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, August 28, 2006

Grammar Moment: The world’s most expensive comma

And you thought all of those silly punctuation rules weren’t important!

This is a cautionary tale in which you will learn that, yes, even something as seemingly trivial as an itty-bitty comma can make a big difference in what a sentence means.

You see, one of the rules about commas is that they are used to separate information that is not essential to the meaning of the sentence, but they are not used to separate information that is essential. That’s a complicated way of saying that if there’s a comma (or in this case, two commas, one at the beginning of the information and the other at the end), the information separated out by that comma can be removed without changing the meaning of the sentence.

The key sentence here is that the agreement “shall continue in force for a period of five years from the date it is made, and thereafter for successive five year terms, unless and until terminated by one year prior notice in writing by either party.”

Note that the phrase “and thereafter for successive five year terms” is separated by commas. That means it can be taken away and the sentence has the same meaning. In this case, the sentence reads “shall continue in force for a period of five years from the date it is made unless and until terminated by one year prior notice in writing by either party.” Suddenly, the contract is no longer for an iron-clad five-year term, followed by additional five-year terms. It’s a single five-year term, but even that can be cut short with one year’s notice.

The full text of the article comes from

Comma quirk irks Rogers


From Monday's Globe and Mail

It could be the most costly piece of punctuation in Canada.

A grammatical blunder may force Rogers Communications Inc. to pay an extra $2.13-million to use utility poles in the Maritimes after the placement of a comma in a contract permitted the deal's cancellation.

The controversial comma sent lawyers and telecommunications regulators scrambling for their English textbooks in a bitter 18-month dispute that serves as an expensive reminder of the importance of punctuation.

Rogers thought it had a five-year deal with Aliant Inc. to string Rogers' cable lines across thousands of utility poles in the Maritimes for an annual fee of $9.60 per pole. But early last year, Rogers was informed that the contract was being cancelled and the rates were going up. Impossible, Rogers thought, since its contract was iron-clad until the spring of 2007 and could potentially be renewed for another five years.

Armed with the rules of grammar and punctuation, Aliant disagreed. The construction of a single sentence in the 14-page contract allowed the entire deal to be scrapped with only one-year's notice, the company argued.

Language buffs take note — Page 7 of the contract states: The agreement “shall continue in force for a period of five years from the date it is made, and thereafter for successive five year terms, unless and until terminated by one year prior notice in writing by either party.”

Rogers' intent in 2002 was to lock into a long-term deal of at least five years. But when regulators with the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) parsed the wording, they reached another conclusion.

The validity of the contract and the millions of dollars at stake all came down to one point — the second comma in the sentence.

Had it not been there, the right to cancel wouldn't have applied to the first five years of the contract and Rogers would be protected from the higher rates it now faces.

“Based on the rules of punctuation,” the comma in question “allows for the termination of the [contract] at any time, without cause, upon one-year's written notice,” the regulator said.

Rogers was dumbfounded. The company said it never would have signed a contract to use roughly 91,000 utility poles that could be cancelled on such short notice. Its lawyers tried in vain to argue the intent of the deal trumped the significance of a comma. “This is clearly not what the parties intended,” Rogers said in a letter to the CRTC.

But the CRTC disagreed. And the consequences are significant.

The contract would have shielded Rogers from rate increases that will see its costs jump as high as $28.05 per pole. Instead, the company will likely end up paying about $2.13-million more than expected, based on rough calculations.

Despite the victory, Aliant won't reap the bulk of the proceeds. The poles are mostly owned by Fredericton-based utility NB Power, which contracted out the administration of the business to Aliant at the time the contract was signed.

Neither Rogers nor Aliant could be reached for comment on the ruling. In one of several letters to the CRTC, Aliant called the matter “a basic rule of punctuation,” taking a swipe at Rogers' assertion that the comma could be ignored.

“This is a classic case of where the placement of a comma has great importance,” Aliant said.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Pretty pictures from Heron Lake

Now that I'm here only on weekends, it looks even prettier

I start teaching on Monday, so earlier this week I returned to Albuquerque to prepare my syllabi and work on beginning-of-term paperwork. This weekend, we're at the lake, and Tadpole's Boy Scout troop will be camping out and learning to sail Sunfish. We went up this afternoon ahead of the rest of the Scouts to work on getting at least a couple of boats in the water before dark, so there would be less work in the morning. We picked up Tadpole and another Scout, whom I'll call "Bunyan," immediately after school and headed for the lake, with one Sunfish in tow -- the other three were already at Five O'Clock Somewhere.

At the boat ramp, we launched the boat, and Tadpole and Bunyan sailed it over to the marina while Pat and I drove around to the point above the marina to meet them. In this picture, you can see the infamous Narrows, through which one must go to get to the main body of the lake. Since the prevailing wind here is from the west, that means a LOT of tacking, so most people just motor out and then raise sail once they're through it. However, I like sailing out; it kind of goes with having a high-performance boat like Black Magic to do so.

While the others were securing the boat, I took a few more pictures. This is the view to the southwest, toward the boat ramp. We had thunderstorms all around, which, unfortunately, made darkness fall earlier than it otherwise would, but which also made for some spectacular shots of clouds lit by the glow of the setting sun.

These clouds are to the southeast, seen from the point above the marina.

We then came to Five O'Clock Somewhere to pick up another boat, which Pat and Tadpole and Bunyan took to the lake to launch in the dark and also rendezvous with the rest of the troop. The remaining boats can launch in the morning.

Monday, August 21, 2006

RIP Captain Nemo

Godspeed, Darold.

One of the most venerable racing skippers in the history of New Mexico sailing, Darold Rhodes, has just passed away.

Before he fell ill, he was known as an avid racing sailor, skipper of the bright-red J/24 Alter Ego, always one of the boats to beat, whether at Elephant Butte with the Rio Grande Sailing Club, or at Heron Lake with the New Mexico Sailing Club.

He also cultivated sailing talent among his crew. Tadpole sailed with him on many occasions, and he told me that Darold always had crew working on stretching their skills, having them work at crew positions that they weren’t accustomed to, so they would learn all the skills that would be needed at any crew position that might arise.

For the past few years, Darold has been battling multiple serious illnesses. Sunday morning, somebody – I don’t remember who – made a comment that I think sums up what we all believe: “Now he has a boat that really flies!”

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Another great weekend!

So much to tell about …

This weekend started with a brief sail on Black Magic Friday evening after Pat and Tadpole arrived fresh from Tadpole’s first week of school. We enjoyed great scenery and seriously regretted that somehow the camera had been left in Albuquerque – the sunset was at least as good as any we saw at Dillon.

After sailing, we socialized with some of the other sailors who were hanging around, including Mother and Dumbledore, who had arrived at Heron for the first time all summer (they’ve been busy with regattas in various places, as well as doing a whole lot of boat repairs and stuff), the Highlanders, and many others.

Saturday, Mother had planned to run match races, with matched pairs of boats dueling each other – the idea was that there would be J/24s racing each other, and maybe also J/22s or Catalina 22s or some such. Since there is no other Etchells at Heron, the idea would be to pair Black Magic with some other boat of similar speed, so it wouldn’t be a true match race, but it would come close.

Saturday morning, we got to the marina and found that there was a grand total of three boats planning to participate: two J/24s and Black Magic. In an unusual twist, there was plenty of crew available – several students from New Mexico Tech had showed up (including one from California with extensive sailing experience), and in addition, Mother was expecting her friend Speed Racer. Speed Racer has sailed extensively with Mother on J/24s, but last spring when she saw Black Magic, she was impressed, and she expressed a desire to sail on her: “Oh, those Herreshoff lines! I bet it’s fast!” I let the J/24s take the Tech students, provided I got Speed Racer if she showed up.

