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 15, 2006

A Very Mixed Bag

The racing didn’t go so well, but the rest of the weekend had its highlights

Friday, there was no wind. I spent a lot of the day fiddling around with Black Magic. I had a whole heap of new small parts to install, such as snatch blocks on the spinnaker twings, end caps for the traveler, a new ring for the spinnaker pole, and a gazillion other little doodads. The actual amount of work I got done wasn’t all that great for the time I spent – I had to make trips into T or C to go to the house to charge the batteries for the drill and eat lunch, and then to the hardware store to get screws for mounting the traveler end caps, and it was a warm day (90°F or so with, as I’ve mentioned, no wind), so I took frequent rest breaks. Cornhusker showed up and proved that she’s not only good crew on the water; she’s resourceful on shore. She helped me devise at least a temporary mounting system for mesh bags to hold lines when they’re not in use, and she helped me with installing some of the hardware, such as the snatch blocks. We couldn’t install everything we wanted to – there were a couple of hex-head bolts that were corroded from the boat’s previous life in salt water, and the socket set we had was just a cheapo set with a screwdriver-type driver rather than a regular ratchet wrench. I thought I had an adaptor for the drill, but then discovered I didn’t.

Zorro showed up, and he had a lot of work he needed to do on The Boat Of Many Names (currently known as Black Swan). His first comment when he looked at Black Magic was how great those mesh bags were. Cornhusker had to go home, but I stuck around to help Zorro work on his boat.

Pat and Tadpole showed up, along with some wind, just as Zorro was finishing his boat work. What to do next was a no-brainer: take a late-afternoon sail. Pat, Tadpole, and I took Black Magic, while Zorro single-handed his boat. Normally in such situations, I find myself saying, “He’s going faster than I am; what is he doing differently than I am?” But that evening, we were often going faster than he was; TBOMN has been neglected by its previous caretaker, and so there’s a lot that needs fixing. There was one time when Zorro was nearly even with us and lee-bowed us, and we tacked away. Ten minutes later when we came back together, Black Magic was ahead by several boat lengths.

We brought Black Magic in as the sun was setting – I had left my non-sun glasses ashore. Zorro stayed out a while longer. We had just finished putting our boat away when we saw an awesome sight. The full moon was just rising, big and vividly red over the indigo silhouettes of the mesas on the far side of the lake. There were horizontally shredded clouds, lit with a faint yellow glow in the deep turquoise sky, in which a few stars were beginning to emerge, and the wind was coming up. There, in exactly the perfect spot, right below the moon, was Zorro, on a screaming downwind run. Alas, he was moving so fast that by the time we got the camera out, the photo-op was gone. But it was such a sight. Luna Rossa. That’s what TBOMN should be called. Zorro’s Italian, and I like the tradition of naming the Etchells in our fleet after America’s Cup racers.

Saturday was the Joshua Slocum single-handed race. Zorro was taking TBOMN, and I had previously granted Dino permission to take Black Magic for the race – I’m too new to racing and to Etchells to do well with it. Pat did, however, talk me into taking out our old MacGregor, Syzygy, since the field was small and there were four trophies, so my chances were, so he said, pretty good. It is true that I have always been able to make that old boat go faster than expected, even before I did the intensive racing training for the Adams Cup.

It was a disaster. Pat and Tadpole were on committee boat duty, pressed into service when the guy who was supposed to do it – one of Zorro’s no-show crew for the Club Championships – was forbidden by his wife to do anything sailing-related until he’s completed a lot of tasks in the new house they have just bought. (Future blog post: woman shadows?) There was no wind, or very light wind, and all of the boats drifted around the committee boat for two hours, except for a couple who gave up and left. Finally, it looked like there might be some wind, and after realigning the starting line several times, Zorro gave the go-ahead to start. The wind died during the five-minute starting sequence, and worse for me, other things went wrong. I had been on the course side of the line when the starting sequence started; it took me 30 seconds to get to the line. About one minute later, not wanting to get too far from the line, I turned back toward the line – or rather, I put the tiller over to go back to the line. The boat didn’t go. For the next 19 minutes, I tried to get to the line. The boat would turn one way, but not the other. It would go parallel to the line, and it would go away from the line, but it would not go toward the line. Sometimes I could get it to go sort of in the general direction of the line, but way wide of it.

Meanwhile, Pat was yelling utterly useless advice from the committee boat. He was telling me to do things I was already doing, or to do things that I know from the intensive work that I’ve been doing over the past few months are not the things to do. All these months, he’s said I’m doing great, and I have learned all of these skills, and he’s proud of me, and then he assumed I’m too stupid or ignorant, and the reason I can’t get the boat to do anything is that I’m just not doing it right. Never mind that I’ve been training intensively and all he has is book-learning – he knows better than I do. Never mind that Syzygy has had almost no maintenance over the past year, or that it’s been in the water for several months growing salad on the bottom, or that its sails are limper than Kmart bedsheets, or that it’s really not a racing boat at all. Pat’s immediate assumption wasn’t that the boat had shortcomings; it was that I did. All that encouragement he’s been heaping on me is just to keep me happy; he doesn’t really believe it.

