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.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Strings to pull

Yes, the Etchells is a special boat

This picture shows how the Etchells can be both simple and complicated at the same time. Above the deck, the boat is very clean. There is very little to trip over, very little to get bruised on, very little to get tangled up. In the terms used by mathematicians, the Etchells is very elegant: it has power in simplicity.

On the other hand, the Etchells also has a whole lot of controls that most boats, even most racing boats, don’t have. Very few other classes of boats allow racers to change the setting of the shrouds during racing, and almost none permit adjustments of the mast at either the partners (the joint at the deck) or the butt (where the bottom end of the mast rests) during a race. But Etchells sailors are permitted such adjustments. And then there’s the legendary fraculator – it’s the line that Etchells sailors point to when they really want to emphasize that this boat is different from all others. Yeah, some other boats have fraculators, but not many.

Here is a quick quiz: How many lines can you identify? If you can name at least half of them, then you probably already sail an Etchells, but if you don’t, you should get in contact with the nearest Etchells fleet, because some skipper there probably needs your talent. To make the task easier, I will list the lines, so all you have to do is match the names with the lines in the photo.

Aft mast block

Bilge pump

Boom vang

Forward dock lines

Forward mast block


Jib halyard

Jib luff


Mast aft

Mast forward


Port jib fine tune

Port jib sheet

Port spinnaker sheet

Port spinnaker twing

Port lower shroud

Port upper shroud

Port shroud keeper

Spinnaker halyard

Spinnaker pole keeper

Starboard jib fine tune

Starboard jib sheet

Starboard spinnaker sheet

Now, of course, there are some lines that don’t show up in this picture, such as the mainsheet fine tune, the starboard spinnaker twing, the starboard upper shroud, lower shroud, and keeper, the spinnaker pole topping lift, the foreguy, the backstay, the traveler, and the aft dock lines.

Yeah, when you sail an Etchells, there are a lot of strings to pull. Learning all of those strings is, for me, part of the beauty of the boat. It’s not a boat for sissies, and it’s also not a boat for intellectual lightweights. It’s a boat for people who think, and who have brains to process a whole lot of information very quickly and then translate that information into action. I’m only just learning, but I love all of what I have learned from Black Magic, and I plan to learn more.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Weekend summary

A lot of driving, but even more sailing

Friday was Tadpole’s birthday, so we went out to eat at his choice of restaurant: a really nice place that serves Mediterranean food, most excellently prepared. We left the restaurant immensely satisfied and somewhat overstuffed.

We then went out to spend the rest of my paycheck on a mini-entertainment center for the guest room: a small flat-panel television and wall mount, a combination VCR/DVD player, and an amplified rabbit-ears antenna (we don’t have cable or satellite at the Albuquerque house because we have so little time for watching television that broadcast programming fills our needs).

When we got home, we set up the system in front of the treadmill. I can now watch videos or television while getting exercise. Of course, it’s also now an extra amenity for guests who come to stay in the guest room, although the only piece of furniture currently facing it is the treadmill. Maybe that means any guests we have should be fitness-minded.

That night was a rough one. September 22 always is. Yes, it’s Tadpole’s birthday, and that’s something to celebrate, but it’s hard to celebrate an occasion that ruined my life, physically and emotionally. I still get nightmares and flashbacks, less and less often, but always on that night. I won’t go into details; it involved an insurance company’s policies forcing on me a doctor who was already being sued for malpractice and wrongful death, followed by major complications and two or three years of total inability to work and very little ability to function as a human being (I have almost no memory of the first two years of Tadpole’s life), much therapy (physical and mental), antidepressant drugs, near-destruction of Pat’s and my marriage, and a bunch of other stuff. I’m much better now, but I expect some of the problems will remain with me for the rest of my life; other abilities I have only in the past year regained (the treadmill is part of that).

Anyhow, after a rough night Friday, I wasn’t sure I was up to sailing Saturday. But the weather forecast was for medium winds, gradually strengthening into the level that is challenging for me, and we were expecting Zorro to be at the lake to provide help if things got hairy.

When we got to the lake, there was no Zorro – and no wind! So much for 13-18, gusting to 23. It was more like 3-5, no gusts. We called Zorro; he was on his way to the lake, at that moment waiting in line at the Border Patrol inspection station (or, as he called it, the Gestapo checkpoint) near Hatch, and hopping to get to the lake in 45 minutes or so. We told him we were setting sail, and we’d see him on the water.

Just as we raised the sail, the wind came up, around 10-15. Nice. Both because of my fatigue and in order to broaden crew knowledge, we swapped positions: Pat took the helm, Tadpole was middle, and I was at the front of the boat getting wet. I was glad for the rain jacket I always carry in my gear bag. We came out the twisting channel to the open lake south of Rattlesnake Island, and then, as we were passing through the channel east of Rattlesnake, Zorro called to say he had arrived at the lake. We kept sailing, enjoying the nice breeze that had Black Magic skimming along the water, all the way across the race course area and to the mouth of the channel around Long Point, before heading back south. There were several powerboats out on the lake, and I got an idea: We want to learn how to handle the boat in ocean conditions, and while there isn’t a good way to simulate swell, we could get a couple of the powerboaters to drive zigzags in front of us to create chop with their wakes – maybe offer to buy them some gas for their boats in exchange.

I took over the helm and we put the spinnaker up. We met up with Zorro in the channel by Rattlesnake, and we sailed around the race course area for a while as the wind gradually died. Poor Zorro – he missed the best winds of the day. We ended up returning to the marina in drifting conditions as the sun was setting. After putting the boats away, we went out to dinner, and then we went home, Zorro to hand-feed baby food to an elderly cat, us to give Tres his medicine.

