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.

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Location: Rio Arriba County, New Mexico, United States

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Man Shadows revisited

Some more thoughts

Last week, I made a post about how many women are handicapped in sailing by having men who cast shadows, similar to wind shadows, over the women. An anonymous commenter observed that I shouldn’t completely blame men for the problem.

Anonymous has a point. While often it is the actions of men – being discouraging, or protective, or pushing too hard, or whatever – that keeps women back, that’s not the only factor in a man shadow. Sometimes it is the woman who chooses to remain in the shadow rather than sail out of it. I did briefly touch on that issue in my original post, when I mentioned women who had the time but who didn’t want to come to the lake alone when their men couldn’t be there.

For many women, being in the shadow is comfortable. The man is the skipper, and the woman is crew, and everything works fine, and she doesn’t have to take any responsibility if something goes wrong. And if the couple is comfortable with that, there’s nothing wrong with that arrangement. But sometimes I wonder what potential the woman might have if she were willing to break out.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Wizards of Winds and Waves, chapter 30

A Pied-à-Terre

Contrary to Tillerman’s prediction from last week, nothing has been redacted from this chapter. Yes, I know, we’re still dealing with not-so-active “girl stuff” here, but what we’re really doing is setting the stage for future action. And at the time I wrote this, I was still having fun with the Corsican-twin stuff.

Wizards of Winds and Waves
Chapter 30

“You know, we’re not going to want to stay in the hotel much longer,” Pierre said over breakfast the next morning. “Since we’re here for a longer term, we ought to look into renting a flat.”

“Yes. I think I’d like to have some more privacy,” I said.

“Not only that, I’m getting tired of eating out all the time. I’d like to get some home cooking.”

“Aha! You didn’t marry me for my body, you married me for my macaroni and cheese!”

“You guessed it,” Pierre said, leaning across the table for a quick kiss.

Alois had recommended a broker to Pierre, and we spent the whole day with the broker, looking at dozens of apartments. Time and time again, however, something was wrong with each one. Either the place was too small, or it had noisy neighbors, or it wasn’t in a convenient neighborhood, or it was in an airless basement. Finally, however, at the very end of the day, we found the perfect place. It was in the attic of a building without an elevator, and the six flights of stairs had apparently fazed a lot of potential tenants. But for us, it would be perfect, since the exercise would help Pierre to keep the pounds off while still enjoying my cooking. The place was large, occupying the entire attic, and it was very well lit, with skylights and with dormer windows that commanded stunning views; the setting sun lit the whole place in a golden glow. A special touch was the skylight directly above the bed in the master bedroom. “Now we can sleep under the stars every night,” Pierre whispered in my ear. The floors were all hardwood, and there was plenty of room in the living room for Pierre to give me dancing lessons. The kitchen was large, and it came fully equipped with the finest French equipment – finally, I could cook in style. There was even a blowtorch for finishing the crème brulée. And there was a second bedroom, where Betsy could sleep if she came to visit – although that wouldn’t be right away; we agreed we wouldn’t let people know we had “found” Pierre’s daughter until she graduated from wizard school. We returned to the broker’s office to complete the paperwork and made plans to move in the next day.

It didn’t take us long to take our belongings from the hotel to the flat. Even with all of the new clothes and shoes I had bought, our stuff took up just a small portion of the walk-in closets. We set about putting up magical protections, and then I went out to the market to stock the kitchen while Pierre went to visit some of his friends at a club. Except for Alois, who also was the only wizard among them, they hadn’t been aware of his return to Paris until the Monte Carlo night party, and they were eager to catch up with his doings – and especially his mysterious, gorgeous, new bride. As I was browsing through the fresh foods at the market, I eavesdropped on the conversation, which was in mixed English and French; Pierre’s friends came from a globetrotting set that included French, English, Americans, and other nationalities.

“You never did tell us the other night,” a red-faced, balding Englishman was saying, “how did you end up with such a beautiful young woman?”

“Well, Nigel,” Pierre said, “I first met her about two years ago. She was a college student, and she was interested in learning how to sail. I gave her lessons.”

“Robbing the cradle, are ye?” said a willowy blond young man.