Speed Racer never did show up, but it didn’t really matter. Pat, Tadpole, and I sailed out onto the lake on Black Magic, toward where the race course had originally been planned, with our VHF radio on in case there was a change of plan. We sailed around the lake. We sailed across the lake. We put the spinnaker up, a slow and clumsy process, since Pat is very much a novice at the spinnaker. We jibed. We went around the island in the southern part of the middle of the lake. We doused the spinnaker and headed up, back toward the Narrows. We discovered that the J/24s had started match racing without us, since we had disappeared – they hadn’t thought to get on the radio to find out where we were. Probably it was just as well, since both boats had tuning issues: Mother and Dumbledore were working on getting their new mast working well, and the other J/24, Hot Flashes, recently bought by a group of owners including Yoda, Esther Williams, and a couple of other women of a certain age, needed a lot of acclimation of crew to boat. At one point, in light air and with no real reason, Hot Flashes T-boned the committee boat.

Today (Sunday), things were a bit better. To make up for us being excluded from Saturday’s races, Dumbledore planned a distance race (from the marina, around the island and back), so we could participate. In addition to the J/24s, we got one other participant, Uncle Jesse in his Hunter 240 – the committee boat Saturday. We waited around the marina for a good long while in very still air; eventually, it looked like some wind was coming in, so we started the race.

Mother and I crossed the starting line at about the same time, although Mother was on a better tack and had more speed. Esther Williams and Uncle Jesse were far behind, and they never really mattered in the race. Tacking out the Narrows, we more-or-less kept up with Mother, but she and Dumbledore have a lot more local knowledge, and that really counted, since the Narrows has puddles of wind that I haven’t learned yet. By the time we got out of the Narrows, Mother and Dumbledore were about 10 boat-lengths ahead, Esther Williams was 30 or 40 boat-lengths behind, and Uncle Jesse was nowhere in sight, around a bend in the Narrows.

Once out in the main body of the lake, I had hoped to find more wind. That was not the case. We drifted along, behind Mother, looking at the surface of the water for clues for where the wind might be. Eventually, I saw what I thought might be a slice of slightly more wind, and I tacked to take it. Good decision – once I tacked, it was a lift. Mother, seeing my tack, also tacked, but then tacked back shortly thereafter. So I was headed to the north of the lake, and Mother was headed to the south.

The wind, in addition to being light, also was very shifty. About when we were halfway to the island, the wind made a major shift – suddenly, without changing course, we were no longer close-hauled; we were on a broad reach. Over on the south side of the lake, we saw Mother putting up a spinnaker, but there was so little wind that it didn’t fly well. I had Pat and Tadpole get our spinnaker ready to launch, but I wasn’t actually going to launch it unless there was enough wind to make it work well, especially given Pat’s lack of experience.

Finally, we entered a zone where there was wind. We launched the chute. We got it flying. We mostly kept it flying. When the wind shifted so that we were on a reach, we still kept that spinnaker up – it’s a reacher, and I’ve sailed with Zorro with a reacher not just on a beam reach but even when the wind is slightly forward of abeam. We made ground on Mother and Dumbledore, even though we were also giving Pat lessons on how to work the spinnaker.

We came around the northwest corner of the island ahead of Mother and Dumbledore. Because of crew inexperience, I had the spinnaker doused sooner than would have been most efficient. Mother kept her spinnaker up longer, and our douse, while better than on previous occasions, was slow, so Mother gained on us, but she was still behind.

We came around the southern corner of the island, and the winds were getting at least a little bit stronger. The course to the Narrows was dead upwind … and then it was not, and then it was again, and then it was not. We were looking at a wind that was shifting over 90 degrees or more, and it wasn’t oscillating, since it wasn’t going back and forth in a regular pattern. Such is life on a mountain lake. The winds were still light, in spite of thunderstorms brewing nearby. Mother was coming up behind us; sometimes she was going faster, and sometimes she was pointing higher, and so we did a lot of trying to figure out what she was doing that we weren’t doing – the biggest thing we could figure was crew weight distribution. In light air, it’s good to have a lot of weight on the leeward side of the boat to induce heel, while in heavier air, it’s good to have the weight windward to keep the boat level.

As we approached the Narrows, a thundersquall hit. It was sudden, and it slammed the boat, but Pat and Tadpole are now good at helping to keep the boat under control in such situations – Dillon helped us to gain confidence with such things. One moment, we were drifting; the next, we were screaming along. We were roaring ahead of Mother. We did have to tack twice to make the entrance to the Narrows, but so did Mother. It was raining, and we had spray from the water as the bow of the boat plunged through waves, so we were getting wet. Tadpole even put on his rain jacket.

Then we reached the entrance to the Narrows. There are some rocks on the right. I was hoping we could get past those rocks, maybe pinching up a little to get around them, but Pat and Tadpole agreed that pinching wouldn’t work, so I’d need to tack. So I tacked. Into a hole of dead air. Mother, meanwhile, went charging past, in a remnant of the stiff air out on the lake.

The end of the race was much like the beginning: Mother found the puddles of wind that would work for her. I’m going to need to learn that.

After the race, Dumbledore came over to us while we were putting our boat away. He thanked us for giving him and Mother a great race – and it wasn’t just politeness. He was excited that we had done so well, and he said our performance was “sparkling.”

Esther Williams and Uncle Jesse ended up quitting this race. But Zorro told me, “Don’t quit.” I didn’t quit.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Grammar Moment: Misplaced Modifiers

Yeah, you know exactly what you mean. …

The issue of misplaced modifiers actually deals with what is probably the biggest problem with writing well. You know exactly what you mean. And because you know exactly what you mean, when you proofread your work, you’re sure it conveys the meaning you intend.

Oops, it doesn’t work that way in real life. All of those connections between ideas that your brain made when you were writing … those connections aren’t there any more. The only connections that count for readers are those that are made in the writing itself, not the ones that were in the writer’s brain at the time the writer did the writing but didn’t actually get into the writing itself.

Narrowing down to a more specific topic: sometimes you have a word or phrase that describes something. You may know exactly what the word or phrase describes, and so you forget to tell the reader. Let’s look at the following sentence:

Being a dinghy sailor, the world of yachting can at times be quite daunting.

I have corrected one spelling error from the original sentence, but otherwise, it is exactly as it appears on another blog.

Let’s start with the basic rule: When you have a descriptive word or phrase at the beginning of a sentence, that word or phrase usually describes the subject of the main sentence. Thus, “Being a dinghy sailor” describes “the world of yachting.” Yep, that’s right, according to this blog, the world of yachting is being a dinghy sailor.

There are two ways to fix this sort of misplaced modifier.

First, you can rewrite the sentence to make clear who or what is referred to in the introductory phrase:

Since I am a dinghy sailor, the world of yachting can at times be quite daunting.

Now we know that the dinghy sailor is the writer, not the world of yachting.

Second, you can rewrite the sentence following the introductory phrase to make the thing modified also be the subject of the sentence:

Being a dinghy sailor, I find that the world of yachting can at times be quite daunting.

This is my preferred solution in this case. The writer establishes, clearly and concisely, that she is a dinghy sailor, and she makes clear that the evaluation she makes is based on her own experience.