Sunday, we got the weather forecast, and again, it looked like good sailing weather: 13, steady, from east to southeast. So it was once more to the lake. We were nearly there when Zorro phoned – the cat had taken a turn for the worse overnight, so he was staying home to take care of her. Also, the weather forecast he had seen was for much worse wind than the forecast we had seen – 15 to 25, gusting to 30. He worried that those conditions would be too much for me.

As it turned out, the winds were worse than the forecast we had seen, but in the other direction! Instead of too much wind, there was very little. We set sail anyway, hoping it would increase. We called Zorro to keep him updated; he was very surprised, especially since El Paso was getting the kind of weather that had been predicted for the lake – cold, windy, and overcast.

The wind did come up a bit from time to time, and even when it was light, we enjoyed ourselves. We got in some good practice with the spinnaker, including discovering that we could actually carry it on a close reach – nice to be able to do, since Etchells class rules don’t allow a genoa. Pat also got a workout on foredeck on the way back to the marina, since the narrow, twisting channel and shifting winds meant a whole lot of gybing.

As we approached the marina, we got the only moderate wind of the day: It came up to about 10 and shifted 180 degrees to directly in front of us, collapsing the chute around the forestay. We got that down and the jib up, and we headed in. I had been hoping for a nice, light-air upwind approach to the slip, and instead we had a moderate tailwind. Oh, well. We went head-to-wind, dropped the main, pointed the boat at the slip, dropped the jib, and coasted in, impressing the marina manager. As we were putting the boat away, the wind died again. We returned home by way of Socorro Springs.

Let’s see … five hours of sailing Saturday, four Sunday. Two round trips to the lake: four hours driving each day. At least with El Caballero, the costs of fuel and wear-and-tear on the car for the extra round trip add up to less than the cost of a motel room, and the extra driving did allow us to give Tres his medicine – we have discovered that missing a couple of doses is a very bad thing. Overall, that’s nine hours of sailing, eight hours of driving, not too bad.

Of course, we could get in even more sailing time with a place to stay near the lake, especially if pets were permitted. We could set up a cat infirmary so we wouldn’t have to go home every night to take care of those who need some TLC.

Today I logged 1.7 miles on the treadmill while watching my soap. I also discovered that having the treadmill plugged into the same outlet makes lots of static on the TV screen. When I got an extension cord and plugged it into an outlet on the other side of the room, the static was reduced but still there; I’m sure that outlet is on the same circuit. So I’ll be trying an outlet in another room to see if I can find one on another circuit.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Sailing Personality Quiz

What kind of sailor are you?

In sailing, as in anything else, there are many different styles, and the sailor will have a more pleasant sailing experience if he or she matches boating activities to his or her personality. To find out your personality type, take this quiz.

1. The best after-sailing beverage is …
A. wine-in-a-box.
B. beer (the real kind).
C. “that frozen concoction that helps me hang on.”

2. When I’m not sailing, I like to …
A. garden.
B. what do you mean, not sailing?
C. prepare gourmet meals in the galley.
D. like, man, you don’t want to know.

3. To improve downwind performance while under spinnaker, I …
A. pull on the alligator.
B. tension the fraculator.
C. unplug the blender.
D. grab a paddle.

4. My ideal shopping trip involves …
A. Lowe’s, Home Depot, and Harbor Freight.
B. Bacon Sails, Marblehead Rigging and Annapolis Performance Sailing.
C. Dillard’s, Macy’s, and Bed Bath & Beyond.
D. a trip south of the border.

5. The ideal boat is …
A. a J boat.
B. something lean and fast with lots of strings to pull and no wimpy lifelines.
C. something with a queen-size master berth, an electric head, and a blender.
D. anything, as long as it floats and gives good vibes, man.

6. My favorite sailing destination is …
A. Lake Pleasant, Arizona.
B. San Diego One-Design Weekend.
C. the Balearic Islands.
D. hey, any trip is a good trip.

7. My favorite movie is …
A. Splash.
B. Master and Commander: the Far Side of the World.
C. Titanic.
D. Captain Ron.

8. When something breaks, I …
A. break out the welding rig and mix up some fiberglass.
B. call Vinny.
C. make an appointment with the boatyard master.
D. live with it, man.

9. The ideal pet is …
A. a small dog.
B. a herd of cats.
C. a Bichon Frisé.
D. a pink elephant.

10. My favorite television show is …
A. Hee Haw.
B. Clipper Yacht Racing.
C. Globe Trekker (on the on-board 42-inch plasma screen).
D. Gilligan’s Island.

11. My favorite breakfast is …
A. pancakes with peanut butter.
B. chocolate chip sourdough pancakes with beer.
C. crêpes Suzette with mimosas.
D. whatever life passes my way, man.

12. A bad day is when …
A. some newcomer beats me in a race.
B. anyone beats me in a race.
C. there is a voltage drop in the main refrigeration circuit.
D. it isn’t the day that’s bad; it’s a disturbance in the flow.

13. A sailing club dinner at a restaurant …
A. isn’t on my diet.
B. is time not spent sailing.
C. would overwhelm the staff and result in an inferior quality experience.
D. is an opportunity to get someone else to pay for dinner.

14. Dismasting is …
A. a damned inconvenience, especially if I don’t have all the right parts on hand.
B. an opportunity to get a new, high-performance mast.
C. an excuse to lay up in a fancy port.
D. dis mast is de big stick on my boat.