“Not at first, I wasn’t, Mike,” Pierre said. I realized he knew I was probably listening in, and I appreciated that he was using everyone’s names as he spoke to them, although I hoped the frequent interjections wouldn’t become too obtrusive. “In fact, for a while, I thought she might be my daughter, the one who was kidnapped twenty years ago.”

“And what would she see in you?” Nigel asked. “Girl with her looks, she could have just about any chap. What’s she want with a weather-beaten fellow a head shorter than herself?”

“I mentioned that she wanted to learn to sail,” Pierre said. “She took to it right off, and in a year or two she was beating me all the time.”

“You always were competitive,” Alois said. “So, what, you married her so you could continue to possess the best sailing talents around?” I paid for my groceries and saw that the clerk was curious about why I was smiling broadly for seemingly no good reason. I waved my left hand, letting the sparkling new rings glitter in the sun, and she winked and smiled back.

“Well, you see, it wasn’t just the sailing,” Pierre said. “We got to talking, and we discovered we had a whole lot in common. At first, I thought she might be my long-lost Eliza and that was why we were so alike. But then I discovered that she wasn’t Eliza, and I realized that I, uh, she, uh, we wanted …”

“To get physical?” a red-haired man with an American southern accent, who had previously been silent, interjected.

“Yes, Luke, you might say that,” Pierre said. I reached the flat and went into the kitchen to put the groceries away. “Those three months before the wedding were the longest in my life.”

“Now I know she’s gettin’ to you,” Luke said. “I never knew you to respect a woman’s honor in your life!”

I giggled. “Me neither,” I commented.

“Now, that’s all in the past,” Pierre said. “Sarah’s all mine, and I’m all hers.” I got the ingredients for macaroni and cheese and set them on the counter, paying special attention so Pierre would see what I was doing.

“Supper’s on in half an hour,” I said.

“Speaking of which,” Pierre said, “I’d better be getting back to her. Give me a ring sometime – you have the number for the new flat.”

“Boy, has she got you good,” Luke said.

“But then, with her looks, who could blame him?” Nigel asked as Pierre headed for the door.

Supper was macaroni and cheese, garlic bread, steamed broccoli, and champagne. Afterward, Pierre put a CD on the stereo and we started dance lessons – in addition to the magic protection, we had added floor damping so as not to disturb the neighbors below. He was every bit as good a dance instructor as a sailing instructor, and I had mastered the waltz and started on the foxtrot before the lessons danced on into the bedroom, where we discovered that sleeping under the stars was every bit as romantic as it was cracked up to be.

The next morning, Pierre and I went out to a print shop. “We’re high society now,” he said. “Or at least, we’re working on it. It’s time to meet a few obligations of etiquette.” We ordered up wedding announcements, complete with fancy dual envelopes and “at home” cards – as Pierre put it, announcing our new address so people would know where to send the presents. I picked a floral design, not so stiffly formal, and I noticed the flowers were like the wildflowers Betsy had woven into garlands for me to wear when Pierre and I went through the wizards’ joining spell. We paid extra to have a rush order, and when we returned to the shop two hours later, we had several boxes of cards. We spent the afternoon addressing hundreds of envelopes to addresses all over the world.

“You certainly do have a lot of friends,” I said, rubbing cramped fingers in the golden glow of the sunset.

“Well, most are really just acquaintances,” Pierre said, taking my hand and kneading it with his extra warming touch. “But it’s useful to know a lot of people.”

The telephone rang, and Pierre went to answer it. It was Alois, inviting us to supper with his family, and Pierre quickly agreed. “Alois and his wife are both wizards of the winds and waves,” he told me after he hung up. “The kids probably are, too. We don’t have to let them know about the communication thing, but they already know your full story, so we won’t have to be so careful about letting something slip. Besides, we can get a progress report on our boat.”

Alois and his wife, Elaine, lived in a farmhouse outside of the city on the banks of the Seine. As Pierre and I drove up, I could see that there was a small boat dock in back, with three or four small sailboats tied up to it. Supper was a casual affair, focused mainly on a large pot of ratatouille, sweetly fragrant with generous amounts of fresh basil; Elaine had a sizeable herb garden. Alois and Elaine had four children ranging in age from about seven on down, and another one clearly on the way. After supper, Elaine put the children to bed, and then we four adults gathered around the supper table over coffee.