Note, also, that this solution didn’t require using a lot more words. You don’t need a whole lot of words to say what you mean, just precise, effective, and efficient words.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

40 days and 40 nights

Maybe the next boat I get should be an ark – can I use fiberglass instead of gopher wood?

A few days ago, the northern end of Rio Arriba County hit a milestone. It has rained, at least a little bit and often a whole lot, every day for 40 days and 40 nights. Actually, we’re now moving in on 50, but the real important milestone, at least literarily, is that 40 day mark. Yeah, we’ve had breaks in the weather, especially in the mornings, but every single day, it has rained.

At least Five O’Clock Somewhere is situated on a rocky hillside, so any runoff rushes past. We’re not in danger of flooding here. But elsewhere in New Mexico and West Texas, the story is much direr. Some neighborhoods in Albuquerque have been flooded, and parts of Socorro, and much of Rio Rancho, and a lot of Corrales, and some of Placitas, and low-lying areas of Las Cruces, and some of Roswell, and the entire village of Hatch (although, fortunately, not many of the chile fields). El Paso, in the span of 10 days, got more than twice that city’s annual average rainfall; Zorro’s house had minor damage, and some of his friends took major hits.

The good news about all of this is that this huge amount of rainfall translates into more water going into the lakes, and also less demand by farmers for irrigation water coming out of the lakes. Elephant Butte has considerably more water in it that was originally predicted (see Desert Sea for details), and Heron’s doing all right, too.

The weather here currently: It’s been raining steadily for about the past six hours but is letting up now; we had about an hour of spectacular lightning and thunder four hours ago. There was only a brief power outage toward the beginning of the storm.

No rainbow today; those happen only when the storm breaks up before sunset.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

How NOT to enter San Francisco Bay

Now, I’m not an expert on the area, so any of my loyal readers who are, correct me if I’m wrong …

This link leads to a series of photos documenting a seriously inept sailboat captain’s attempt to enter San Francisco Bay:

The photographer was out to take pictures of surfers making use of the great waves caused by the current south of the southern pier of the Golden Gate Bridge. According to everything I have read, a sailboat should never attempt to go south of the southern pier, and even if I didn’t know that, I would know that water that people are surfing in is probably not water that I would want to take a sailboat through. But apparently the skipper of this sailboat didn’t have that sort of common sense.

One of Pat’s and my ideas for the distant future (a.k.a. “retirement”) is that we have a boat that we keep in southern California, and we sail up to the Bay Area on a regular basis, so we want to make sure we avoid doing bonehead things like this sailor did. Edward, Zen, and anyone else from that part of the world, we welcome tips and advice.

Size isn’t everything

When little dogs are just as good as big dogs

Yeah, Chihuahuas get a lot of flak for being silly pseudo-dogs that have more in common with rodents than with canines. And a Chihuahua-rat terrier mix? Good heavens! Still, this little dog gets the job done.

You can see the full story, including pictures, at

Chihuahua-rat terrier mix on K9 team

BY CONNIE MABIN, Chicago Sun-Times

CHARDON, Ohio -- Though she's only a 6-pound Chihuahua-rat terrier mix who looks like she belongs in Paris Hilton's purse, Midge has the will, skill and nose of a 100-pound German shepherd.

The newest recruit for the Geauga County Sheriff Department's K-9 unit could very well be the nation's smallest drug-sniffing pooch.

"Good girl," Sheriff Dan McClelland says, praising the 7-month-old, tail-wagging puppy, during a recent training exercise.

McClelland began training Midge for drug-detecting duties when she was just 3 months old, after reading about departments being sued by suspects whose cars or homes were damaged by larger dogs.

Like many police departments, Geauga County has had German shepherds and Labrador retrievers for years. In fact, visitors often ask, "Is the big dog out?" -- referring to 125-pound (56-kilogram) Brutus, says Lt. Tom McCaffrey, Brutus' handler.

Still, Brutus' intimidating, deep-pitched bark disappears when Midge -- her name is short for midget -- playfully wrestles with him in the grass outside the old jail. That's where the dogs participate in narcotics training, where Midge watches the bigger dog maneuver through cabinets, heating vents and other spaces in search of marijuana.

Police dogs must pass a test in which they successfully search for drugs in several places to get state certification. Then they can officially become K-9s and conduct legal searches. McClelland hopes Midge will receive her working papers when she is about a year old.

McClelland's idea of using smaller dogs was reinforced when he returned from vacationing in Canada and saw U.S. Customs officials using beagles to sniff luggage.

The sheriff seems to be part of a trend, as others are training smaller dogs for police uses.

Dogs called Belgian Malinois have earned spots on departments in Pennsylvania, Michigan, South Carolina and Ohio after training by Dave Blosser, owner of the private Tri-State Canine Services in Warren, Ohio. The breed can be as small as 40 pounds (18 kilograms), and Blosser compares the dogs favorably to larger breeds.

"Size-wise, endurance-wise they last longer," he says.

There are other advantages to smaller dogs, says Bob Eden, whose Eden Consulting Group trains police dogs and handlers. "Smaller pups can get into smaller and tighter spaces in order to carry out their searches," Eden says.

On the other hand, dogs that are too small may not be able to get around certain obstacles -- and there could be a credibility problem, Eden says.

"A Jack Russell terrier may make an extremely capable narcotics detection dog," he says, "yet some agencies would shy away from using such a breed simply because the dog doesn't have the same respect level from the public as a Lab or shepherd might."

As for a Chihuahua-rat terrier like Midge working as a K-9, well, the president of the North American Police Work Dog Association, H.D. Bennett, says he's never heard of a police dog so small it nearly fits in an outstretched palm.

That's not stopping McClelland, who bought Midge from a co-worker's relative and takes her everywhere with him -- she even has a pair of goggles for rides on the sheriff's motorcycle. On a recent day, she was curled in his lap, sporting a black "sheriff" vest over her brown-spotted white fur.

The sheriff says he knew instantly Midge would be good for his police experiment in Geauga County, whose picturesque rolling farmland and old-fashioned town squares are home to about 90,000 people east of Cleveland.

"She is very calm. She is not yappy. She likes people a lot, really loves kids," he says as he strokes the dog.

Midge has helped boost the department's relationship with the community. The tiny dog was grand marshal for a parade for the Memorial Day holiday in May, wearing an American flag scarf while perched atop a motorcycle.

She has been a hit in the county jail, where McClelland takes her to visit well-behaved inmates. Wearing flip-flops, some of the prisoners giggle when Midge licks their toes. Others cuddle her close as they talk with the sheriff about missing their own dogs at home.

On visits to school classrooms, Midge gets passed among tiny hands. And McClelland offers a lesson:

"I tell the kids, 'Even when you're small, if you take a stand you can make a difference.' "

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

It’s still “about students”

New name, same philosophy … good

This coming Saturday, August 19, marks the official transition of the computers at the place where I work. Six months ago, the institution formerly known as Albuquerque Technical-Vocational Institute was renamed Central New Mexico Community College. During the transition period, email addressed to either or addresses has been redirected to the new domain, but starting this Saturday, the old domain will no longer exist. The powers-that-be have been issuing repeated warnings that I need to give my new address to people who want to contact me, because, starting Saturday, the old address won’t work.

This, to me, is a blessing. Last spring, I had a student who didn’t understand the evils of spam, and he responded to a pop-up ad that asked him to give addresses of people he thought might also like the opportunity to “win” contests such as he had just won. The result was that my address has been getting about 150 spams a day. Come Saturday, all of that spam will cease – and I will make extra-sure in the future that my students know they are not to give out my email address to anyone, so I will not be subjected to such a deluge again.