15. My favorite music is …
A. Hawaiian.
B. Sinatra.
C. Rachmaninoff.
D. Rasta.

16. “Head up” means …
A. push the tiller away from the helmsperson.
B. move the tiller toward the boom.
C. there’s a new keg on the tap.
D. the lake is down, so it’s a long hike to the bar and bathroom.

17. My favorite book is …
A. my photo scrapbook.
B. sailboat tuning guides.
C. Ferenc Maté’s Classic Yachts.
D. The Whole Earth Catalog.

18. “Starboard tack” means …
A. the boat is going left.
B. the boom is on the left side of the boat.
C. the blender is in the galley, on the left.
D. don’t walk barefoot on the deck.

19. A vegetarian …
A. is someone who don’t eat meat.
B. can follow an acceptable training diet if the proper supplements are added.
C. can be a pain to cook for.
D. is saving the planet.

20. Wherever I go …
A. I bring a mobile workshop.
B. I cover the fleet behind me.
C. I bring my platinum card.
D. like, there I am.

Bonus. It’s five o’clock …
A. and that means it’s Miller time.
B. somewhere.
C. time to serve cocktails and aperitifs.
D. not really, time is an illusion.

If most of your answers were A’s, try club racing. You could probably get a job at a boatyard, too. Mostly B’s: You’re into higher performance. Get something fast to feed your need for adrenaline. Mostly C’s: You’re a candidate for relaxed cruising. Schedule an appointment with your yacht consultant. D’s: Do I need to say anything? This is as real as it gets.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Poetry Corner: W.S. Gilbert

In honor of International Talk Like a Pirate Day

For this edition of the Poetry Corner, we return to the lyrics of W.S. Gilbert, this time from The Pirates of Penzance, again set to music by Sir Arthur Sullivan.

Oh, better far to live and die

Oh, better far to live and die
Under the brave black flag I fly,
Than play a sanctimonious part,
With a pirate head and a pirate heart.
Away to the cheating world go you,
Where pirates all are well-to-do;
But I’ll be true to the song I sing,
And live and die a Pirate King.

For I am a Pirate King!
And it is, it is a glorious thing
To be a Pirate King!

For I am a Pirate King!


You are!
Hurrah for our Pirate King!

And it is, it is a glorious thing
To be a Pirate King.

It is!
Hurrah for our Pirate King!

King & Chorus.
Hurrah for the/our Pirate King!

When I sally forth to seek my prey
I help myself in a royal way.
I sink a few more ships, it’s true,
Than a well-bred monarch ought to do;
But many a king on a first-class throne,
If he wants to call his crown his own,
Must manage somehow to get through
More dirty work than ever I do,

For I am a Pirate King!
And it is, it is a glorious thing
To be a Pirate King!

For I am a Pirate King!

You are!
Hurrah for the Pirate King!

And it is, it is a glorious thing
To be a Pirate King.

It is!
Hurrah for our Pirate King!

King & Chorus.
Hurrah for the/our Pirate King!

Aaargh, we be pirates

Aye, the great day ’as come

Yes, today, September 19, is International Talk Like a Pirate Day. You can read up on it at

Aye, mateys, we be splicin’ on the main brace an’ callin’ fer our grog. An’ we’ll be shiverin’ the timbers o’ any scurvy bilge-rat what don’t step lively.

Monday, September 18, 2006

What time is it?

Or, define “broken”

An interesting thing about the clock that I received as a trophy for coming in second in the Sunrise Regatta: It’s broken. Or maybe not.

We set it and put a battery in it, and it started running happily, the second hand ticking around and around the dial like, well, like clockwork.

Then we noticed something else: While the second hand was happily doing its thing, the minute and hour hands weren’t moving. Hmmmm … Next thing to do was set it for … well … you know what time. I wonder if Zorro selected that particular clock as the second-place trophy for a reason.

A high-mileage weekend

Three lake-and-back journeys

Friday, Pat got off work early so we could go down to the Butte for sailing. Tadpole had an architecture fair to go to as well as a Boy Scout “camp-in,” but we had made arrangements with Seattle to meet him and a friend, Chicago, in Socorro and take them down to the lake to go sailing.

Unfortunately, when we got there, the winds were very stiff. Seattle, who knows sailing, and Chicago, who is new to sailing but knows wind, both agreed the winds were about 20 knots, gusting higher. In addition, the wind was from the south, making getting out of the slip difficult and getting back into it nearly impossible.

So we didn’t get to go sailing, but we did do some work on Black Magic, such as getting the compass mounted, and we got some “fun noodles” tied up around the edge of the dock to protect the boat from scraping on the bare wood. Seattle also got to explain to Chicago various parts of the boat and show him some useful knots. We waited around for the wind to go down, which it finally began to do just as the sun was also going down. Without a moon, it was too dark to go sailing, so we headed back to Socorro, where we treated Seattle and Chicago to dinner at the Socorro Springs Brewery and got our growler refilled. Then we dropped them off at their apartments and headed back to Albuquerque.

Saturday morning, we hitched up Black Magic’s trailer (which now has fully working lights and brakes as well as some reinforcements that Dumbledore welded on earlier in the week), and we drove north to Heron Lake. We put Syzygy onto the trailer to replace the centerboard uphaul that had broken. Putting a centerboard boat onto a keelboat trailer is a great way to make working on the underside of the boat easy, and it saves the hassle of de-rigging the boat, trailering it south to Albuquerque, hoisting it up in a sling (and paying whatever exorbitant fee that might require), repairing it there (or more likely having to pay the facility that has the sling for the repairs – the last time the centerboard needed work, the cost was $800), putting it back on the trailer, hauling it back to the lake, and re-rigging. Getting the boat onto the trailer was a little tricky; the centerboard is designed to swing up when it meets an obstacle, so the boat has to be steered straight onto the trailer in order to end up with the centerboard between the keel guides, and we had a 15-knot crosswind.

