wanted to make adjustments to the mast, while I needed to replace a frayed jib halyard. At the ramp leading down to the marina, we met Runyon.
“I saw you all out there racing yesterday,” he commented. “Boy, did you look good. Sarah, you looked like you were born on the water.”
“Man, I tell you what,” Pierre said, “she’s hot. She beat me every time, like she was reading my mind. I just couldn’t get ahead. Or sometimes I got ahead, but never for long. She just ripped me apart all over the bay, upwind, downwind, reaching, and she just never wore down. By the end of the day, I was the one making stupid tired mistakes, not her.”
“We missed you at the tavern last night,” Runyon said. “Did you two have a night out on the town?”
“Nah,” Pierre answered. “We stayed in and had macaroni and cheese.”
“Macaroni and cheese.” Runyon shook his head in disbelief. “Did you misplace your four-star restaurant menu file?”
“Hey, sometimes I go for home cooking! Just not at my home. And you gotta taste Sarah’s mac and cheese to believe it …”
“She’s getting to you, man. To hear you talk, you’re not into oysters and filet mignon any more.”
“Hey, guys, knock it off,” I broke in. “Let’s get our boat work done, and then we can have lunch at the tavern.”
“Sounds good to me,” Runyon said. “I’ll see you there.”
At the tavern, we were the only regulars. It was midweek, so people who had jobs wouldn’t have time to come down to the bay. I was on spring break, Runyon was retired, and Pierre … well. … It occurred to me that I didn’t really know what Pierre did with his days. Judging from his apartment, there was clearly a source of money somewhere. But I’d never heard of him working for a living, and he certainly spent a lot of time in and around boats. For that matter, I knew very little about him at all, especially for someone who was sharing my apartment. Well, at least finding out more should be easy, given Pierre’s volubility. “I just realized I don’t know you all that well. Tell me something about yourself,” I asked him as we sat down at our table.
“Married twice, widowed once, divorced once, one daughter I haven’t seen in so long I barely remember her. I don’t even know where she is; my second wife took her away and disappeared. Bachelor of science in sports training from a major Eastern university, where I was on the sailing team. A few years later, I was on the Olympic sailing team, and I would have been in the Olympics, but that was the year Jimmy Carter declared we weren’t going because the Soviets wouldn’t get out of Afghanistan. I spent a lot of time as an assistant trainer or trainer for a whole lot of athletic programs all over the place, not just sailing – there’s not all that many sailing programs to work for – but a whole lot of minor sports. I like pretty, witty women, candlelight dinners, moonlight walks on the beach, progressive jazz, and reggae. Oh, and of course, sailing.”
“I’m sorry about your daughter. You must miss her.”
“After my wife left with her, I took up karate. That helped me to keep from losing it mentally. It’s good for finding a focus.”
“How did you end up with, uh, this group?”
“After the divorce, I kept getting fired from job after job. I didn’t really need the money; I’d inherited a lot from Dora – that was my first wife. But it really hurt my ego. I kept moving and moving, and each time, there was a little voice in my head that kept saying, seek the sea, seek the sea. It got louder and louder, and finally, I quit looking for athletic trainer jobs and came here. The voice stopped, and after just a few days on the water, I knew this was where I wanted to stay, so I bought that condo. I got to know the gang at the tavern, and after a few years, they brought me into the cave. My karate training came in handy during spelling school, because I already had some of the discipline that was needed. I’ve now been a wizard of the water for several years.”
“Spelling school?”
“Well, that’s what I called it. It really doesn’t have a name, but it’s a training program where you learn how to control and use your talents, how to watch out for the Others, things like that. It’s your next step.”
“Not only that,” Runyon added, “but the sooner you get into it the better. Now that we’ve brought you into our circle, the Others are going to be aware of your existence very soon. We have to get you into training so you will be able to defend yourself before they can get a clear focus on you. I suspect they’re already getting closer.”
“I think so too,” Pierre said. “I had this dream last night, a feeling of something very, very bad coming very, very close.”
I remembered my own awakening this morning with the after-feeling of a nightmare, and the troubled sleep Pierre was having before the coffee woke him up. “Are you sure that’s what it is? Don’t people have nightmares all the time? Maybe my macaroni and cheese was a bit too rich.”
“No,” Runyon said. “Pierre’s trained, so he knows the difference. And I’ve been having my own premonitions. You’re in danger.”
“I can’t just drop my studies. It’s my senior year; I’m almost finished. Let me complete my degree and graduate, and then I can come to your spelling school.”
“That may be too late,” Runyon said. “Time is most decidedly of the essence.”
“I still have to think about it. I can’t just drop everything just because of some convincing hocus-pocus. Although … well … I’m having trouble admitting it, I never thought I’d say anything like this, um, I could kinda get used to the idea of having Pierre as a guardian angel.”
Pierre smiled. “Ahhh-HA! My irresistible charm is, finally, taking effect.”
“That may be a problem,” Runyon said. “Sarah, you need to know that, as long as you aren’t in the formal training program, you’re in danger. There are things Pierre can’t protect you from, so if his presence is giving you a false sense of security, you’re in even worse danger. I could order Pierre to stop guarding you –”
“I still wouldn’t give up my studies.”
“I wouldn’t obey!”
“ … but as you two have just now confirmed, all I’d be doing is putting you in greater danger. But at some point, unless you do come into the program, none of us will be able to protect you any more.”
“Hey,” Pierre said, “we’re stuck for now. How about we drop the subject for the time being, and I’ll work my charms to persuade her later?”
Runyon made a smile that looked more like a grimace. “Pierre, you amaze me –”
“Why, thank you, man.”
“ – with how big your ego is, considering how small you are!” We all burst out laughing, but there was still a stiff tension underlying the laughter.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Reaching 50K