Meanwhile, the IT people at CNM have issued emails alerting staff to problems that might happen during the changeover, and advising everybody to be patient. The emails have included information about whom to contact in case of a problem, and have also explained the level of priorities different divisions of the institution will get. Top priority: Student Services.

Back when the place was TVI, the big motto was “It’s about students!” Now that we’re CNM, it’s good to see that we’re still “about students.”

Wizards of Winds and Waves, chapter 40

Setting up for the next battle

OK, loyal readers, I’m running out of chapters, since I haven’t worked on this novel in several months. Now is your opportunity to voice your opinions of what you think might (or should) happen next. I have sort of a vague idea of events, but not much specific.

Wizards of Winds and Waves
Chapter 40

The Paris wizards’ stronghold was underground, in a branch off the famous sewers. “Doesn’t anybody care about my sensitive nose?” Pierre asked.

“I do,” I said.

“Well, that’s just because you get the same sense of scents as I do.”

“Not just that … I care about my soul mate.”

“Oh, I know that.” He leaned over and nibbled on my ear.

Much to Pierre’s and my relief, once the wizards’ den was secured, it was sealed off from both the smell and the damp of the sewers. It was a cave very similar to the one the wizards at home had at the back of a bayside tavern. There was something else from home there too. “Runyon! Sylvia!” I exclaimed, hurrying up to two of the wizards who had been important in discovering my talents and getting me into the training program. “What brings you two here?”

“You, of course,” Runyon said. “You two have uncovered something that’s going to take more than just one regional bunch of wizards to deal with.”

“How big is it?” Pierre asked.

“At least as big as France,” Runyon said. “It doesn’t seem to go beyond that at the moment, but the Inner Council thinks maybe France is a test. If the plan goes well here, the Others will spread it to the rest of Europe, and maybe the world.”

“So what is their plan, exactly?” Pierre asked.

“They’re planning to trigger riots in every major city,” Runyon replied. “First, they’re getting the lower classes riled up, especially immigrants. They’re taking incidents and spreading the word that all of these things are because the government is discriminating against them – even little things like random petty crime are being blamed on the oppressive government and the ruling society. Where there aren’t enough randomly occurring incidents, the Others are creating them, and, again, blaming the establishment. Eventually, there’s going to be a major incident, and the Others – or rather, the Others’ minions – will be starting riots in all the larger cities. Throughout France, there are cells like the one that you have found, and each member has been assigned a neighborhood to organize.”

“Do we have any idea how soon this will be?”

“We don’t really know. They may be delaying their attempt now, since they need to regroup and also replace Stephane. On the other hand, maybe they’ll be stepping up their plans so as not to give us a chance to take any action, if they know we’re onto them.”

“Speaking of Stephane, what are we doing with him and Mildred?” I asked.

“Mildred’s in France illegally, and she’s also wanted in the States,” Runyon said. “Now it’s not just custodial interference and kidnapping, but also arson in the case of the apartment building that Sarah used to live in. The FBI’s involved now, too – even if really their current theory is that she’s a jealous ex-wife who wanted to get even for her ex taking up with another woman, they’re defining the arson as possibly a terrorist attack, in order to have more power.”

“So we put her into the hands of the authorities, and hope she doesn’t spill the beans about our wizard society?”

“Even if she does talk, who’s going to believe her? If she insists she’s been dealing with wizards, she’s more likely to get sent for psychological tests. Besides, if she tells about us, she also unveils the Others and their plans. If she’s loyal to them, she’s not going to say anything about either group of wizards.”

“You have a point there,” I agreed. “But what about Stephane?”

“You did quite a number on him the other night,” Runyon said. “We have him safe in an infirmary of ours suffering from a crushed larynx. We’re hoping that when he comes to, assuming the brain damage isn’t too serious, he’ll be able to give us information about his superiors – he may have been calling the shots here in Paris, but we’re sure there are people higher up, coordinating among all of the cities.”

“What makes you think he’ll talk?”

“Well, literally, he won’t be talking any time soon – his vocal cords are pretty well destroyed. But we’re hoping he can give us information in exchange for protection from his higher-ups. Meanwhile, the Others don’t even know we have him, and we’re hoping to work that to our advantage.”

“How are we going to do that?”

“We’re going to make it look like he and Mildred were deserting the group. We’ve cleaned out both of their bank accounts, as well as an account that was funding the Paris group. We’ll be planting some evidence on Mildred for when she gets caught. The police won’t know exactly what it means, but the Others will be watching the police, and they will know – or think they know – that Stephane and Mildred were fleeing with the loot, and Mildred got caught, but Stephane’s still on the loose.”

“I’d like to have a part in the action,” Pierre said. “I’ve always imagined what I would do when I caught up with Mildred …”

“Careful, there,” Runyon said. “We don’t want to get so wrapped up in revenge that we go overboard.”

“Oh, I won’t go overboard. But I do want a piece of her. All those years I missed out on watching my daughter grow up … And then there’s what she did to Betsy’s face …”

“We get the picture,” Runyon said. “We can let you help with the plan, but you have to promise to keep yourself under control.”

“Meanwhile, what’s happened to Peter?” Pierre asked. “He saw things that night. He could figure out that Stephane and Mildred didn’t flee of their own accord.”

“We don’t know where he is,” Alois said. “But how much, really, did he see? At the time he went charging out that door, Stephane was clearly in control of things. He won’t have understood what he saw, either, if he doesn’t know about the magic.”

“For that matter,” I added, “given how pale and panicky he looked, he may have been scared enough not to want to have anything more to do with the group.”

“Might he be able to help us?” Betsy asked. “If we get him on our side, he could still go to group meetings and bring word back to us when the signal comes through.”

“That assumes we can find him,” Pierre said.

“I have some ideas,” Betsy said.

Pierre and Alois set up Mildred’s car for her release. In the trunk were the communist group’s ledgers, which had been lifted from Stephane’s flat. In Mildred’s purse, there was a withdrawal slip indicating that the account had been cashed out, as well as a small portion of that cash – the group would assume that Stephane had the rest of it, we hoped. The taillights were disconnected, to give a police officer a reason to stop the car. And an anonymous tip had been phoned in to the Paris police that a fugitive from the FBI, wanted on kidnapping and arson charges, had been seen in the neighborhood, with a description of the fugitive and the vehicle. After we released Mildred, we listened in on the police radio; it took only about forty minutes before Mildred was apprehended and set on the path toward extradition to the U.S.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Dillon Open Update

A pleasant surprise in the corrected results

In an earlier post, I reported on the Dillon Open preliminary results that were posted the morning of the second day of the regatta, and I included a photograph of the results that were posted at the yacht club.

On the way out to the race course that Sunday morning, one of the other boats in the PHRF 1 fleet radioed the committee boat to protest the race results, and the committee radioed back that they would take the matter up when everybody got off the water that afternoon.

This past weekend, Pat downloaded the final official results from
and we discovered the results had been adjusted, presumably in accordance with whatever the protest hearing decided. Two additional boats were given DNFs, and, ironically, the boat that had made the protest was one of them – so it officially came in behind Black Magic in the final standings! So we were 11th rather than 12th overall.

A different sort of cat

Buddy may no longer be around, but …

Before we left for the Dillon Open, we had left supplies out for Buddy, the stray cat who seemed to have adopted us. We got dispensers that would hold several pounds of dry food and a gallon of water, so even if we weren’t here, he would have food and water.

