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.

Thursday, May 04, 2006


It was a really terrific day on the water, right up until something went BANG!

I had made arrangements to meet Zorro and Dino at the lake around noon today. So I drove down to the lake, passing by what at the time was a moderate brush fire in the bosque near San Marcial – it was producing enough smoke to obscure even the nearest mountains; I could smell the smoke of the burning brush through the air conditioner of my car. At the time, the wind was light, and I guessed that the firefighters dealing with the blaze would be glad of that fact.

By the time I got to the lake and met Zorro and Dino, the wind had stiffened quite a bit. Looking to the north, I could see the smoke plume from the bosque fire had become much bigger. Zorro even thought at one point that maybe we shouldn’t sail today because the wind was stiff – anyway, we had plenty of work to do on both our boats, and I had brought down a whole lot of parts to get installed on Black Magic. We did some work on the mast-block system on Constellation, and we installed shock cord tiller controls on both boats – Constellation’s had broken the previous weekend, and Black Magic had never had it in the first place.

Once that work was done, Zorro was itching to sail. We got Constellation set up with a heavy-air jib and mainsail, and off we went. The wind was stiff, but not too bad. Sailing upwind, we were slicing through a little bit of chop, with a few whitecaps, and just enough water splashing over the bow to make the ride exhilarating. Then we took a turn downwind, northward, to scout out a course for the Anniversary Cup distance race. We put up the spinnaker, and we were roaring along north of Long Point. We considered one channel-marker buoy as a downwind turning mark for the race, but no, that one went by too fast. So we decided on another one further north.

The wind was getting stronger, so we took down the spinnaker, and then we headed upwind back to the main area of the lake where the Olympic course is. We were surging through chop, with quite a few whitecaps. Dino was at the front of the cockpit, and he was getting drenched. We got up near Rattlesnake Island, and the wind got even stronger. At this point, Zorro decided it was time to head back to the marina.

So then we were screaming downwind, flying, almost literally. We were surfing on the waves, charging ahead among the whitecaps. I’m sure I’ve never before been on a sailboat going so fast. I don’t know that I can even describe the feeling to anyone who has never sailed – the whole combined feeling of the boat and the wind and the water, and the speed of the boat, and the power of the wind … and all of this had been building during the whole time that we were sailing. I felt energized. I felt alive. It just couldn’t get any better.

Then even Zorro began to express worries. As the wind continued to build, he said he didn’t want to jibe in those strong conditions, but we had to jibe to get to the marina. We did get a couple of brief letups in the wind, so we did get in two successful jibes. Then the wind hit really hard, suddenly. I heard a loud POP, and I acted upon my first instinct: I ducked deep into the cockpit. Zorro said, “Oh, shit.” No exclamation point, just a matter-of-fact observation The boat’s motion changed from surging forward to chaotic side-to-side rocking. When I raised my head, I found myself looking at the shattered remains of the base of the mast.

Zorro kept the helm, Dino went about gathering up the shattered spars and rigging, and I got out the VHF to summon assistance. But before I managed to make contact, one of the State Parks ranger boats was already on hand. We all agree that someone was watching over us, although we disagree about who. Zorro says it was God. Dino says it must have been the State Parks people keeping an eye on us – we were, at that point, the only boat out on the water.

We got a tow back to the marina from the State Parks ranger. With the tangled-up mess of shattered spars, rigging, and sails, we looked like some survivor of the ill-fated Sydney-to-Hobart or Fastnet races. The mast had broken in two places, just above the deck, and at the spreaders. The mainsail’s bolt rope was torn off, remaining in the mast groove, and the sails were in a heap on the deck, twisted among the shrouds and spars.

Zorro estimates that the winds we were in Thursday afternoon were 40 knots, gusting higher, from the south. The predictions for Thursday afternoon, as of Thursday morning, were as follows:

NOAA: Sunny, SW wind 7-17 mph.
Wunderground: Mostly sunny, wind SSW 7-13 mph.
Accuweather: Brilliant sunshine. Winds S 9 mph. Sunny, wind SSW 11-15 mph.

Well, at least the predictions got the direction of the wind right, even if they were nowhere close to accurate on the wind speed.

Meanwhile, I will treasure the day. Being on a sailboat going so fast, upwind or downwind, is … well, I can’t find anything politically correct to compare it to. It’s like sex, the rhythm of the waves and the boat, pulsing through one’s body, producing the waves of endorphins that give the sense of pleasure. And if there is something of danger, well, here comes the adrenaline, making everything all the more exciting.

Yeah, we got dismasted. But nobody got hurt, and the boat is mostly all right, and now Zorro gets the new mast he’s been wanting for years. What’s not to like about that?

Zorro and Dino had to go back to El Paso, but later, Pat and Tadpole made a surprise visit, and we all went out to dinner at one of the very nicest restaurants around. Oh, what a day.


Blogger Tillerman said...

Great story. And I'm pleased to see that you can be optimistic and look on the bright side after an accident like that.

Fri May 05, 12:54:00 PM MDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Like sex? Hmmmmmm... Yeah, but Zorro (and Dino) still respected you this morning. Can't you just wait to take a ride with Zorro's new... "mast"

Fri May 05, 03:26:00 PM MDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Zorro posting here........what a day.hmmmmmm!!!!!!! After phone calls today to dave Curtis of Doyle Sails and many time World Champ in Etchells and Don at Ontario Yachts( buliders of E 22's)
I should have eased the backstay a bit. But as they say in another business." don't get high on your own supply"!! We were going so fast, well new mast should be ready by June 1.actually, a little work on Constellation ( recoring the deck to stiddin her and she will be ready for the California cicuit this summer, off to the lake tommorrow to spend all day fairing the bottom of USA 438( now known as the BLACK ROSE) and rigging her for a launch and tuning against Black Magic on Sunday in prepartion of defense of the singlehand title ..Dino will drive Black Magic in the singlehand race. US 38 will soon be back sailing and improved and faster than ever....

Fri May 05, 04:37:00 PM MDT  
Blogger Pat said...

Anonymous one really thinks he knows how to STICK it... well, so much for SPARRING around. Just don't want to be the MAST BUTT of anyone's humor. ... or maybe we don't want to touch this with a tirty-six-foot pole.

And, it wasn't quite Divine Providence, as such, who was watching over the crew of Constellation on Thursday afternoon, but more particularly Claudia of the Rock Canyon Marina who saw the sails disappear from USA 38 and knew something wasn't quite right.

Now, we need to see the Sorceress get herself and her crew back on the water muy pronto - forecasts are for some wonderful sailing weather this weekend.

Fri May 05, 10:35:00 PM MDT  
Anonymous Adrift At Sea said...

You're ok, the sails are ok, the boat is ok, and now he can get the new mast he's been drooling over. Sounds good to me...and like another, relatively difficult lesson in sailboat ownership learned via proxy... :)

Fri May 05, 10:55:00 PM MDT  
Blogger Strathy said...

Wow, you really know how to take things in stride! Getting dismasted is one of my greatest fears. Nice blog.

Tue May 09, 05:09:00 PM MDT  

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