I did it, for the second year in a row.

There. I did it. I got 50,000 words cranked out in 30 days – well, actually, a week ahead of schedule.

I had been plugging along at a dutiful 1700 words a day, not having any real problems with that level of output. Then, a week ago, I had an inspiration. Why just crank out 50,000 words? Why not actually go and finish the darn book, rather than leaving it unfinished? So that’s my goal for November. Right now, I’m just over the 50,000 mark, and I’ve just had the action-packed climactic moment, so what’s left is another 10 or 20,000 to tie up loose ends and get that darn boat out on the water (I spent a lot of word count getting the motor started, and I’m darned if I’m going to leave that thing parked in the slip!)

Finished novel, here I come.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Somebody Else’s Dream

This morning, I spent two hours in somebody else’s dream, a dream that will not come true for them.

They were a couple in our sailing club, and they were planning their dream retirement. They had found their dream location, Corpus Christi, Texas, where the weather is nice most of the time, and the bay is great for sailing. They had found their dream boat, Whisper, an Islander 32, in California and had brought it to New Mexico to carry out major refurbishing before taking it on to Texas. They had a financial plan in which they could retire in their mid-50s, and if the money ran short, they could always go back to working part-time, since they were both youthful and healthy.

Then he died. They were just a few months from that dream retirement, and he was working a short-term assignment to get that last little bit of cash that they would need to set their dream into action. He chose not to get the life insurance offered by the employer, because it would have cut his take-home pay by $6 an hour. While on that assignment, he died, suddenly, in his sleep.

Now she needs to sell everything. She’s already sold the truck. She needs to sell the house, and she also needs to sell the boat. There is a hitch to selling the boat, however: It’s all in pieces, because her husband was still working on the refurbishing. So now the members of the sailing club will be working to help her get it all put back together.

Thus it came that this morning, my husband, son, and I spent two hours with Whisper, taking pictures for two purposes: showing the sailing club members what work still needs to be done, and showing prospective buyers how beautiful the boat is.

And she is indeed beautiful. The interior is perhaps the most lovely I’ve seen in any boat smaller than the Queen Mary, with rich polished wood and wicker inserts in the cabinetry, and galley countertops and fixtures that would look right at home in the wet bar of an executive’s office. Even the head has a feeling of opulence to it. Mechanically, she’s beautiful, too, with such wonderful access to the engine that maintenance is easy and not something that takes a masochistic contortionist. Sure, there are some odds and ends that need taking care of … like attaching the rudder, and connecting a whole lot of hoses that right now don’t go anywhere, and remounting the water heater, and painting the bottom. But still, she’s a beautiful boat.

A beautiful dream.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Wizards of Winds and Waves, chapter 6