But we finally got the boat onto the trailer and out of the water. Replacing the broken cable was fairly easy, and we were also able to scrub algae off the bottom of the boat so it will sail better. Syzygy could still use some fresh bottom paint, but now that we know the trailer trick, that will be an easy job.

While Tadpole was finishing up the boat repairs, Pat and I visited with D and K, who were de-rigging their boat. Because of the harrowing experience that they had had two weeks before, they were planning to sell the boat, but they haven’t given up on sailing or water sports. K is mobility impaired, but being active is therapeutic for her, and since D had once been an avid sailor, they had decided to try sailing as a sport. That didn’t work, but they have a plan: They will buy a pontoon boat, on which they can chug around the lake and go fishing, and K will be able to board the pontoon boat at the boat ramp courtesy dock to go to the marina, since she can’t get up and down the hill to it. She can enjoy socializing with the sailing club. Meanwhile, if D wants to go sailing, I offered to let him come sailing on Black Magic or Syzygy with us – he and K both got excited about the prospect of his sailing on what she called “the oh-my-god-this-thing-goes-fast boat.”

Later, it occurred to me that when the sailing club gets a racing schedule up and going, the pontoon boat would make a great committee boat, and helping whoever is on committee boat duty would be something K could do while D races with us or one of the other racing boats.

So we then re-launched Syzygy and headed back to Albuquerque with the trailer. All in all, Saturday was successful – we saved $800 on boat repairs plus however much extra gas the truck would have burned in trailering the boat back and forth. And we were glad that D and K still plan to participate in sailing club activities, and that, given my need for crew for Black Magic, we could contribute to the plan being a win-win situation all around.

Sunday, we knew Zorro had been planning to go to the Butte, and we also went down, both to work on the boat and to go sailing. We phoned Seattle to invite him to come with us, but he had a pile of homework he needed to get done. We also tried phoning Zorro, and left messages on his voice-mail. When we got to the lake, there was no sign of Zorro, although we did chat briefly with Cap’n Groovy, who sometimes sails with him.

The wind was very light, and we installed a few more fun noodles and worked on the boat while waiting for either wind or Zorro to show up. We need to make new hatch covers for the fore and aft air tanks both in order to make the boat legal for Etchells-class racing and to improve safety – the idea is that these tanks are water-tight and, being full of air, reduce the chance of the boat sinking. So we got some poster board and made templates of the hatches and the bolts that will hold the covers. Now we can cut plywood to the right size and shape, cover it with fiberglass, and drill holes for the bolts to go through.

Zorro never showed up, but some wind finally did later in the afternoon, so we hoisted sail and set off. We sailed for two and a half hours, and Pat and Tadpole tried switching positions. Pat was a little awkward on foredeck with the spinnaker, but we did a good job of keeping it going even in the very light air (5 knots or less), and we went through several gybes without major mishap. Gradually the wind increased, allowing the boat to glide nicely along on the way back to the marina. We got to the dock around sunset, ironically in what was the strongest wind of the day – and the slip was dead downwind, so we dropped the main, pointed the boat at the slip, then dropped the jib and coasted in. We came in a bit too fast – we could have dropped the jib sooner and still had plenty of momentum – but having the fun noodles on the slip prevented boat damage. We put the boat away in the last of the daylight, and then we headed back to Albuquerque, stopping once again at Socorro Springs.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Visitor 9K

Came to the blog in the usual way

The 9000th visitor to this site was someone from Massachusetts. At first, I thought it might be one of the two regular visitors here that I know about from that state, but then I saw that it was someone who arrived on the usual song-lyric search.

For a while, sailboat launching was the main reason people came here. I’m going to have to find some other things that people will come in search of.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

An exercise plan

Taking the guilt out of one of my guilty pleasures

Over the years, Pat has bought many pieces of exercise equipment, with the idea that we could both get into shape. Until recently they have all been dismal failures, for two reasons. First, Pat has gone for inexpensive – OK, let’s just use the real word – cheap equipment that hasn’t been solidly built, so the workout experience hasn’t been pleasant. Thus, for example, Pat got an exercise bike that is so flexible, a lot of energy goes into bending the frame rather than making the flywheel fly, and we worry that the thing might fall apart beneath us. Second, Pat has gotten types of equipment that aren’t suited to our fitness needs, such as the resistance-training machine that, in addition to having bungee cords rather than solid workmanship, did nothing for the aerobic training that we really need.

About a year ago, Pat finally made a purchase that made sense: He got a high-end treadmill that is solidly built. It took a hefty chunk of cash, but from the beginning, it’s been much more used than all of the other worthless cheapo devices put together.

Especially now that we have the Etchells, Zorro has Pat on a fitness plan that includes exercises to strengthen particular muscle groups. Pat’s really been racking up the mileage on that treadmill as well, and the result is that he is less blobby in the middle, and he also has considerably more endurance.

In order to keep up with Pat and also work on fitness for the next Adams Cup, I’m going to have to get with the plan as well. The problem for me has been that I just can’t stand the trudging on the treadmill, boring, boring, boring … and the motion of the treadmill makes reading while trudging impossible. I love hiking with Pat, but since I’m teaching night classes four nights a week this term, that’s not an option. So what to do?