When we returned, we discovered that the food dispenser had been taken apart, and there was no sign of Buddy. My guess was that a raccoon or some such had dismantled the food dispenser – raccoons are clever that way – and that Buddy had gone elsewhere in search of food or been scared off by whatever got the food.

Yesterday, we thought maybe Buddy had returned. Tadpole (whose new glasses are on order and should arrive this week) thought he saw a gray cat go across the hillside behind the house, and then I thought I heard Buddy’s meow, which sounds very much like a kitten mewing. So we put some food out on the front porch for him. However, nobody came to get the food, and we didn’t see Buddy.

It turns out that what I heard yesterday was kittens mewing, not Buddy, and what Tadpole saw was one of those kittens, who probably outweigh Buddy half again. Just now, I heard the mewing again through the window next to my computer, and when I looked up, there was a mother bobcat and two kittens, maybe only 15 feet away, walking right past the window. She paused and looked up at me for a moment, and then she continued past, keeping an eye on the kittens, one of whom was romping ahead after a butterfly, the other of whom was falling behind exploring crevices in the rocks. I watched as the family made its way up the hill, their golden coats bright, blending into the sun-drenched rocks. The mother cat paused again to look at me, ears up, stumpy tail twitching, while the slowpoke kitten scampered to catch up, and then the trio disappeared into the brush.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Visitor 8K

Yep, another milestone

The 8000th visitor to this site is someone in San Jose, California, who has this website bookmarked. Congratulations! You have won a weekend’s lodging at Five O’Clock Somewhere, including at least one breakfast of the house specialty, chocolate-chip pancakes, plus either an opportunity to sail as crew on the sexiest boat in New Mexico, or a hands-on lesson in how to launch or retrieve a keel sailboat with a trailer on a boat ramp.

To all of you who didn’t win this time, you’re still eligible for the 9K competition, so keep an eye on that visitor counter.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Black Magic in the water again

Yeah, we floated the boat

Just a brief update – this evening, we rigged Black Magic and launched. It took only about an hour to rig the boat this time (not counting the 20 minutes I spent with the bilge pump before Pat and Tadpole arrived), and probably about a total of two hours to get the boat rigged and into the water. Unfortunately, since Pat and Tadpole didn’t arrive at the rigging crane until about 7, it meant that when we finally did finish launching and get the boat over to the marina, it was very dark. To make matters worse, the skies opened up with a downpour just as we got the boat to the marina. So much for all of that water I just pumped out; there will be more in the morning.

Rainwater in the bilge is something of a given in an Etchells, since it doesn’t have an enclosed cabin. In many ways, what I have is a 30-foot dinghy. We have a tarp to put over the boat, although the tarp is far from water-tight. But at least it does seem to reduce the amount of rainwater that comes in. We didn’t have time to do anything with the tarp tonight, but we can get it set up tomorrow after we’re done sailing.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Poetry Corner: C.W. McCall

How do you deal with a redneck libertarian environmentalist?

Well, if you’re in a small town in Colorado, you elect him mayor.

Some of the readers of this blog may remember C.W. McCall as an icon of the 1970s CB radio craze, and his hits such as “Convoy” and “Wolf Creek Pass.” Those songs may have earned him a redneck image, but there’s more to him than that. He’s from Colorado, and much of his work reflects his love for the mountains there. “Glenwood Canyon,” for instance, is a powerful song protesting excessive and unfettered development of pristine areas.

He also has strong libertarian ideals. His resentment toward big government is partly hinted at in “Convoy,” but it’s much more evident in the song I present here.

His real name is different from his musical name, and under the non-musical name, he has been elected mayor of a small town in Colorado – I’m not sure exactly which, but it’s something like Ouray or Telluride. There are a lot of people up in the mountains who agree with his philosophy of preserving the environment while also reducing government interference in people’s lives.

In response to the latest terrorist threats, in which the would-be terrorists disguised explosives as common toiletries, air travelers are no longer going to be allowed deodorant, shampoo, conditioner, hair-styling gel, moisturizing lotion, mouthwash, toothpaste, lipstick, lip balm, or just about any other cosmetic substance in carry-on luggage. Yeah, I can deal with a lot of restrictions, but in the dry cabin of an airplane, I can’t do without my lip balm. If I can’t have it, I can’t fly. The local TV news featured a woman who was forced to discard a $40 lipstick at the security checkpoint – I seldom use lipstick, and on the rare occasions I use it, it’s not $40, but that lady took a hefty financial hit.

The conventional wisdom has been to keep the most urgently needed toiletries in the carry-on bag, in case the airline loses the checked bags. Obviously, that’s going to have to change. Pat and I have always tried, as much as possible, to travel with nothing but carry-on luggage, both to save time and to reduce the chances of luggage being lost. Under the new rules, either we have to check a bag in order to take our toiletries with us, or we have to buy toiletries when we get to our destination.

Yeah, I can understand the national-security viewpoint that says what looks like a tube of toothpaste may actually be a tube of plastic explosive. But I wonder how much security is gained at what expense. And who pays if vital toiletries go astray? I have sensitive skin, and only a few, very rare, brands of sunscreen will protect me without causing an adverse skin reaction. I have always made sure to have my sunscreen in my carry-on luggage, in order that the airline will not lose it. Now, I will be forced to put the sunscreen in my checked luggage. I don’t like that idea at all. If the checked bag gets lost, I will have to stay out of the sun until I can find a replacement for the sunscreen, and I have already discovered that this sunscreen is hard to find even in places where I would expect it to be easy, such as South Padre Island.

But a bigger idea than just my having sunscreen when I need it is the question of when government “protections” interfere with personal freedom. Yeah, we want to be safe from terrorists, but how much freedom should we give up in order to get how much protection? Maybe I’m caught up on shallow, cosmetic issues, but it seems to me that forcing people to travel without toothpaste and deodorant is not a good idea.

There Won't Be No Country Music (There Won't Be No Rock 'N' Roll) (C.W. McCall, Bill Fries, Chip Davis)
Well, it's only gonna be about an hour, friend
'Til they dam your favorite river
So you can water-ski just one more reservior
And them supersonic ships are gonna take you
'Cross a sea of pavement
To one more faceless brickyard on the shore

Yeah, it's only gonna be about an hour or so
'Til they rip off all your mountains, boy
And that one last tired old eagle bites the sand
And all of that high-and-mighty scenery's
Gonna be leveled to the ground, boy
By a bunch a' them mindless strip mines on the land

So listen well, my brothers
When you hear the night wind sigh
And you see the wild goose flying
Through the gray, polluted sky
There won't be no country music
There won't be no rock 'n' roll
'Cause when they take away our country
They'll take away our soul

Well, it's only gonna take about a minute or so
'Til the junkyards fell the prairies, boy
And them smokin' yellow grass fires start to burn
And the warnings on them beer cans
Gonna be buried in them landfills
No deposit, no sad songs, and no returns
Yeah, it's only gonna take about a minute or so
'Til the factories blot the sun out
You gonna have to turn your lights on just to see
And them lights are gonna be neon, sayin'
"Fly Our Jets To Paradise"
And the whole damn world is gonna be made of styrene

So listen well, my brothers
When you hear the night wind sigh
And you see the wild goose flying
Through the gray, polluted sky
There won't be no country music
There won't be no rock 'n' roll
'Cause when they take away our country
They'll take away our soul

Yeah, it's only gonna be about a second, boy
'Til they take away all'a this country
And they'll tell you not to listen to this here song
And that far-off sound of freedom's
Gonna be an echo from the past
And the final tune is gonna be sad and long
And it's only gonna be about an eye-blink, boy
'Til they pull out the wool to blind us
So we just can't read all the messages on the wall
But the only words that matter
Oughta be scribbled all over them billboards
In big old black and bloody letters, ten feet tall

There won't be no country music
There won't be no rock 'n' roll
'Cause when they take away our country
They'll take away our soul
There won't be no country music There won't be no rock 'n' roll 'Cause when they take away our country They'll take away our soul
There won't be no country music There won't be no rock 'n' roll 'Cause when they take away our country They'll take away our soul 'Cause when they take away our country They'll take away our soul

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Fire danger LOW today!