A quiet interlude.
Again, I’ve been tweaking some (I know, naughty, naughty, shirking NaNo), so there may be inconsistencies.
Wizards of Winds and Waves
Chapter 6
The next morning, because I had gone to bed so early the night before, I awoke early. My muscles were still aching from the previous day’s exertion, but not as acutely as the night before. Still, I felt uneasy and not refreshed. I had vague memories of having some frightening dream, but other than a feeling of suffocation, I couldn’t remember anything about the dream. Pierre was still asleep on the sofa, although he, too, seemed troubled by something. His face was creased in a frown, and he shifted uneasily in his sleep; a thin sheen of sweat showed on his forehead.
I got up and went into the kitchenette to make coffee. I set the kettle on to boil while I got out the coffee carafe and set the brewing cone on top of it, placed a filter in the cone, and measured coffee into the filter. When the water began to boil, I poured it onto the grounds in the cone. As the water poured through, the grounds released the rich coffee aroma that is every bit as important as the flavor.
Roused by the coffee smell, Pierre came into the kitchenette, and I handed him a mug of coffee. “I don’t have cream, but I have evaporated milk,” I said, pouring a dollop into my mug and offering him the can, which he took. “Sugar’s on the table.”
“Thanks,” Pierre said, seating himself.
I took a look out of the window. The sky was heavy overcast, and a steady rain was coming down; a front had moved in overnight. “Not so great for sailing today,” I said. “No hurry to get out there.” I went back into the kitchenette to get breakfast fixings: bowls, spoons, granola, shredded wheat, corn flakes, plain yogurt, and milk. I helped myself to granola with yogurt; Pierre took shredded wheat with milk.
“You ever consider using skim milk?” Pierre asked. “I mean, maybe you don’t have to watch what you eat, but I’m getting to where I can’t indulge myself and stay in shape.”
“I can’t afford much, so the one luxury I allow myself is good food. But I can get some skim milk and diet soda and stuff today.”
“Thanks,” Pierre said, taking a bite of his cereal. “By the way, did you notice you won every single race we ran yesterday?”
“I really wasn’t keeping score. I just sail for the fun of it.”
“Well, fun or not, you were just really hot. Anybody watching yesterday wouldn’t believe you’re the newcomer to the sport and I’m the veteran. You just never made a wrong decision at any time.”
“I can’t believe that. Surely I was just lucky.”
“Luck only gets you so far. You have the instinct for the game; it’s in your blood. That’s part of what we were talking about the other night in the tavern.”
“And you’re my guardian angel now, because of it.”
“Enough of that,” Pierre said. “How’d you end up all alone in the world, anyway?”
“Long story short: Only child, parents killed in a car accident, no relatives to go to. Not something I like to think about.”
“Well, at least you have Mrs. Bullfinch. And now you have me, too.”
“And that’s a good thing?”
“I get a feeling Mrs. B has never set foot in a karate studio, let alone earned a third-degree black belt.”
“So sailing and seducing women aren’t your only hobbies.”
“I have to do something when the weather isn’t good for sailing. I don’t know whether you’ve noticed, but I have a really hard time sitting still. If I’m not busy, I feel like I’m hanging in mid-air over a very stinky manure pile. By the way, have you ever considered getting that sofa shampooed?”
“We can work on that. Meanwhile, if you have so much energy, mind helping with the dishes?”
Pierre wasn’t exactly used to doing dishes, I could tell. So I ran the hot water into the sink, adding detergent, and I washed while he stood next to me with a dish towel and dried the dishes. Suddenly, he placed a hand on my shoulder. “You’re all stiff from yesterday. I should have known. Let me do something about that.” He led me to the bed. “Take your shirt off and lay down on your front. Don’t worry,” he said turning his head away, “I won’t look until you say I can.”
I did as he asked, and then said, “Ready.”
Pierre placed his hands on my shoulders and then ran them down my back, spreading out his fingers to cover the whole surface in one sweep. I could feel the warmth and strength through his calloused skin, and almost instantly all of the aches began to ease up. “Oh, man, are you stiff. I should have realized last night,” Pierre said. He continued working on my back, varying the effort, sometimes making gentle, soft, warm strokes, and sometimes hard movements like a bulldozer cracking through a particularly stiff achy muscle. As he worked, I could feel a halo of warmth surrounding his hands, and I could feel all of the knots and tension in my back going away.
“Mmmm,” I heard myself saying. “Mmmmmagic.”
“No,” Pierre said, “not magic. Or maybe a little bit, but not much. It’s my training as an athletic trainer. Magic can’t usually heal, only make someone feel better without actually being better. It will work with inanimate objects, but on living flesh, only the most powerful magic will have any effect at all other than temporary cosmetic effects or minor pain relief.”
“Doesn’t matter,” I said. “Feels good.”
When Pierre finished with the massage an hour later, I felt amazingly renewed and refreshed. Pierre settled himself on the edge of the bed beside me, leaving one hand resting at the middle of my back, just below my neck. I could feel the warmth radiating from it, spreading downward through my middle. Suddenly, I had a flash of vision of myself from outside, looking at my back and at that hand resting on it. But something was different, and I couldn’t place the difference. Then I realized that, while that was my back and that was Pierre’s hand, the surroundings were different: The room was luxurious, the bed was king size, the sheets were far higher quality, and I was between them, not on top of them.
Pierre had tensed up. “Of all the strangest things …”
“What? I just got a feeling I was reading your mind.”
“No, this wasn’t mind reading. I just had a premonition.” He blinked a couple of times and shook his head. “I’ve never had one before – really, only the stronger wizards get them. Well, at least it wasn’t a bad one – just that I had you at my place.”
“Was that a premonition, or just wishful thinking?”
I got dressed again, and we went back to the kitchenette to finish up the dishes.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Grammar Moment: Non-Sexist Pronoun Reference

How to be grammatically correct without being politically incorrect

It occurs to me that it has been a very long time since I last posted a Grammar Moment, and that kind of lapse is unconscionable in someone who has officially been named a Grammar Goddess. So, in spite of the calling of NaNo, I must put up a grammar post, however brief.