Enter my secret pleasure. There is a television daytime drama (known in the vernacular as a “soap opera”) that I enjoy watching. No, it’s not high art. It’s moderately morally uplifting in that, eventually, the baddies get what’s coming to them. It doesn’t engage the brain on a high level, but the plots are interesting enough that I am entertained. In short, watching it is the perfect thing for me to do while on the treadmill, instead of sitting in my easy chair.

When we bought the treadmill, the installers had to partially disassemble it and then reassemble it to get it into the guest room, so we can’t easily move it to the living room, so we’re going to have to get a small television for me to watch while I’m trudging. And since I have a daytime class on Tuesdays and Thursdays and have to watch my soap on a tape delay, we’ll need to get one of those televisions with the built-in VCR. But once we have that, there’s five hours a week that I’m going to be working out.

Come to think of it, given the name of the soap opera and the general goal of a fitness program, of improving the quality of one’s life because it’s the only life one has, there’s a certain appropriateness: “The One Life to Live Fitness Plan.”

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Cats are amazing people

And we just can’t stop loving them …

Zorro has nine indoors, and an unknown number outdoors. The lady who runs the only well-run marina at Elephant Butte has six indoors and two outdoors. I have only the two indoor cats, Dulce and Tres, but they’re the ones who really run the household, especially Dulce.

We all love our cats, and when something happens to one of them, we worry, and we adjust our lives to take care of them. Zorro has had to return home rather than spending nights at the lake, so he can take care of an elderly cat who needs carefully hand-prepared chopped-up meat for supper. We are going to have to make schedule changes so we can give Tres his medication – we discovered this weekend that missing even just a couple of doses has very bad consequences.

But in spite of all the trouble of taking care of cats, they always make it worthwhile. They’re beautiful to look at, pleasing to cuddle with, and amusing to watch. Check out this video, of a cat who could very well be a cousin of Tres’ – certainly, it’s the same level of intelligence.

If you’re on a dialup connection, you’re in for a wait while the video downloads, but it’s worth the wait. If you have broadband, you have no excuse not to watch.

Monday, September 11, 2006

The Sunrise Regatta

The first part was fantastic!

This past weekend was the Sunrise Regatta, the Rio Grande Sailing Club’s premier event. When the lake is full, the regatta has 10-, 25-, and 50-mile races, and boats in the longest event may not come in until dawn of the following day; hence the name. With the lake level down, it’s not safe to run a long-distance race that lasts all night long, and there’s not enough lake to make the race interesting. So for the past few years, the regatta has had only the 10- and 25-milers.

Because even the 25-mile event can last late into the night, boats sailing in it have to have certain safety equipment, such as running lights, full cabins, and motors that can be used in case of emergency. Thus, the Etchells are restricted to the 10-mile race.

At the skippers’ meeting before the race Saturday morning, several students from New Mexico Tech’s fledgling sailing club showed up. (Sailing is now the only officially recognized sport on campus at Tech!) We recruited a burly student from Seattle who has had extensive sailing experience, including taking tourists on sailing charters and being a grinder on a 70-footer, and who also plays rugby. Should we ever encounter rough weather, his weight could stabilize the boat, and his knowledge is extensive.

At the start of the race, the winds were very light. Seattle proved his worth immediately, helping us to plan the approach to the starting line, so that we nailed it. I mean, we really nailed it – crossing the line ahead of everybody else, just a couple of seconds after the starting whistle, at what counts as full speed in 2 knots of wind, on a tack that took us to where what little wind there was existed.

Yesss! We were ahead of the entire fleet – actually three fleets, the 10-mile, the 25-mile spinnaker, and the 25-mile non-spinnaker – including Zorro. We were going upwind, in extremely light air that stalled most of the other boats near the starting line. We heard afterward that even such skilled sailors as Mother and Dumbledore got totally skunked at the line and just couldn’t make progress.

We were on port tack, headed upwind, and there was a headland ahead that we would need to tack around. Zorro tacked behind us to get clear. Then, gradually, we got lifted, and lifted, and lifted. Amazingly, we were able to clear the headland without tacking, and we were then even further ahead of Zorro and the rest of the fleet.

Once we got around the headland, the wind hit us with another surprise – suddenly, it was behind us. Zorro got his spinnaker up, and so did we. Seattle once again proved his worth, trimming that chute with delicate skill while also advising the helm on how to help him to keep it flying, an especially tricky task in the light and switchy air. The boats behind us had difficulty keeping their spinnakers up and sometimes even doused them, but Seattle made sure ours was working all the time. We were pulling out a lead ahead of Zorro, who, in turn, was pulling out a lead on all of the other boats.

Working out the meandering channel past Horse Island and on toward Rattlesnake Island, we continued to be golden. We had to gybe around some shallows, but the wind shifted to make that course change work for us.

Just north of Rattlesnake, we had a problem. I knew there was often a hole in the wind north of the island, but its exact location changes. Alas, this time, the hole happened to be where we went. Once we realized it was there, we gybed out of it, but that took an eternity, and in the meantime, Zorro had avoided the hole and passed us.

On the way to the turning mark, we gained on Zorro, and Seattle helped us to steer the boat to blanket his wind. Even though we were no longer in the lead, we were competitive.

