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.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Black Magic’s Racing Debut

Yup, it’s a fast boat, all right

I went down to the lake on Friday in hopes of getting to spend some quality time on my boat – now that I’m no longer in training for the Adams Cup on J/24s, I can switch over to my Etchells and work on all of the skills involved in sailing a boat that has one heck of a lot of strings to pull, even compared to other racing boats.

I got there in the early afternoon and stopped to leave off a few things in the house that I have temporary use of – Dino does real-estate wheeling and dealing, and he bought this house, which I can camp out in until he sells.

When I got to the lake, Zorro and Dino hadn’t arrived yet, so I went to the Fleet 141 Compound to wait for them. Eventually, Zorro showed up, although Dino was delayed with his real-estate work. We decided to go out on Zorro’s Etchells, Constellation. As we were getting the boat ready, Cornhusker showed up, so she joined us. Just as we were leaving, Dino and a friend of his appeared, and since I was already at the helm on Constellation, I let Dino and his friend take Black Magic out.

So we had the two Etchells out on the lake, and we pretty much had the lake to ourselves. At that point, I was really, really, wishing I had brought the camera – I could have gotten some great shots of my boat, under sail, slicing through the water like the sleek black shark that it really is. The background was dramatic, too, with the late-afternoon sun on the mesas around the lake, intermingled with scattered small thundershowers. We ended up getting a little bit of everything, in terms of weather. Initially, the wind was nearly dead calm, and then it built up, and then it built up even more, and I let Zorro take over the helm to show the sail controls for depowering the boat in high winds. A squall approached, and we headed back to the marina in fairly fierce conditions, with lots of whitecaps and some rain. It was exhilarating, but not the sort of conditions I’d be ready to face yet without someone more experienced, such as Zorro, on board to help. Cornhusker was on trim; she had never been on an Etchells before, so it took her a bit to get used to the “look-Ma-no-winches” jib sheet arrangement – but not much, since she catches on quickly. She enjoyed the sailing immensely.

This weekend was the final regatta of the spring series, as well as the Club Championship. The plan was for me to sail Black Magic, with Cornhusker and an experienced sailor who has often sailed with Zorro. Unfortunately, that sailor sent email at the last minute that he wasn’t available. However, Zorro was willing to lend me one of his regular crew to fill out mine. Meanwhile, Pat decided Tadpole should also be on my crew for Black Magic’s first race, so he drove down late Friday night; he then had to return to Albuquerque, because he had an obligation at Heron Lake Saturday.

Saturday morning at the skippers’ meeting, there was still no sign of Zorro’s missing crew member. There had been thunderstorms all night, and the morning was blustery; there were seven different weather forecasts, no two anything like each other, varying from next to no wind, up to gale forces. Zorro said he knew the wind was going to die down, and that the day would end up with very light winds. He’s not often wrong, but occasionally he has been known to be overly optimistic about wind predictions. I wasn’t going to go out with crew that was not only not terribly experienced but also literally lightweights when the weather was (or at least appeared to me to be) so iffy – my previous experiences with the weather had made me rather gun-shy. Zorro needed Dino on his own boat, so he wasn’t available; they offered to let me have Dino’s friend as crew, but I barely knew him or anything about his sailing abilities. So Zorro, Dino, and Dino’s friend went out on Constellation, Cornhusker found a position substituting for an absent member of Mother’s Adams Cup team, Tadpole joined Dumbledore’s crew (the male Adams Cup coaches) on another of the J/24s, and I ended up on the committee boat with Donald Sutherland to keep him on track with when to put flags up and down and beep the horn and such.

Zorro was right on his weather prediction, and I should have listened to him. During the first race, the wind gradually abated, and the second race turned into an absolute drifter. We started a third race, but then the wind went completely away, so we abandoned it to resume racing Sunday. I could certainly have sailed with only Cornhusker and Tadpole in those conditions. Zorro was not pleased, and I guess I can’t blame him – he was right, and I was wrong. I told him he ought to borrow Sister Rosebia’s ruler and whack me over the knuckles. When Pat arrived at the evening’s sailing club dinner, he wasn’t pleased either.

Sunday’s winds were light, and all of the weather predictions agreed that they would continue to be light. Finally, Black Magic would get out and race. I had a full crew: Cornhusker, Tadpole, and Pat. We got out to the race course well ahead of the start time and had a brief test-run of the spinnaker, which went well, considering how new we all are to this boat.