This is something I’ve never observed here before

Along the road leading into Laguna Vista is a local landmark, the Smokey Bear sign. It was created by a local artist who is also a member of the volunteer fire department, and it features a portrait of the great bear himself, plus a few of our local birds and other critters. “FIRE DANGER ____ TODAY!” is what the sign reads, where the blank is filled by interchangeable placards that the fire department can swap out according to conditions. (The choices available are LOW, MODERATE, HIGH, VERY HIGH, and EXTREME.)

A couple of weeks ago, I figured that the lowest the alert status would ever get would be MODERATE, since the fire department really wants people to remain careful with fire. However, today, for the first time ever, I saw the placard in the blank that read LOW. Yes, that’s right, we’ve had so much rain lately that even the Laguna Vista Volunteer Fire Department (probably with the assistance of Rio Arriba County and National Forest Service expertise) has decided the fire danger is low.

So how much rain have we been having lately? The answer is LOTS. Just in the past 24 hours, we’ve had far more rain than clear skies. Last night, accompanied by a spectacular light show, we had pounding rains that even washed out parts of the main road into Laguna Vista. Today, when I went out to go to the store, I had to wend my way around some damaged parts of the road and other places where emergency road repairs were taking place (there are times when having a truck-type four-wheel-drive SUV actually makes sense), and when I tried to come back, the road was totally cut off for a culvert replacement, so I went elsewhere for an hour or so, primarily to the lot above the boat ramp where Black Magic is currently parked, so I could check on the boat. I pumped about 30 gallons of rainwater out of the bilge, and then just as I was finishing that, the rain was beginning again.

I returned to Laguna Vista, where the culvert replacement had been completed, although I still had to weave around construction equipment, and I got to the cabin just as the skies let loose with a downpour. For the last seven hours, it’s been mostly rainy, varying between total downpour and sprinkling. Now it’s beginning to dry out a bit.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Final Dillon pix

Finishing up a great experience

We didn't have any time at all to take pictures Saturday, since we were, uh, rather busy driving the boat. There was an official photo boat, but the photographer didn't get any good shots of Black Magic in action. However, conditions Sunday allowed for plenty of picture-taking.

The standings posted at the yacht club Sunday morning revealed something I hadn't realized: Black Magic had come in 6th out of 13 boats in the first race Saturday. I would never have expected to have done so well.

When we got out to the racecourse Sunday, despite the gathering clouds, wind refused to materialize.

The crew of this J/24 did discover one way to fly a spinnaker in no wind: run the motor in reverse. Those rain clouds in the background led us to believe we might actually get some wind, but the Summit County Sherriff's Department reported to the race committee that the rain in Frisco was falling straight down.

Here is another shot of the becalmed fleet. The J/24 in the left foreground is Mother and Dumbledore's boat; the black boat to the left of the committee boat is the Tartan Pride 270 Knockdown, one of the toughest competitors in the PHRF 1 fleet, in which Black Magic competed. The committee boat itself is a beautiful classic wooden motor-yacht owned by the guy who wants to build an Etchells fleet at Dillon.

Dillon Open day 2

On average, it’s perfect!

When we got to the lake, we checked the race standings, for what it was worth, I thought. Turns out, it was actually worth a lot. I discovered that, despite feeling lousy about how I did yesterday, in the first race, I came in 6th in a field of 13 boats – and that’s on corrected time with a really harsh PHRF handicap that assumed we had a spinnaker (which we did have but didn’t use). I had been concentrating so much on getting the boat around the course in one piece, without committing any penalties or running anybody over, that I never realized I’d passed so many of the boats in my own fleet.

If I had known I had done so well in the first race, I would have treated the following races differently: First, in the second race, I wouldn’t have opted for trying harder to keep out of the crowds. When I did that, I could tell the winds weren’t as good where I was, and I could tell the boat wasn’t going so fast, but I had figured that we weren’t going to do well in the regatta anyway, and just surviving it would count for something. Turns out, right in the middle of things was where I belonged. Second, I probably wouldn’t have bagged the third race. My crew and I might have been wet and miserable at the end, but we would have gotten better than a DNF, so we would have been better off in the final standings.

Oh, yes, you ask, what were the overall results for Saturday? Well, in addition to that 6th in the first race, we got 11th in the second and a DNF in the third, so at the end of the day, we were 12th overall, ahead of a catamaran that had a worse PHRF number than we did and also a DNF in the third race.

When we got to the boat Sunday to prepare for the second day’s racing, the winds were very light. We put on the light-air main and jib, and we rigged up the spinnaker – a reacher – which it looked like we might actually be able to use. With the three of us, plus newfound crew member Jimmy, we would certainly be able to do that. Also, with four of us on the boat, we had more crew weight, so if the wind did come up, we’d be better able to keep the boat powered up. And Jimmy’s extensive racing experience would be a plus.

We motored out to the racing area over a lake that looked like a mirror with very close to no wind at all, getting there about an hour before the scheduled race start. We then put up sails and drifted around the lake among the gathering fleet, listening on the VHF as the committee boat sent mark boats and chase boats all over the lake in search of wind. It wasn’t totally calm, but it was close. Once in a while, a tantalizing little puff of air would show up, allowing Black Magic and some of the other go-fast boats to pick up speed, but then it would disappear again.

As we drifted around, Black Magic got a whole lot of attention. At the speeds we were going, there was plenty of time for conversation with other boat crews, so we were able to answer questions about what she was, and how it is to sail an Etchells. We discovered that the guy we talked to earlier in the week who said he wanted to get an Etchells fleet going at Dillon has really been talking up the boat, and so there were several people who wanted to know a lot. This could be interesting: If Zorro gets his New Mexico/West Texas Etchells fleet going at Elephant Butte, and the folks at Dillon also have one, I see a great rivalry regatta series in the making. And, gee, Heron Lake is about halfway between the two, so that’s the perfect “neutral ground” for matchups.

Finally, three hours after the scheduled start of racing, the committee decided to cancel the day’s racing. That was rather a pity; I had been hoping for at least one race to make up for the 11th and DNF the day before and move up at least a little in the standings. I do well in light air. But this air was so light that most of the boats were barely moving, and some weren’t moving at all, so the committee made the right choice.

Once the race was called, we motored back to the marina as quickly as we could; we needed to derig the boat and get on the road, since we had a 5½ hour drive ahead of us. Now that we have more practice, we can get the boat onto the trailer and taken apart in just a couple of hours. While we were derigging, the awards ceremony was taking place in a nearby large tent; as we were finishing up, the ceremony ended, sending hundreds of people streaming past, admiring Black Magic’s lines. We heard a lot of oohing and ahhing, and we got a lot of compliments, although there was one Aussie who didn’t like the Kiwi name. (But what else can you name a black boat in a fleet that has a tradition of naming boats after America’s Cup yachts?) Ironically, within an hour of the racing being called off, weather moved in, with fiercely gusting winds and sporadic rain, so we were freezing by the time we were ready to roll.