Our second big mistake was that mark rounding. As we approached the mark, I explained that I wanted to get the jib up before dousing the spinnaker, so we would always have a working headsail. But Seattle was unfamiliar with the lake, and so he was taken by surprise when we got to the mark a lot sooner than he had expected – I should have given more advance warning. In a panic, Seattle and Tadpole tried to douse the spinnaker when I gave the command to raise the jib. The spinnaker jammed halfway down. Once they got the spinnaker cleared and down, they tried to raise the jib, only to have it foul on the spinnaker sheet on the way up, taking more time to clear. By the time we had the jib up and were back up to speed, Zorro was far ahead. Then Zorro’s experience of the lake’s conditions came into play – he was much better able to anticipate and take advantage of the wind shifts. He just continued to pull out his lead.

Still, I think I did all right. I led Zorro for a third of the race (if you consider distance) or half of the race (if you consider time). In the end, I finished 11 minutes behind him, in a race that was more than three hours. If I can hang onto Seattle as crew, it shouldn’t be too long before I actually do beat Zorro in a race.

Sunday morning was the awards ceremony. We had bought a breakfast ticket for Seattle, but he didn’t show up -- what we heard was that the Tech students had some other commitments. After the awards, the commodore had some announcements, including one about next year’s Adams Cup women’s sailing championship, which he then requested me to speak about – a request that I was totally unprepared for.

Me? Why me? Well, it turns out that the word is that the next Adams Cup will be on Etchells. And I’m a woman, and I was a part of last year’s Adams Cup program, and I now sail an Etchells – never mind that I’ve only had the boat for a few months. Apparently, the commodore and Mother had decided that I should be in charge of the next Adams Cup effort. I managed to stammer out some description of the Etchells as a very special boat, which requires some special knowledge to sail well, but that if we could train women to sail it, we would be ahead of other Adams Cup teams that don’t even touch an Etchells until the finals.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Grammar Moment: Denotation vs. Connotation

A thesaurus just isn’t enough

In any language, getting exactly the right word can be difficult. That’s because in addition to the basic dictionary definition of the word, known as denotation, there’s also connotation, which is the emotional undertone or baggage that the word carries.

Because English, especially American English, has been built from many different languages, English has even more words than most languages, and more overlapping meanings. Thus, even more than in other languages, English has more words to choose from, with more subtle connotations.

A problem sometimes arises when well-meaning English teachers tell their students to avoid repeating the same word (a stylistic concern that is important) by looking up synonyms (words that, at least in theory, have the same meaning) in a thesaurus. The problem is that students who are not familiar with English, or who are relatively new to writing, may pick a word from the thesaurus that has the same denotation but a totally different connotation. Suddenly a venerated leader has instead become a despot. While it is good to avoid repetition, it is worse for someone to call himself a cruel and heartless dictator when describing his work with his son’s Cub Scout pack.

A further example of the importance of connotation: Look at how many words and phrases there are that all have the denotation homeless person, but that have widely differing connotations: hobo, bum, derelict, vagrant, wino, bag lady, king of the road, drifter, wanderer, no-fixed-address, street urchin, free spirit, down-and-out, displaced, refugee … the list goes on. The choice of word creates an emotional response that influences how the reader thinks about the person the writer describes. A thesaurus isn’t going to help the writer to find the right connotation; thus, a writer should avoid the unfamiliar words and stick to the ones whose connotation she knows.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

What is the meaning of meaning?

Or, sometimes, the incomprehensible is truly irrelevant

At the community college where I teach, there is an understanding among instructors that, upon vacating a classroom, the departing instructor erases the chalkboard or markerboard, so the arriving instructor doesn’t have to. To my mind, that’s just plain common courtesy, but there was one incident I had a few terms back that showed that the issue went beyond that.

The previous instructor in the classroom I arrived in had not erased the blackboard, leaving it covered in dense mathematical equations having to do with physics. In most classrooms, if I stretch up on tiptoe, I can just barely reach out with the eraser and get the upper part of the chalkboard, but this classroom’s chalkboard was mounted higher, so I couldn’t get the top six inches or so. Thus, when my students arrived in the classroom, there was a band of physics equations at the top of the board.

I proceeded with that day’s lesson – it was early in the term, so I was explaining the writing process and prewriting exercises. A student arrived late, and when he got to his seat, he proceeded to write down everything that was on the board.

After class, he came up to me with his notebook and pointed to the physics equations that he had copied down. “What does this mean?” he asked.

“It means I’m four-foot-eleven,” I replied.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Migration successful

Black Magic is now in her southern habitat for the winter (except for occasional voyaging elsewhere)

Sunday started tediously, with annual meetings for the Laguna Vista community center/volunteer fire department and for the landowners’ association. At least there was a good lunch to accompany said meetings, with barbecue provided by the community center and landowners’ association, and the side dishes and desserts potluck. Unfortunately, during the meetings and lunch, the only good winds of the day happened.

Sunday afternoon, we met with Bartender, whom we have sailed with a couple of times on his Thistle at Cochiti Lake. He brought steaks to grill up for dinner, and he came to sail with us and help us de-rig Black Magic for the journey south.

We set sail up the Narrows, where winds were light and shifty, but at least they existed. When we got out to the main body of the lake, there was very close to no wind at all. Then the wind got to doing the light and switchy thing that I have learned is followed in 15 to 20 minutes by a nasty thunderstorm blast. We heard thunder rumbling. We also knew that we would need to get back in time to de-rig the boat so we could drive south first thing Monday morning, and I didn’t like the idea of de-rigging the boat in a thunderstorm. So we sailed back through the Narrows to the marina. We got the conditions we have come to expect in the relative calm just before a thunderstorm hits – the direction of the wind changes, sometimes by 180 degrees, within seconds, and there’s the occasional blast from a random direction that lasts only a few seconds but that, while it lasts, can knock a boat over on its beam-ends. When I observed such blasts at Dillon, I called them Dillon flyswatters; now I see that Heron also has flyswatters, so perhaps it is better to call them mountain lake flyswatters.