We had three races, and we improved each time. For the first race, we had to do a bit of settling down as crew together; we got a decent start, and we finished fourth. In the second race, we were getting much more coordinated with each other; we had a good start and again finished fourth, although not so far behind Zorro as the first race. In the third race, we got a fantastic start – I really had gained something by being on the committee boat the previous day and observing the starts, since it gave me a good feel for boat speeds and angles and timing of the line. (As much as sailors prefer actually sailing rather than watching, committee-boat duty can be beneficial!) We overtook almost the entire fleet and came in second, a bit over two minutes behind Zorro. In addition to our good starts, we also had good spinnaker runs. We don’t yet have a good mount for the spinnaker pole when it’s not in use, so it had to lie in the cockpit until after we rounded the mark, which meant we were later to get it up, but once we got it up, we did well with it. (We’ve ordered parts to set up so we can hang the pole on the boom in heavy air and clip it on the foredeck in lighter conditions.)

During the second race, we had an interesting incident. I had previously commented that I wished I could get some pictures of the boat while it was under way, which is difficult to do if one is on the boat. On the first leg of the second race, a bass boat came up and started trailing us – it turned out, it was Cornhusker’s husband (he doesn’t sail, but he does fish a lot) with a camera. So I may soon have a new set of pretty pictures to add to this blog.

By the time the racing was over, I had redeemed myself with Zorro. He was especially pleased that I had managed to beat all of the rest of the fleet in only my third race in that boat. He was even more pleased when he added up the numbers: Because there had been five races over the weekend, one of my DNSs from Saturday was thrown out, and I ended up in fourth place in the Club Championships as well as fourth place in the spring series. Zorro also commented that we needed to remove the motor from Black Magic, since it was just weighing down the back of the boat and wasn’t really needed. Two months ago, he had said, “In a year or so, you won’t need that ^$#* on there and we can take it off” – I guess I’m a faster learner than he thought.

After a very late lunch, Pat, Tadpole, and I returned to the dock, where we discovered that Zorro and Dino had taken the motor off the boat for us. Zorro met us for a sunset sail on Black Magic while Dino and Sister Rosebia sailed Constellation. Again, we had mixed conditions: light air to start, then heavier, then fierce enough that Zorro took the helm, and then it lightened up again, and so I took over again to sail into the slip. All in all, it was a glorious day.

When we returned to the Fleet 141 Compound, champagne was in order. I wasn’t the only one who had a major accomplishment in that third race. Esther Williams in the Adams Cup B team boat had beaten both Mother’s boat and the boatload of male coaches. As frustrating as it has been at times, the Adams Cup effort has been a success, especially in getting some women out and racing who may not have thought about it before. What has been really amazing is how, in just a few months, some of us have gone from absolute beginners to respectably competent racers. It has taken a whole lot of hard work, a whole lot of time, and some really great coaching – thanks, Dumbledore, Mother, Yoda, Weatherman, Apple Lady, and most especially Zorro -- but we’re getting there. And thanks to Dino’s fundraising skills, we’ll also be able to continue the “Fast Women for Sail” program beyond the Adams Cup. It will be interesting to see what all of this turns into.


Blogger Pat said...

Perhaps the other boat crews simply lagged behind in order to admire the pretty boat name lettering we'd put on the transom last weekend?

We did make mistakes, and still need to work on the boat, on crew roles and crew coordination, on getting better at tacks (and choosing good places to tack) and practicing starts and hoisting the chute and so much other stuff ... and we're not really even at the point of doing anything really with tactics. So much to learn! And, maybe we did have a bit of beginner's luck.

But, with enough hard work, maybe we'll be able to do just a little bit better and really feel like we know what we're doing.

Mon May 01, 04:50:00 PM MDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pat, do you really think the other boats could see the lettering from that far back?

Knock, knock...
Who's there?
Black Magic.
Black Magic who?
Black Magic just made you disappear off the Horizon!

Hey, can I see that trick again?
Well...Maybe next week. Good luck!

Mon May 01, 06:10:00 PM MDT  
Blogger Tillerman said...

Congratulations. Looking forward to seeing those photos.

Tue May 02, 08:35:00 AM MDT  
Blogger Pat said...

Apparently Zorro's missing crew member has been temporarily banned from sailing because his Admiral has Other Priorities.

Wed May 03, 05:32:00 PM MDT  
Blogger Fred said...