First, a quick bit of background: Pronouns must match (agree with) the words they refer to. If the word referred to (technically known as an antecedent, but I’m not going to quiz you on the technical terms) is singular, the pronoun is singular. If the antecedent is plural, the pronoun is plural.

The pronoun they, and its relatives them and their, are plural. Thus they cannot be used to refer to a singular noun. Thus, the following sentence is an atrocity:

A student should keep their backpack neat.

You simply must not use the plural their to refer to the singular student. Back in the old days, the solution was simple. In all cases, the masculine singular was used whenever the gender of the student was unknown:

A student should keep his backpack neat.

Nice and tidy, until somewhere around 1970, s0mebody noticed that about half of the human race was not male. Some options were attempted, such as the following:

A student should keep his/her backpack neat.

Well, it sort of works, but it’s awkward, especially if you read it aloud. My husband, a technical writer who works with engineers, who like efficiency and use that slash construction a lot, invented his own all-purpose pronoun to make fun of slash-itis: s/he/it. If you want to know how it’s pronounced … well, he’s from Texas.

For a more pronounceable, if wordier, option, there’s this one:

A student should keep his or her backpack neat.

This is quite reasonable. I use it often myself, in shorter pieces of writing. But if you have a longer piece, that extra verbiage can get burdensome. So what to do? The key is that it is a longer piece – you give both genders equal time. In one paragraph, you use his, and then in the next, you use her. Or you flip a coin for each paragraph. Or you can use what a teacher of mine once called the “subtle feminist agenda”: Use the feminine when the connotation is positive, and the masculine when the connotation is negative:

A good driver keeps her car well tuned. A bad driver slacks on his maintenance.

Of course, there is also another way to avoid having the plural they trying to be a gender-neutral singular pronoun, and that’s by not asking it to try to be singular in the first place. Rewrite the sentence so that what the they refers to is actually plural:

Students should keep their backpacks neat.

Wow! Miracle of miracles, now you don’t have to worry about whether the students are male or female. They can be either, or both, and you’re not violating any rules of grammar or of political correctness.  Sure, once in a while, you’re going to have a situation in which you have to have the singular, but in the vast majority of cases, you should easily be able to rewrite everything to plural. Gee, isn’t that simple?

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Wizards of Winds and Waves, chapter 5