When we got to the marina, Pat went to drive the truck and trailer around to the boat ramp, while Tadpole, Bartender, and I started de-rigging the boat, removing sails, taking the boom down, and disconnecting the halyards and spinnaker pole topping lift at the base of the mast. We ended up waiting around the marina for a while, since Pat had to wait for a couple of other boaters who were retrieving boats at the ramp, and he also took some time to chat with Ranger Grizzly (yes, his business card even includes that nickname, and he may be the strictest law-enforcement officer in the entire New Mexico State Parks system) about being sure our boat registrations are in order. Pat was able to impress Grizzly by producing a notebook that contained all of the registration information for Black Magic, Syzygy, all four of our Sunfish, and our rowboat. That put Grizzly in a good enough mood that he only gave a warning rather than a ticket to the fisherman and his son who were putting in a rubber raft – it had a little electric motor, and in New Mexico, even if it’s just an itty-bitty raft, if it has a motor, it has to be registered. So the fisherman and his son now have 30 days to register their raft, and then they’ll be all right with Grizzly.

Meanwhile, Tadpole, Bartender and I had done all of the de-rigging we could do without getting the boat onto the trailer and to a mast-hoisting pole. So Bartender drove his car around to the boat ramp while Tadpole and I took the boat across to the courtesy dock by the boat ramp. We tied up to the courtesy dock for a short time, and then Pat backed the trailer into the water – this time, he got it only a little too deep, and we were able to get him to bring it back up before we brought the boat on. That went wonderfully well, although in the future, we probably want to get a custom-made line, with loops spliced in both ends, to hold the boat on the trailer. Then Tadpole and I won’t be left tapping on the deck to sound out the bulkhead to figure out if the boat is far enough forward on the trailer. (Unlike most boats, the Etchells isn’t designed to go onto a trailer on a boat ramp, and so there isn’t a point at the front of the boat that can meet an upright bracket at the front of the trailer; we have a trailer that’s really easy to get the boat lined up side-to-side, but we’re still working out how to simplify the fore-and-aft positioning.)

We got the boat out of the water and to the mast-hoisting crane, and we got the mast down without any real trouble. Bartender, alas, had to return to Santa Fe without enjoying the steaks he had brought. But by twilight, we had Black Magic de-rigged and mostly ready to roll. A couple of tie-down straps had gone missing, but if we could find those, we could get rolling early Monday morning.

Sunday night, we enjoyed some of the steaks that Bartender had brought; there was plenty of extra meat, so we sealed it up extra-tight in freezer bags and put it in the deep-freeze to enjoy the next time we’re up north. We also found some additional tie-down straps.

Monday morning, we got an early start, going to the parking area above the boat ramp to retrieve Black Magic and apply the tie-down straps. We still need to do some things with the trailer, and I suspect the problem is with the connection. The trailer brake controller refuses to acknowledge that there are any brakes for it to control, and the left tail-light won’t light when it’s a tail-light (when the headlights are turned on), but it will work when it’s a turn signal or brake light. These are high-tech LCD lights, so it’s not just a burned-out bulb. I’m guessing there’s a bad connection somewhere (actually, probably, more than one bad connection), so I’ll be poking an ohmmeter here and there to find out where things are or aren’t connected.

So, as Monday progressed, we continued south. We kept trying to phone Zorro, since we’d told him to expect us Monday afternoon at the Butte. The idea we had was that if we arrived early enough, we’d get Black Magic rigged and ready to launch, and then we’d go sailing with Zorro. But all we got was the message that his voice-mailbox was full, so we couldn’t leave a message.

We got to Elephant Butte Lake, and we still heard nothing from Zorro. We rigged the boat and parked it above the launch ramp.

We got in touch with Cornhusker and Bassmaster. They were barbecuing some meat, and we were welcome to join in. We did. We had a good long conversation with them, and then we headed back to Albuquerque, stopping for dessert at Socorro Springs.

It’s now very late, and I have to teach a marathon schedule tomorrow, so I apologize if I’m cutting this story short. But I did want to give people an update on Black Magic’s progress.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

So much to tell ...

So little time …

Well, part of the current lack of posts on my part is because, this past week, classes have resumed at the community college where I teach. The usual chaos of beginning-of-term getting organized eats up a lot of time. So does the beginning-of-term paperwork, which nowadays, thank TPTB, is actually mostly done online. Another factor in this week being especially busy for me was that, while I usually teach three classes during the fall term, this term I’m teaching four, and I learned about that fourth class at the last minute – the administrator who schedules classes phoned to say the instructor for this class had become unavailable and asked whether I could take it. Normally, I don’t teach four classes in a term, and normally, I don’t teach daytime classes (evening classes have way more motivated students with whom I love working). But this class did fit well into my schedule, and the extra money could be well spent on boat stuff. So I took the extra class.

So far, I’m glad I did. This looks to be a reasonably mature bunch of students, and I’ve taken a liking to the way they aren’t scared of expressing an opinion for fear I won’t like it. My other three classes are also great; as always, there’s a lot of talent that, for some reason, these students’ high-school teachers never recognized. Of course, some of them were in high school 30 years ago, and teachers back then might not have known how to see talent. The very fact that they’ve come back to school indicates they’re ready to unlearn the “you’re stupid” message they may have picked up back then.

So, so far, the school year seems to have gotten off to a good start.