During the retrieval and derigging, we discovered that one of our tie-down straps had gone missing, and one of Tadpole’s shoes had fallen apart, so we made a stop by the Wal-Mart in Frisco to buy shoes and tie-down straps (we decided to get a spare). We ended up with an “interesting” collection of souvenirs from this vacation: a sledge hammer, a hacksaw, a set of titanium drill bits, the perfect sailing gloves (the sail shop in Dillon is small, but it carries just the right stuff), a couple of hats (the bat-hat mentioned in an earlier post, plus the Mount Gay Rum regatta hat), a pair of sneakers, a bottle of tequila, two tie-down straps, and some other assorted odd stuff.

After securing the boat, testing trailer connections (lights worked; brakes didn’t, so we’d need to use caution on the downhill side of mountain passes), and re-shoeing Tadpole, we headed for the highway. As we headed out, we saw Mother and Dumbledore headed the other direction toward the Frisco marina, where they had kept their boat during the regattas.

As we set off on the road, the gerbils inside my head let me listen to the music I wanted to for a change. And who better to listen to while driving through the Colorado Rockies than C.W. McCall? We didn’t drive by the exact places of the songs – Glenwood Canyon, the Camp Bird Mine, Wolf Creek Pass (especially without trailer brakes!), and more – but we came close to several, and the spirit was the same.

It rained for nearly the entire drive, often heavily. On the road up Poncha Pass, the rain had caused a landslide that took out part of the roadway. As our truck labored up the pass, a trucker passed us, but then he suddenly dropped back and let us into the left lane before we saw what was up; my guess is that he got word from a buddy of his headed downhill.

We stopped in Alamosa at a convenience store where we’d noticed a good gas price on the way north. Yes, it still had a good price, so good that half of the gas pumps were out of gas. We fueled up and gave the boat and trailer a check, and just as we were finishing up, Mother and Dumbledore pulled in with their boat and parked in the back. It turns out this is one of their regular stops when they travel to Dillon and back; rather than try to make the entire drive to Placitas in one day, they stop for the night. The convenience store has a big parking area in back for truckers, and Mother and Dumbledore camp out among them (song in head: “Convoy” – before the next time we go to Dillon, we’re going to have to get a CB radio for the truck).

One more positive thing in Alamosa – the Subway sandwich shop. We got there three minutes before closing, and the people there had already put away the food and were turning off the “Open” sign. But they were willing to bring out the food again and make us some sandwiches to go. Hats off to them for customer service. If you’re passing through Alamosa and are hungry, on a budget, and in a hurry, the folks at Subway deserve your business.

We continued homeward over La Manga and Cumbres passes, through Chama (song in head: “The Silverton” – different train, but originally part of the same railroad) and to Heron Lake, where we left Black Magic in the parking lot at the boat ramp. Then we got to Five O’Clock Somewhere about 1 a.m. and turned in, since Pat had to continue on to Albuquerque this morning to get to work. The plan for today is for Tadpole and me to get to the boat and work on rigging it for launch; we may see Mother and Dumbledore there as well.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Dillon Open day 1

Zoo, riot, insanity, there are probably a couple of dozen other things to call it.

One disappointment with the new condo unit we’re in – it doesn’t really have wireless Internet. Yes, that’s supposed to be one of the amenities that come with every unit, but in reality, it’s only available in units close to the office, where the server is located. The unit we had before was directly upstairs of the office; this unit is two thirds of the way to the other end of the building. So in order to check email or make blog posts, we need to go downstairs to the lobby. That means we can’t get online as often as many of you would like.

Anyhow, yesterday, we got a lot of work done on the boat, including a new compass mount, re-running the bilge pump and fraculator lines so they wouldn’t foul each other, getting a new block and cam-cleat for the port-side jib fine-tune line, and making alterations to the rear mast block so it won’t interfere with the boom vang – an added advantage is that the block now stays in line much better, so it’s easier to control. If we gain nothing else from having come to Dillon, we have had a great impetus to get much-needed work done on the boat.

I didn’t sleep all that well last night. I kept having nightmares, not directly about the race, but at least indirectly so. In one case, someone came rushing up from the marina to tell me something was wrong with my boat, and when I got there, I found my boat sitting on shore, looking just fine except that the keel was missing.

When I wasn’t having nightmares, I had gerbils, or maybe squirrels, running around inside my head, keeping me from relaxing, making me fret. I tried to play peaceful music inside my brain – Pachelbel’s Canon – but the gerbils kept playing Lynyrd Skynyrd instead. Then Bachmann-Turner Overdrive. Then Metallica. I had Tadpole’s iPod within reach, and I knew I could find Pachelbel there, as well as the crooning of Sinatra, in order to combat the gerbils. But, alas, I don’t know how to operate the iPod. I’m thinking that, not only do I need Tadpole to show me how to use the iPod, I need my own iPod.

So, anyhow, this morning, I was less than rested when the time came for the skippers meeting for the regatta. And I had indigestion to the point that I couldn’t eat breakfast, although later I was able to eat a granola bar on the way out to the racecourse.

The races were a bit different from what we’d been led to expect, but most of the fundamentals were the same. To make matters simpler than in previous Dillon Opens, the race courses were strictly upwind-downwind, without any reaches. However, there were seven fleets, each starting five minutes apart, on the same course. Our fleet was the last to start, which meant that even before we got started, some of the other boats were coming back through the starting area.

We did have a handicap that wouldn’t be recognized by any sailing organization. Yesterday, while working on the boat, Tadpole lost his glasses overboard. He didn’t have a spare pair available. So during today’s races, Pat became the primary lookout for other traffic. Unfortunately, he hasn’t exactly learned the sort of concentration that racing really demands (he tends to get to talking, even telling people things they already know just because he likes to talk), so sometimes he’d forget to be on the lookout, and something would pop out from behind the jib and surprise me – and if we were on port, and the surprise was on starboard, that was NOT a good surprise. We’re definitely going to have to work on cutting chatter to what’s relevant.

Bad communication: “There’s a boat over there … is it a Melges or an Ultimate? Yeah, I think it’s a Melges.” First, what’s “over there”? I need to know, in terms related to the position of our boat, such as “coming on starboard, on track to cross our bow.” I don’t care whether the boat is a Melges, an Ultimate, a Moth, or Noah’s Ark.

Our big accomplishment was getting around the course, for two whole races, without any major mishaps. We did manage to catch up to and pass some boats, mostly in other fleets, but we also had some embarrassing moments, such as when we got rolled by a Star approaching the windward mark.

After two races, the first of which we finished dead last, and the second in which we were ahead of one or maybe two of the other boats in the fleet but most certainly would be dead last on corrected time because of the heavy-duty PHRF handicap leveled on an Etchells, we decided to bag the third race. As it turns out, that was probably the best choice – just as we came in, the weather closed in, and so those who chose to stay out on the racecourse had to deal with freezing cold and increasingly nasty rain.

When we got back to the marina, however, we discovered a silver lining. This fellow, I’ll call him Jimmy because that’s who he looks like, had showed up at Heron Lake a couple of times volunteering to be racing crew. He has extensive experience racing, especially off the coast of the southeastern US. Had we only known, he would have been available as crew for us today. But he’s available for us for tomorrow, so he’s got one of the three spare beds this condo has so he can’t get away.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Watching the J's race

Things started out a bit miserable, but then the sun came out ...