The romance thickens.
Yes, it’s Tuesday night, or Wednesday morning, depending what time zone or shift you’re on, so it’s time for another episode of the Wizards.
Wizards of Winds and Waves
Chapter 5
On the way back to my apartment, we stopped by Pierre’s condo, so he could pick up some of his things to take to my place. While we were there, he took a quick shower to wash off the salt spray, and I took a quick look around the place. It was a one-bedroom unit, more than twice as big overall as mine, and much newer. The dominant feature of the combined living-dining room was a wall of windows facing the bay, giving a stunning view from the second-floor apartment, if a bit cluttered by all of the boats docked in the foreground. The décor looked like something out of a designer magazine, nice but lacking character, in earth tones of beige and brown, and the furniture was simple but elegant, including a chrome-and-glass dining set and a chrome-and-leather sofa in dark brown. I settled into it, enjoying the softness of the leather and the cushions that had just enough give to be comfortable. The smell of the leather was warm and relaxing, like a sunny day in autumn – no wonder Pierre had found my yard-sale treasure so noxious.
The water stopped running in the bathroom, and Pierre yelled through the door, “Oh, I forgot to tell you, there’s beer in the fridge. Help yourself.”
“Sure thing. Thanks.” As I got up off the sofa, I realized that I was thoroughly exhausted. My muscles were so spent, I could barely stand up, and I was aching all over. The kitchenette was just off the dining room end of the living-dining room, and it, like the rest of the apartment, was modern and efficient, if lacking in character. The counters were granite, the cabinets were whitewashed oak, the appliances were shiny stainless steel with premium brand names, and everything looked as if it had never been used. The refrigerator contained skim milk, diet soda, some restaurant take-out boxes, a half-full bottle of chardonnay, and a few bottles of premium microbrews. I selected an IPA and found a bottle opener in an otherwise empty drawer next to the fridge to pop the top.
Pierre came out of the bathroom dressed in a white t-shirt and dark blue slacks, toweling his hair. “You want a turn in there?” he asked, nodding toward the bathroom. “I’ve got a lot of different kinds of shampoo and soap and stuff, if you need anything.”
I wondered how many other women might have used that shower, and that shampoo and soap and stuff. “No, thanks. I’ll wait until we get to my place.”
Pierre went to the fridge and got himself a diet soda. “Might as well rest here a bit,” he said. “Enjoy the view.”
Indeed it was quite a view, not as spectacular as that from a high-rise might have been, but pleasing even so, I realized as I settled back onto the sofa. The lingering glow of the just-set sun still lit the sky in shades of orange, pink and purple, reflected in the water, which had taken on a smooth sheen as the wind died down. The masts of the dozens of boats in the marina were silhouetted against the glowing sky, and the inevitable pockets of debris that tended to collect in the corners faded from view. The windows were well insulated, but not so thoroughly as to eliminate the cry of the seagulls, circling overhead in hopes of a handout from some yachtsman at the end of the day.
I became aware that Pierre had seated himself beside me. “With a show like that, who needs television?” he asked. I looked around; sure enough, there wasn’t a television anywhere in sight. “Actually,” he continued, “I do have one, but it’s in the bedroom, and, well, I just don’t use it much.”
“I see.”
We sat and watched the daylight fade, as lights began to come on along the piers of the marina and across the bay. The apartment became dark, but somehow it seemed right, that no light was needed. We remained silent, and again, that seemed right. Funny, I thought, I don’t think I’ve ever heard Pierre stop talking for more than a few seconds, and here he hasn’t said a word in 20 minutes.
I finished my beer, Pierre finished his soda, and finally he got up, turned on a light, and drew the heavy beige drapes across the wall of windows. “Well, I suppose we ought to get you a chance to freshen up,” he said. He ducked into the bedroom for a moment and came out carrying a medium-sized duffel bag. “Let’s go,” he said, ushering me out and then punching a code on the alarm-system keypad by the door before shutting it gently.
The walk to my apartment was uneventful, if a bit painful. The rest at Pierre’s place had been just enough for my overworked muscles to stiffen up a bit. I wondered whether maybe I should have taken a shower there – if the rest of the apartment was any clue, he probably had one of those fancy showers with multiple heads and fine-tuned massage settings. Oh, well. Besides, I wanted my own humble tub-shower, with the permanent ring left by a previous tenant, with my own cheap shampoo and soap rather than a boutique selection maintained by a ladies’ man. We walked on, although I found myself leaning on Pierre more and more as we continued, to relieve my tired leg muscles.
When we got to my apartment, Pierre insisted on taking a walk around the outside of the building before going in, to check for security problems, I assumed. I wondered what sort of activity he might be able to sense – if he could tune in to the aura of a place to tell whether the Others might have been around. He didn’t find anything amiss, so we went inside and up to my apartment. I was in and out of the shower in minutes, and came out to find Pierre staring into the refrigerator in bafflement. “How do you eat all of that stuff and still end up so scrawny?” he asked me, gesturing toward the whole milk, real butter, eggs, chocolate syrup, full-fat cottage cheese, delicatessen cold cuts, bleu cheese dressing, and other calorie-laden foods.
“Metabolism,” I replied. “Or, at least, so I’m told. Just sitting there doing nothing, I burn twice as many calories as most people. Not that I can stand doing nothing, anyway.”
“Speaking of calories, I’m hungry. We skipped lunch today, in case you don’t remember. Let’s go get some supper.”
“Ugh, I’m just too tired to go out. I’ll just whip something up here.”
“Oh, please, don’t put yourself out. I’ll treat.”
“No, it’s my pleasure. You’re my first ever dinner guest. Besides, it’s nothing fancy, just macaroni and cheese. I make it all the time when I’m by myself.”
“Now I know I want to go out to eat.”
“This isn’t the violently orange stuff from a box. You’ll like it.” I pulled a saucepan off the draining rack, filled it two-thirds with water, added a dollop of olive oil and a dash of salt, and put it on to boil. Next, I took a loaf of French bread out of the pantry cabinet, broke off a half-dozen slices, buttered them, sprinkled on some garlic powder, wrapped them in foil and put them into the oven to heat. Then I got out some sharp Cheddar cheese and grated a double handful worth. When the water boiled, I poured in some pasta shells. Then, in a small saucepan, I melted some butter for a roux. I added flour to make a paste and cooked it until it had the beginning of a toasty taste, and then added evaporated milk. When that mixture thickened, I turned off the heat, added the cheese and a dash of Worcestershire sauce, and stirred until the cheese melted. By then, the pasta was cooked, soft but still with just a bit of firmness; I drained off the water, mixed in the cheese sauce, got the bread out of the oven, and presto, we had a meal.
“Now, I’m impressed,” Pierre said, as he sat down at my ancient dinette table with warped, chipped, green linoleum for a top. I handed him a plate of steaming pasta and a glass of fumé blanc, a white wine with a slightly smoky flavor that could stand up to the sharp Cheddar in the sauce. He took a bite of the macaroni. “Mmmm,” he said through a mouthful of pasta, “that’s what I call comfort food. I don’t think I’ve ever had anything like this before.”
“Secret family recipe,” I commented, concentrating on my own plate. I hadn’t realized it up to this point, but I was ravenous. Pierre, too, was focused on his food – he was silent for an extended period, for the second time in a single day.
By the time we were done sponging up the last of the cheese sauce from our plates with the garlic bread, I could barely keep my eyes open. In the bathroom, I slipped into the oversize t-shirt that I use as a nightgown, and then I crawled into my bed. I was asleep even before Pierre got finished arranging sheets and a blanket on the sofa for his bed.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

