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.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

The Kris Kringle Regatta

The holiday season begins …

After having a fairly low-key Thanksgiving last weekend, the holiday season really got under way with some Rio Grande Sailing Club events. Friday night was the club Christmas party; normally it’s on Saturday, but this year all of the possible places to hold the party were booked solid for Saturday, so we had to make do with Friday night. Turnout was low, since typically people arrive at the lake on Saturday and stay over until Sunday; not too many people bother getting to the lake Friday. There were only 11 items in the white elephant gift exchange, including a manuscript of Murder at the Yacht Club (or at least the first 52,440 words of it). Cornhusker ended up taking that home.

Saturday was the Kris Kringle Regatta. The weather predictions were mostly for very light air, in the vicinity of 5 mph. Winds were indeed light as the two Etchells, Black Magic and Constellation, got towed out to the race course behind Mac Goddess. However, just about as we arrived at the course, the wind came up some, to around 10. The wind would continue to shift in both direction and speed all afternoon, but it never totally died down, and it never got really stiff either. It was, however, challenging to be in the right place at the right time when the wind shifted.

Zorro and I had arrived at the race course in time to do some tuning, and we took off to windward in what turned out to be a preview of the afternoon’s racing. We had a nice little tacking duel to get warmed up – because of slight differences in their keels, Constellation is a bit faster than Black Magic upwind, while Black Magic has the edge downwind. I started slightly ahead, and the trick was to keep a close eye on Zorro in order to tack to cover him every time he tacked, so as to keep him from getting past me. We got a chance to test the repairs and modifications we had made the previous weekend, and everything held up well. The new mount for the main halyard cleat is especially nice; Tadpole engineered it at an angle so that it’s easier to haul the sail up in the first place, and also easier to cleat and uncleat the halyard.

The first race, Zorro and I both got pretty good starts, although he ended up a bit ahead of me. Still, I managed to keep close to him and was only a bit behind him around the windward mark. On the downwind leg, the wind slacked off, and then it filled in from aft, bringing up the whole fleet in a bunch just behind us, most notably the J/22 imafirst, whose skipper we shall call Dotcom. Dotcom is relatively new to lake sailing, so he’s not always up on the shifty desert winds, but he has significant ocean racing experience gained in California before he came to New Mexico. Zorro was ahead of me, and Dotcom behind, rounding the leeward mark, but we had some difficulty getting the spinnaker down (a combination of inexperience and a sticky spinnaker pole jaw), and Dotcom managed to slip inside of us at the mark and gain a lead on us. But then we got our speed up and passed him; at the finish, we were second across the line after Zorro. (On corrected time, we ended up fourth, after Dotcom and Dumbledore on Kachina.)

At the start of the second race, I was ahead of Zorro, but it looked like we were both going to be over early. He started flogging his sails to slow down, and I was about to do likewise, when, with 30 seconds to the start, the wind dropped to nearly nothing. I was moving; Zorro wasn’t. Dotcom and I ended up with about a 10 boat-length lead on Zorro. Dotcom took off on starboard tack to the west side of the race course, while the tacking duel commenced between Zorro and me heading east. He tacked; I covered. He tacked again; I covered again. And again. And again. Dotcom came back from the west side of the course and crossed ahead of us, leading me to believe that there was probably more air on that side. I’m guessing Zorro also saw that, because his tacks began to work more westward. Zorro executed a quick tack and then tack-back, and as I was recovering from that, he did a fake tack, heading to wind as if he were tacking and then not carrying it out, while I did complete a tack. I quickly tried to tack back, but then there was Dotcom, on starboard, right in my way. I had to duck him, and then I was behind Zorro. But still, I managed to stay close to him, and increasingly ahead of Dotcom, all the way to the windward mark.

On the downwind leg, we had dissent among the crew. Pat said I ought to head up for speed, which was more or less what Dotcom was doing, while Tadpole said I ought to head down, straight for the mark. I kept asking for someone to tell me where Zorro was. I knew he was somewhere ahead and to port, obscured by the spinnaker, and I knew that he was the person I ought to be chasing, not Dotcom. I finally decided to head down toward the mark as Tadpole recommended, and as soon as I did that, I was beating Dotcom around the mark in just about the nicest rounding and spinnaker takedown I’ve ever done. Suddenly, there was Zorro – downwind and still headed down. I’d just rounded the wrong mark! Okay, back up with the spinnaker; my crew made a great recovery, following Zorro and Dotcom to the right mark. We had another good rounding, and on the final upwind leg, we nearly caught up with Dotcom and crossed the line just behind him. (We ended up still in third on corrected time – the rest of the fleet was pretty far behind us.)

After the second race, there wasn’t time enough for a third, and there was a fairly nice wind, so Zorro and I decided to sail back to the marina at the south end of the lake rather than wait for a tow from someone who had a motor and who also was headed that direction. We did a crew swap, putting Cornhusker on Constellation to learn from Zorro’s crew, Seymour and Twinkle Toes, while Zorro came onto Black Magic to give us some lessons in downwind boat handling. That was good. We learned more about how the Etchells can go dead downwind even when other boats can’t. We were also mock-racing against Seymour, and at one point when we were close together, we did a quick jibe onto starboard that took Seymour by surprise … yeah, that was fun, even if we did end up swapping paint.

We arrived back at the marina in the golden glow of the sun going down, fighting off the chills of the descending night, which gets cold quickly out in the desert where there’s no moisture in the air to hold the warmth. The thermometer in the truck registered 37 degrees as we headed back to the apartment to the warmth of the furnace and cats.


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