Meanwhile, back at the lake … We came up Friday afternoon, stopping briefly in Española for a few groceries and fast food. We quickly stowed the groceries at Five O’Clock Somewhere, and then we got to the lake while there was still at least a little bit of daylight available, and we had a very quick sunset sail around the marina cove.

Saturday morning, we got to the marina in time for the sailing club meeting. At the meeting, decisions were made about improvements to B Dock and about changes to the way slip rentals would be handled … I’m not going to go into details, but Pat at Desert Sea probably will, and anybody who wants to know more can send Pat email asking for additional information. The basic idea is to penalize those who don’t pay their fees on time by giving them last choice of slips and last choice of dockmaster duty dates.

Following the club meeting, we served up ice cream plus a lot of fixings for anyone who was around. That included some new members and a couple of visitors who were interested in joining the club. We ended up offering to take the visitors out on Black Magic. Specs has a whole lot of sailing experience, mostly on bigger cruising boats. His girlfriend, Y-Woman, had never been on a sailboat before, but she is an accomplished swimmer and is otherwise very athletic.

Tadpole at that point was having a lot of fun sailing around the marina with another kid in a Sunfish, so Pat and I took off with Specs and Y-Woman. As we tacked out the Narrows, Y-Woman got a feel for the rhythm of tacking. Once we got out into the min body of the lake, Specs was ecstatic, and Y-Woman was definitely enjoying herself. The wind was changing randomly, both in direction and speed, and especially when the wind picked up, both of them were getting a charge from the way Black Magic flew.

Alas, the ideal conditions weren’t to last. First, the wind totally died, and then it existed, but only on a very light and shifty basis. I have already learned from experience that when the winds die and/or turn shifty, especially when there are dark thunderclouds nearby, the weather is about to turn “interesting.” We saw a squall approaching. We dropped the main – since the jib on an Etchells is only a third the area of the mainsail, that would make the boat far more controllable. The squall hit. The boat was still controllable, but there was a lot of lightning in the area, so we decided it would be best to get back to the marina quickly, so we dropped the jib and fired up the motor.

We got back to the marina just in time. As we were coming into our slip, the wind changed direction by nearly 180 degrees, and it got a whole lot stiffer. According to the weather station at the dockhouse, in 5 minutes the temperature went from 83 degrees Fahrenheit to 59, and in 5 more minutes, the temperature went to 54. The wind whipped up to 20 mph, gusting to 34. The direction of the wind went from south-southeast to due north. Even within the protection of the marina cove, whitecaps were surging through the marina.

Specs and Y-Woman had to go home, but before they left, they assured us that they’d enjoyed their sail with us immensely. This is good; Specs wants Y-Woman to get interested in sailing as something they can do together. Before they actually buy a boat, Specs wants to make sure Y-Woman tests other boats, in case she likes cruising-type boats better. But as much fun as Y-Woman had today, I think she’s going to want to get something that goes fast.

Back at the marina, we heard on the radio about two possible boats in distress. Because there didn’t appear to be any lives in danger, the State Parks people didn’t see a need to launch their rescue boat (which still, according to the New Mexico Sailing Club Bylaws, has a reserved slip in the marina, but which TPTB have chosen not to use). So the Vice Commodore, Highlander, got his boat ready to go on a rescue mission, and Pat and several other club members went along. Tadpole and I got a kettle of water on to boil, in case we would need to treat hypothermic rescuees.

While waiting to hear word from the rescue operation on the lake, I learned more about a new member of the club and potential crew member for Black Magic. Doc has a whole lot of sailing and racing experience, including San Diego. He was a team doctor on the 1987 “bring it back” team. He knows a lot of the San Diego Etchells people. Right now, he’s volunteering to be crew on an Etchells, to find out how well he likes the boat. For the short term, I hope he thinks he likes it, but he has to sail it a bit more to be sure. In the long term, if he likes the boat, he says he’s likely to buy his own, which means he isn’t available as crew for me. But if he adds his boat to the New Mexico-West Texas Etchells Fleet, Zorro will be really happy.

Back to the stranded sailors out on the lake … Pat and Highlander found one boat that had been slammed by high winds and run aground in a very shallow part of the lake – the boat had a retractable keel, but its rudder wasn’t, and the rudder had grounded. After some effort, the crew on Highlander got that boat afloat and towed it back to the marina/boat ramp area. The husband remains reasonably upbeat, but the wife found the experience traumatic – the husband’s assessment is that she will never sail again. I hope that’s not the case, but I can’t really blame her if she is scared.

The other boat that was reported as being potentially in distress, we aren’t so worried about. It’s a retractable-keel daysailer, and it was beached on a sandy shore right near where the owners were camping. Our guess is that, instead of returning to the marina when conditions got hairy, the owners beached the boat and went to their campsite.

Pat had weather predictions that said there was a 20% chance of scattered thundershowers. Instead, we had a major front come through, with a dramatic change of temperature and wind.

Once we got back to Five O’Clock Somewhere, I was very glad to get rid of my sodden clothes (I actually had better foulies on hand than the rest of my crew) and bask in front of the fireplace in the den. Some of you folks might wonder why we got the fireplace going so early – after all, it’s only the beginning of September. But at this high altitude, it’s getting cold.

It’s not summer any more up here. These rains have a definite feel of fall.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Coming soon

At last, you’ll get some new content

Stand by, loyal fans. This has been a very busy week, followed by an extremely busy day. But there’s a new post in the works, and it will explain everything – well, actually, not everything, but at least how things have been happening around here. There’s just so much to tell …