A Good Place to Be

How do you say “gemutlichheit” in Spanish?

This afternoon, I found myself in a very good place to be, in the main saloon of the 34-foot S2 sloop Cultural Infidel, seated at the forward end of the port-side settee, shoes off, with my back resting up against the bulkhead. Diagonally opposite me was the small galley, with a certain small electric appliance, full of a certain tropical-themed beverage, and a certain artist’s music was playing on the stereo. All around were fellow sailors, fresh off a day on the race course. I had been out there too, not racing, but in our 26-foot MacGregor, Syzygy, rafted up with the committee boat, Mac Goddess, another 26-foot MacGregor. It was a calm day, with winds varying from nothing to about four knots, so the racing was going very slowly, but we put up the bimini, and that produced enough shade that I could set up the laptop in the cockpit and work on my NaNo novel. Before the batteries died, I got up to 12,226 words. When we got in from the race course, the owners of Cultural Infidel invited everybody aboard for margaritas. Not just physically, but also spiritually, I found myself in an extremely good place to be.

EDIT: I've added a picture of Cultural Infidel, taken Sunday during a brief period in which there was enough wind to float a spinnaker.

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Saturday, November 05, 2005

In Praise of Great Teachers and Editors

What a writer really needs is a good coach.

This post was inspired by the many reflections in the Albuquerque journalism world upon the death of the legendary Frankie McCarty, whose courage in breaking gender barriers and unbending standards of ethics and grammar left a lasting legacy.

I never really got to know Frankie; she retired shortly after I joined the staff of the Albuquerque Journal. However, even after retirement, she still kept a hand in. Every so often, we at the sports desk would get a short letter from her, usually gently holding us to task for some shortcoming. The sports desk may have been a special concern for her – while all of the rest of the paper was copy-edited at the central copy desk, the sports editor at the time didn’t trust the copy desk (he was afraid someone not familiar with sports would put the Yankees in the National League), and so the sports stories were copy-edited by sports reporters and not by trained copy editors. This led to the sports desk having far more than its share of often embarrassing gaffes. Frankie, I am sure, was working hard to save us from ourselves.

But thinking about Frankie got me to thinking about editors in general, and about all of the people who have helped me to become the writer and teacher that I am today. Primarily, these people fall into two categories, editors and teachers (and occasionally both), but I realize there’s a lot in common between a good editor and a good teacher. Both are interested in helping their protégés to make the most of themselves, both as writers and as human beings.

Evelyn Vigil was both teacher and editor. She taught the first journalism class I ever took, and she showed me the basics of getting the story, and most especially, the importance of never, ever, misspelling someone’s name. Later, she hired me as a stringer for the Los Alamos Monitor. I will forever remember that braying HAW-HAW laugh of hers that thundered through the newsroom on a regular basis, letting us all know that life was to be enjoyed.

Jim Sagel was a creative writing instructor who had the ability to make his students dream. In other creative-writing classes, I’ve seen students who present their work, and then all of the other students say something like, “Oh, that’s nice,” and that’s that. Jim encouraged us to look at each other’s work more deeply and offer constructive criticism, but always to support each other. Vaya con Díos, Jim, whatever world you may be in now.

Bob Gassaway was a journalism professor at UNM who never cut anybody any slack. He always held everybody to the highest standards, even if the person in question insisted he or she wasn’t capable of the highest standards. Funny thing is, Doctor Bob was almost always right. But while being a demanding teacher, Bob was also an equal – higher-level seminars often ended up at the Fat Chance Saloon across the street, and Bob would pay for as many pitchers of beer as anybody else did.

Lynn Beene became my idol when I arrived at UNM’s main campus after two years at a remote branch. She it was who introduced me to many of the more subtle nuances of grammar. She it was who brought me into the world of rhetoric, into the ideas of language being an instrument of power, and of language actually changing the world because changing the language changes the way something is viewed, and changing the view changes the reality. She it was who introduced me to Socrates and Plato, and to Phaedrus, perhaps the greatest work of literature ever. She it was with whom I imagined rolling up our pants cuffs to go wading in a clear stream while discussing rhetoric.