Today was rainy, gloomy, sunny, windy, calm, and a whole lot of other things. The J/24 regatta is underway; we got out on the lake just after the start of a race. At that point, it was cloudy, and a light rain was falling.

We got close to the fleet just after the boats rounded the first upwind mark, and the boats all came out of the Snake River arm of the lake with spinnakers flying. That's Mother and Dumbledore in the center with the red-and-white spinnaker.

Over the next hour or so, the clouds broke up, leaving tatters among the mountains. We experienced awesome, if challengingly changing, conditions as we sailed around the J fleet.

Toward the end of the race, there was a clear leader, this boat in the right foreground. All of the rest of the fleet is far behind, and some haven't even rounded the final leeward mark, while this boat is barrelling toward the finish.

At the end of the day, we sailed back to the marina with the fleet, in sparkling sunshine. We got to the slip and put the boat away in time to join the J/24 crews at the marina bar for happy hour. Black Magic continues to turn heads; the comments we get can be divided into two categories: "What is it?" and "It's so great to see an Etchells up here." Turns out the guy who plans to buy himself an Etchells is also working to get others interested in the boat so he'll have some meaningful competition.

Later, the yacht club sponsored a talk by a sailing guru who has had a whole lot of sailing experience all over the world. His talk was hugely interesting, and I found his explanation of "velocity headers" especially useful. Unfortunately, the clouds closed in, the winds whipped up, and I was just getting too darn cold to process what he was saying, especially since he had so much information that I was getting overloaded.

So we went back to the condo and fired up the grill to cook the chicken breasts that had been marinating all afternoon. It started pouring rain, so we had to pull the grill under the shelter of the building. It got so cold, we turned on the gas fireplace in the living room (This is, after all, a ski resort as well as a sailing resort). That was very pleasant.

But yeah, it was a great day.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Some pretty pictures

Yeah, we get scenery here, and sunsets too.

This evening after supper, we took a walk. We saw scenery, and we saw boats, and we saw a sunset that was spectacular in all directions.

This thundercloud was rising southeast of the lake, so tall that it was still in full sun as darkness descended on the rest of the world.

Here, a sailboat heads for the harbor as clouds gather to the south.

To the southwest, pinks and purples dominate.

As the colors faded, Tadpole took the pictures to stitch into this panorama. As with the previous one, you're not going to see everything unless you blow it up. Unlike the previous one, the stitching software worked well this time. This one covers a bit more than 360 degrees,
so you can see the same person walking on the recpath at both the left and right sides of the picture.

Dillon Update

Juniors sail out of the most protected part of the Dillon marina on Tuesday, Aug. 1, 2006.

Who might we be sailing with next weekend in the Dillon Open? So, far 71 boats have registered.
A comparison of registrations so far this year with last year's entrants gives an idea of how big the regatta might be.

12 Lasers (so far in '06 vs. 8 in '05)

5 Star (12 in '05)
6 Ensign (7 in '05)
3 J/80 (5 in '05)
10 J/24 (18 in '05)
11 J/22 (11 in '05)
9 Ultimate 20 (8 in '05)
2 Melges 24 (5 in '05)
1 Santana 20 (10 in '05)
1 each Capri 22, Catalina 22, Capri, Etchells, Holder 20, J 29, Santana 22, Santana 29, S2 7.9, Wavelength 24

Great sailing reconnaissance and other race preparations

Yeah, it was a good day

We got out onto the water today to chart the locations of the race buoys likely to be used in the Dillon Open. The Dillon Yacht Club doesn’t run a normal Olympic circle. The marks they use might in some way be construed as being sort of centered on a buoy in the center of the lake, but these buoys don’t even try to be equidistant from the center – one of the buoys is typically located way up an arm of the lake, although at this moment, that particular buoy is physically located on the patio of the yacht club. A couple of the other buoys are also currently not to be found out on the lake, but we did research the locations of all of the buoys that are out there. We did have our GPS with us, but we ended up not using it much; rather, we made at least two sights aligning each buoy with landmarks on shore that also showed up on our topo maps. Now, we’ll need to take those sights and use them to pinpoint the buoys on a map, so we will know exactly where we need to go during the races.

We started out, under sail but with the motor at the ready in case we needed it, with mainsail alone. The idea was that Tadpole would be too busy with the compass and taking notes to deal with the jib sheets. But after a while, we decided that it was taking too long to get from one point to another with just the main, so we put up the jib as well. Almost immediately, the wind shifted 180 degrees and increased. We ended up on a screaming broad reach to the mouth of the Blue River arm of the lake. Then the wind died, as suddenly as it had come up.

For about four hours, we continued to deal with constantly changing conditions. We would get sudden bursts of wind from unexpected directions – something akin to the giant invisible flyswatter that I observed before, although we never got swatted flat the way I’ve seen happen to other boats. I don’t know whether that’s because what hit us isn’t as hard as what can hit, or my crew is good at spotting and anticipating wind bursts, or because I have a really hefty lead keel underneath my boat. I like to think it’s because I have good crew. Even better, after depowering for a flyswat, they remember to repower once it’s over, so the boat keeps going fast.

We returned to the marina under looming thunderstorms. As we were approaching the marina, the wind came up sharply, so we dropped the main and came in under jib alone. That proved to be the right choice, as we were able to sail into our slip, maneuvering upwind up a narrow passage between docks in gusty, shifty winds. Motor? Who needs it?

Funny thing – although, as we returned to the marina, we were accompanied by a mob of other boats whose skippers apparently also feared the impending thunderstorms, the rain never materialized.

So we returned to the condo, had lunch, and then worked on additional preparations for the Dillon Open. Our best mainsail is one we bought used, and so it didn’t have the right sail number. That was OK for our little local races where everybody knows my boat. But for the Dillon Open, we needed to get the old number off the sail and get our number on it. At the recommendation of one of the guys at the marina, we called a local sign shop. But all that the sign shop could do were vinyl letters suitable for the hull of a boat but not for something as flexible as sails, and the cost would be at least $40.

But wait, all is not lost. The old numbers on the sail are just heat transfers – iron-on patches. I got them off using the iron that came with the condo. So all I needed to do was find a fabric shop, get some iron-on patch material, cut it to the right shape, and iron it on to the sail. Simple.

Yeah, right. Apparently resort areas don’t have sewing shops. Fortunately, the charming, old-timey Wal-Mart in Frisco does have a sewing department, so we headed in that direction. Just as we set off, we got a call on the cell phone from Mother and Dumbledore – they were in Frisco, and they wanted to know whether we’d like to join them for dinner. So we agreed to meet in the Wal-Mart parking lot – we could get the iron-on material plus a couple of other things we needed, and Mother could hit the ATM, and then we could all go to dinner.

Wal-Mart did have iron-on material, although not a wide choice. The solid color that was available was heavy denim, not suitable for high-performance sails. Instead, what we got was a print pattern in dark blue-green, swirls that look, perhaps, like ocean waves, or, perhaps, like graphic representations of fractal equations. Yeah, it probably wouldn’t go over with some of the stuffier yacht clubs, but, hey, this is Dillon.

We had a wonderful dinner with Mother and Dumbledore at an Italian place in the middle of Frisco, and then we returned to our condo to work on applying the new numbers to the mainsail. Our plan for Wednesday is to get out on the water early and get in more practice with the flyswatter winds. Mother and Dumbledore got their boat rigged and into the water at Frisco Marina today, and they expect their crew to arrive about noon, so we expect to see them on the water.