Well done! Love to read more.
mmmh, Spinnakerpole to be stowed away...
You are already thinking about mounting it on the boom which is a very good idea. I do this always without drilling ONE hole into the boom, without fittings where you can scratch your head on badly. Want to hear?
My sailmaker (easy DIY job) makes me a kind of long, small double pocket with a single cloth of abt. 8-10cm (depends on boom section) in the middle. This single sheet section is pulled into the groove together with the mainsail footrope. Either side of the boom you now have a pocket, not much more in dia as double boom dia. The opening can be stiffened with boltrope which is being used on jibs with headfoils. The length of the sockets depends. Open or close at the end. This kind of sockets takes also the wires, (in German: Hahnepot) sometimes hanging from the boom for up and downhaul. Leave these clipped on at all time and you can set the boom very quickly and you do not have to fiddle with the jibsheet (over your shoulder) during jibes. Jib sheets can now be shorter. Try it. If you do not understand, send me an e-mail via my blogsite.
smooth sailing

Thu May 04, 03:54:00 AM MDT  
Blogger Pat said...

Eine gute idee!
Viele Gedanken, Manfred (Jim); Ich glaube das lange "double pocket" wird arbeit sehr gut und nett. Haben Sie eine bild (foto) fu"r das?(und Seine Verzeihung fu"r my schade, jammerliches, schlect Deutsch!)

Many thanks!

Thu May 04, 05:32:00 PM MDT  
Blogger Pat said...

Copy of the post on my blog,,

Carol Anne was initiated today (Thursday) into the Society of the Shattered Spar. While she and Zorro and Dino were out on Zorro's Etchells, "Constellation", and having a great sail, the wind built up quickly, perhaps gusting to 45 mph, and broke Constellation's mast.

Everyone is fine and Carol Anne was actually pretty excited to be able to help handle the incident; it was probably good also that they weren't single-handing when things got a little rough. The airport only registered around 24.2 mph steady and 33.4 for gusts around that time, but it Zorro felt like they'd been punched with around 45 mph when the spar decided to take a tumble.

So much for starting out on a quiet weekend at the lake, and I'm guessing they'll be switching to Carol Anne's boat tomorrow! (The top of her mast is a little more bendy, and her tensions are a little looser and the mast generally is better at helping de-power the boat in a blow, so "Black Magic" can probably cope pretty well with these conditions.)

More details now available: They left the marina early in the afternoon with winds already pretty strong.After sailing around a bit, they explored the north part of the lake to check out a course set-up for the upcoming Anniversary Cup distance race. With the chute up, they were really flying along. Then, beating back uphill, Dino, in front, got to absorb most of the waves and spray.

They then went way south, past Rattlesnake Island, before deciding to turn around and head back for the marina. This time, conditions were so strong that they didn't even think of putting up spinnaker, but were doing everything possible to depower. They were really flying along, planing over the waves.

At that time, Zorro decided to depower by putting on more backstay. Carol Anne heard an explosion and saw something moving fast out of the corner of her eye as the rig started to tumble down. She jumped down from her high side position on the rail into the uphill side of the cockpit as the mast crashed down; it had failed both at the spreaders and near the deck.

Luckily, someone had been keeping an eye out on them - they had been the only boat out on the lake - and Chris, a park ranger, showed up with a state parks power boat. After they got the debris of the wrecked spar and rigging tidied away, they were able to accept a tow.

Zorro's estimate of 40 knot winds was supported by local observations, including lots of spray blowing off the waves and thick, heavy clouds of sand blowing off Lion's Beach (the blowing sand usually becomes quite noticeable at 30 mph and above). Fortunately, insurance will likely pay to bulk of the cost for a replacement mast, compass, and mainsail, and no one was hurt.

In fact, Carol Anne was thrilled and excited by the whole experience, including a great afternoon of sailing (until they couldn't sail any more) and thought this was a great experience. The boat was under good control at all times, even when the gunwales were dipping into the water at times, and Carol Anne is trying to remember all of what she saw about controlling and depowering in these condtions - though, unfortunately, Zorro didn't have any time to explain all the adjustments he was making when things were happening so fast.

The plan now is for Zorro and Dino to return on Saturday to put another boat back in the water (USA 438) and haul Constellation out. Zorro and Carol Anne were already been talking to Zorro's San Diego buddy, Vinny, about building a new mast; perhaps in a few weeks Carol Anne will be part of a road trip to retrieve the new mast along with an Etchells that's now in San Diego.

Fri May 05, 12:59:00 AM MDT  

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