And finally, the greatest English teacher of all: Elizabeth Aiello was known from the time I was a kindergartner, and perhaps even before that, as “the Wicked Witch of Barranca Mesa Elementary School.” She taught sixth grade, and everybody was afraid of her. She was mean; she had a hard, sharp face, and black hair with freaky streaks of white.

When I got to sixth grade, I was enrolled in Mrs. Aiello’s class. I discovered she wasn’t mean; she was strict. She held very high standards, higher than sixth-graders were typically held to, even back then, and most definitely higher than today’s sixth-graders. She was very big on grammar – even though diagramming, even at the high-school level, was distinctly un-trendy, she did diagramming. Through diagramming, I learned the vital skill of being able to take a sentence apart to find out what’s wrong with it. She also recognized that the existing school curriculum wasn’t challenging me (there weren’t such things as gifted programs back then), and so she helped me to create my own literature and reading curriculum, in which I chose what I read and then created reports or other projects in which I processed the reading.

Later, I grew up, went off to college, didn’t do so well, and came home, where eventually I started taking classes at the local branch of UNM. There was Mrs. Aiello, Elizabeth now, and she was teaching expository writing, and literature, and some other things. I had been going through some very tough times in my life, and she was always there, encouraging me. She never cut me any slack on any class assignments, but she always was there to cheer me on, to encourage me, to make me see that, no matter how hard things were, I really did have the strength to get through them.

Now that I am myself a teacher, I look back at the teachers I have had. I want to be for my students what my best teachers have been for me. I discover, sometimes, that when I am talking to my class, I am channeling Evelyn, or Bob, or Jim, or Lynn, or Elizabeth. I get to wondering about echoes – If I’m an echo of Evelyn and Bob and Jim and Lynn and Elizabeth, then if sometime in the future somebody’s an echo of me, is that person also an echo of the people I’m an echo of?

Yes, teaching is a way of touching the future.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Danger: Two (or more)-Foot-Itis

The roving eye always seems to be looking for a bigger boat.

Monday night, I arrived home early and caught Pat surfing some decidedly unsavory sites on the Web. In particular, he was ogling a For Sale ad for a 32-foot Kirié Elite sailboat that is available in the Clear Lake, Texas area. The really scary thing was the asking price – about what we’d likely pay for a slightly-used car to replace El Caballero when the time comes. And for that money, instead of convenient, reliable transportation, we could get a boat with a full galley and marine head and oodles of creature comforts – it’s made in France, so the wine rack is a given – and all of the expenses of keeping a big boat operational.

Oh, and of course, there would also be the expense of getting a trailer for the boat, and transporting it (it’s oversize, so there are state permits involved), and getting a tougher towing vehicle, and who knows what other expenses.

There’s a disease that’s been documented among sailors, called Two-Foot-Itis. It’s the compulsion to seek out a boat that’s just a little bigger than the current one, with just a few more features, or better performance, or whatever. Pat seems to have been hit by a particularly severe case. With our current finances, it’s really not a good idea to move up from our existing boats – the 26-foot MacGregor, Syzygy, which is our main boat, plus three Sunfish, a couple of kayaks, and a very pretty but klutzy Classic Marine dinghy. For the sort of sailing that we do, I think Syzygy does just fine.

Yes, I will admit, the sleeping, toilet, and cooking accommodations on Syzygy are less than ideal. Yes, in a more comfortable boat, I might actually be willing to stay overnight, saving on motel costs when we go to the lake. However, those savings will be tiny compared to the costs of keeping up a big boat.

There’s a saying: “A boat is a hole in the water into which you pour money.” And the amount of money to pour in doesn’t simply increase in proportion with the size of the boat; it’s more typically exponential.

So those of you out there who like small boats (like my newest fan, Tillerman – that’s his blog, Proper Course, in the Links to the left), how does one convince a guy that bigger isn’t necessarily better?

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Wizards of Winds and Waves, chapter 4