Eventually I got across the starting line, so at least I’d have a DNF for the race rather than a DNS. But then I decided it wasn’t worth my while to try to run the race itself. I headed back to the marina. I started the motor, and as if I didn’t have enough problems already, it refused to run well. I turned it to full throttle, and it was barely moving. I kept my mainsail up, in case the motor should quit and I would need alternate propulsion. It was a long ride back to the marina. Then, about 50 yards from the marina, the motor roared to life and everything was fine (I figure maybe something had been fouling both the rudder and the motor, causing poor performance from both), aside from not having a chance to drop the sail, and some other boat occupying our slip, which had our fenders set out so I wouldn’t have to deploy them from the boat while coming in single-handed, and nobody being around at the marina to help catch the boat, and a sudden gust of wind from astern just at the wrong moment … my arrival wasn’t a pretty sight, although at least nobody saw it, and there’s a bigger dent in the dock than in Syzygy.

To make matters worse, Dino didn’t do particularly well on Black Magic. But then, as inept as I am, I might not have done any better.

Sunday at least started on a positive note. Cornhusker showed up at the dock with a socket wrench and some WD-40, which she used to loosen the recalcitrant bolts on Black Magic. That at least allowed us to install the new spinnaker ring and made it possible to install the traveler end stops when we have time. She earned big brownie points for resourcefulness.

Sunday’s race was the Jack and Jill – woman at the helm, one man as crew. Our plan had been that in light air, I would take Tadpole, since he’s agile and knowledgeable and great with the spinnaker. In heavier air, I would take Pat, to have more crew weight, and forget about running the spinnaker. I would have liked to have Zorro, but he wasn’t available – he had committee boat duty.

The wind was stiff – stiffer than I was comfortable with, especially given the no-confidence vote Pat had given me the previous day. Pat didn’t make matters any better. He kept nagging and harping and hounding, trying to get me to believe the lines about me being great and all of that – the lines he’d already proved he didn’t believe. I just wanted to crawl into a hole. I wanted to just sell the boat, go back to Albuquerque, and forget about the whole sail-racing thing. Who am I kidding, that I think I can sail a boat and sail it well? Pat clearly thinks I can’t, so why should I bother?

We didn’t race the Jack and Jill. We waited until the wind eased, and then we went out, the four of us, Pat, Tadpole, Cornhusker, and me. That was all right. We sailed around the racers, and we had a good time, aside from Pat’s continual harping that we should have been racing. We even got in a bit of spinnaker practice, and we sailed until the wind went away.

Cornhusker went home, and we got ourselves a very late lunch (prime rib special for Mothers Day) and then returned to the lake, ostensibly to put the boats away – we were planning to take Syzygy out of the water to take to Heron Lake, up north (Black Magic will stay at the Butte until its new trailer is ready). By the time we got the boat onto the trailer and de-rigged, the wind had come up, and Zorro was out sailing around, but then he came back to the marina; he picked me up from the dock, and he told Pat and Tadpole to take Black Magic out and catch up to us.

We sailed all over the lake, working on tuning the boats for racing. TBOMN may have its problems, but it can beat Black Magic if there are no major equipment failures, and if it has competent crew. I had the helm, and Zorro handled trim, and we got in a couple of practice races, in which we thoroughly beat Pat and Tadpole. There may have been some crew-dynamics issues – what happens when the teenager actually does know more than the parent, and the parent is the know-it-all? Of course, they said they let me win on purpose, since it was Mother’s Day. For me, that last couple of hours of sailing at least partially redeemed the weekend, driving a fast boat in near-perfect conditions, with somebody who really knows what he’s talking about, rather than just feeding me lines to keep me happy for other purposes.


Blogger Tillerman said...

Ahhh - family dynamics and coaching each other sailing. Do they ever mix well? What a great subject. I learned the hard way that as far as my family is concerned
a) for the health of our marriage my wife and I should not sail together. Actually I think she decided it first.
b) my kids didn't like to be given advice while actually racing.

Mon May 15, 09:48:00 AM MDT  
Blogger Pat said...

For sure it would have been better if I'd been on the boat with CA on Saturday and could have helped her diagnose and fix the real problem. I was frustrated, confused, and very much guessing wrong or lacking good information and apologized profusely afterwards.

Also, I was having other problems running the races in very light, shifty, variable wind conditions on a borrowed powerboat without a flagstaff, two-way radio, or horn (except for the limited-loudness boat horn, which had to have the engine powered up for a minute before the horn could be used) and baking my brains out in the 90-degree weather without any shade and after waiting a couple of hours to start the race.

And, for the record, I've always truely believed in what Carol Anne can achieve if she sets her mind to it. Ultimately, the only person who can beat her is herself. Had she conquered her fears and imaginings and gone out for the race Sunday, or had her own boat on Saturday, she would have done great. This was apparent when we were sailing later on Sunday morning and when she got every bit of performance out of a fading wind after sailing up and down the lake and running the chute efficiently. It was proven further when she went out late Sunday helming USA 438 with Larry crewing; she was definitely the far superior helm compared to me.

Mon May 15, 12:06:00 PM MDT  
Anonymous Adrift At Sea said...

I'd also recommend keeping cornhusker as crew... she sounds like a gem. :D

Mon May 15, 04:07:00 PM MDT  
Blogger Carol Anne said...

Cornhusker is a treasure. I don't think her previous skipper ever got the least idea how great she is. I'm also looking forward to getting her daughter, G.I. Jane, on board.

Tue May 16, 12:10:00 AM MDT  
Blogger Pat said...

A sad note....

Cornhusker's previous skipper, John B., passed away this week. Before he died, he asked for no memorial services, funerals, or flowers, but rather that sailors raise a toast in his memory.

Tue May 16, 03:14:00 PM MDT  

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