For those who want action, here it is.
You might notice some things in this chapter that don’t quite match what you saw in earlier chapters. Don’t worry about it – I’ve been going back and making adjustments based on some events in later chapters. As for technical details, right now, the racing boats featured in this chapter are not modeled on any particular boat, but are rather to be taken as some fictional generic class of small racing boats.
Wizards of Winds and Waves
Chapter 4
Stopping briefly at a café for coffee and breakfast burritos, we went down to the docks and readied our boats, setting up the mainsails and jibs ready to haul up, and then we shoved off. In a turning area near the docks, we raised sail. The breeze was stiff but steady at about 12 knots, from directly across the bay, and I could get a good feel for it as Pierre and I circled each other, tacking and jibing through the points of sail.
“Race ya,” Pierre said. “Upwind-downwind, from here to that marker buoy off the bait barge and then back.” He indicated a course almost directly into the wind, across the bay.
“You’re on!” I sheeted in my main, made a quick jibe to bring my boat parallel to his, and we were off.
Because the marker buoy was directly upwind from us, we couldn’t set a course straight for it. Our small boats were designed for racing and could sail closer to the wind than most boats, but even the best sailboats can’t sail straight into the wind. Thus, the first leg of our race would involve tacking, taking a zigzag course toward the buoy and then turning about it as closely as possible before making the return trip. We started out both on starboard tack, with the boats’ right sides facing the wind, so we were headed to the left of the buoy. Pierre, to my left, was just about even with me, each boat making an occasional surge to get a wee bit ahead, but neither of us clearly in the lead. My sails cast a slight wind shadow on his, occasionally slowing him down, but I knew we couldn’t stay on this tack for too much longer, or we’d be sailing away from the buoy.
Quickly, I tacked, peeling away from Pierre’s boat and taking up a new course on port tack. Almost instantly, he tacked, too, coming up parallel but now to my right. I was ahead of him, but he was gaining on me. I tacked again, and our mainsails snapped taut in unison.
We tacked again onto port, and I realized I was falling behind – only by half a boat-length, but Pierre was edging ahead. Off to the right, I noticed water looked different; the little ripples in the surface of the waves were just a tiny bit fuzzier looking. Perhaps there was an eensy bit more wind over there. Pierre tacked to the left behind me, but I kept the same course. I would be sailing wide of the buoy, but if there was more wind where I was going, I could go faster, and on the return I could be sailing on a reach rather than close-hauled, which would also mean higher speed. It was a risk; the speed gained might not be enough to offset the extra distance traveled. But I certainly wasn’t winning the tacking duel, so I headed off to the right.
I felt my boat lift as it reached the higher wind; now I was really flying. Too late, Pierre saw that I had found improved conditions and tacked over to the right side of the course. He was even with me, and then he was falling behind. I kept my course; if I tacked too early, I wouldn’t be able to make the buoy without tacking again. I had to calculate when the new tack would take me just past the mark.
Pierre found the higher wind, and his boat picked up speed. He was gaining on me, but I held the lead. Finally, I reached the point where I could tack, and I was zooming toward the buoy. Just as had been the case with my boat a moment before, Pierre couldn’t tack yet if he wanted a straight shot at the buoy.
I whipped past the corner of the bait barge, where commercial fishermen could load up on baitfish before heading out to sea, under a screaming crowd of gulls hoping to nab a bite to eat. A gust of wind clobbered me in the face with the stink of dead fish and sea lion droppings. I nearly loosened my grip on my tiller, but I recovered quickly. Pierre, meanwhile, had tacked and was coming up on my stern.
I reached the buoy and jibed around it, loosening my sheets for the downwind run back to the starting point, water splashing up into my face from the bow of the boat. I could hear the whooshing of the water as Pierre came around right behind me, but before he had finished rounding the mark, I had my sails sheeted out and set.
Now the jibing duel began. Pierre was behind me, but that also meant he was upwind. If he could get directly upwind, he could block some of the wind with his sails, slowing me down. My challenge was to keep ahead of him and also keep out of his shadow. First to the right, and then to the left, I jibed, ducking down each time as the boom swept across the cockpit. It became a game of prediction, of trying to read each other’s mind, to guess the other’s actions before they happened. I have always felt in tune with my boat and the water, and now I felt even more in tune than ever. On the downwind run, the sailing was much smoother than it had been on the beat upwind, giving the illusion that the boat had slowed down, but in reality, I was flying along. Pierre kept trying to work his way into my wind, but I was able to anticipate every move, and by the time we had reached the starting mark, I had pulled an additional boat-length ahead.
“Whoo, what a run!” Pierre exclaimed as we brought our boats about and slacked the sails. He pulled his boat alongside mine and reached out for a handshake, giving me a slap on the back as our boats pulled together.
“Yeah! That was fun!” I agreed. “But going by that bait barge was a little of a challenge.”
“Hey, just getting back at you for that sofa. Let’s have another round!”
“Sure, but let’s take a different course this time.”
We spent the rest of the day racing many different courses, all over the bay. In addition to upwind/downwind courses, we ran triangles and multi-leg courses. Before we knew it, the sun was sinking toward the horizon, and we brought our boats back to the dock to put them away. In the golden glow of the setting sun, as the wind abated, we spread out our sails on the pier and carefully rolled them up and put them into sail bags to protect them, and then we locked them up in a shed near the dock where we rented space to store our equipment. As we headed up the pier to shore, I became aware that Pierre was holding my hand. I wondered when that had happened.