“We started work on your boat yesterday,” Alois said. “You’re welcome to come and see it at any time.”

“We’ll certainly do that,” Pierre said.

“Meanwhile, the activities of the Others seem to have slacked off,” Alois said.

“I’d noticed that,” Pierre said. “We think they may have used up a whole lot of their power trying to kill Sarah. All of the energy they spent on all of those attacks – it may be a while before they gain their full strength back.”

“At least that gives us more time to find out what they are doing and plan how to defeat them,” I said.

“Sarah and I will be working to get into the circles where the Others have their influence,” Pierre said. “It’s going to be difficult, but for the time being, Sarah’s identity isn’t known. After the attack on the magic school, the Others seem to have spent themselves, and they seem to have lost track of her. I was small potatoes, so they never paid any attention to me – they don’t even know I’m a wizard.”

“Well, you’re certainly drawing attention now,” Elaine said. “I heard about Sarah’s debut at the Monte Carlo night.”

“Still,” Pierre said, “all we look like now is the wealthy playboy I’ve always looked like, turned domestic by a stunning woman. Sarah’s own protective ability is improving, and we should be able to keep her identity secret for at least a while.”

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Regrouping

I need at least a little break from sailing.

Even though I didn’t win this past weekend, I’m still going to Austin for the Adams Cup semifinals. I had already volunteered to be truck driver and support staff for whoever ended up winning our quarterfinals.

The host club will be providing the boats to race on, but we want to get there a few days early, so we want to bring one of our own boats to practice on. Mother is very protective of her boat, and she doesn’t like to drive the truck herself, and she doesn’t want just anyone towing her boat, but she trusts me to drive – and we’ll be driving my truck, since it has space for lots of crew to come along. At least one other member of Mother’s team will be coming along to share the driving load, and ideally we’ll get one or two more women to join us, although many of them have other obligations that prevent them from coming out until right before the races.

Meanwhile, Pat and I had a nice non-sailing evening. Tadpole’s away at the retreat with his school orchestra, so Pat and I went up to the Elena Gallegos trailhead in the foothills, and we got in a good hike at the fringes of the Sandia Mountain Wilderness. We watched the sun set over Mount Taylor – the view was, alas, rather hazy, since the day had been windy. But it was still nice. Then we went to dinner at a restaurant that is now run by a sailing club member who used to manage a marina at Elephant Butte. (OK, so I lied when I said we had a non-sailing evening.) We talked a lot about the current status of water levels in New Mexico lakes, and about the past weekend’s racing, and a bunch of other things.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Tadpole’s Big Concert

Oops, we’ve been paying so much attention to my stuff that we haven’t been keeping track of other important stuff!

Tadpole (also known as the World’s Cutest and Most Intelligent Kid) plays cello and string bass. He plays cello with his school orchestra, and he plays bass with the citywide Albuquerque Youth Orchestra. Sunday evening was the big end-of-season concert for the citywide program (http://www.aysmusic.org/), which involves the very best of Albuquerque’s young musicians from grades 3 through 12. There are a total of 5 groups, and they are all excellent: the Junior Strings (grades 3-5), the Junior Orchestra (middle school), the Junior Symphony (middle school, more advanced), the Youth Orchestra (high school), and the Youth Symphony (high school, performing at a professional level – last year, they played in Carnegie Hall, and this year, they’re touring in Brazil).

This year is the 50th anniversary of the program, and as a special feature of the program, a composer, Michael Schelle (www.michaelschelle.com), has been commissioned to create new music for each of the five orchestras.

The concert was great. Even at the elementary-school level, these are fantastic musicians. As the orchestras progressed, so did the level of professionalism. I especially liked “Vox Humana,” Schelle’s composition for Tadpole’s orchestra. The music was inspired in part by a teenager, and in part by a Maine Coon Cat. And the instrumentation included cell phones. Yes, it sounds weird, but it works.

Of course, all of the orchestras also played a lot of other great music, such as Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite, but for me, the new music was the highlight of the evening. It was good, after my own weekend was so disappointing, to see Tadpole’s hard work on his music pay off.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

I lost but not really – I think

and all of that other *%$# about how you play the game

So I got to the lake Thursday night, so I’d be all ready to get out and practice with my crew bright and early Friday. Great idea, except that none of the people on my crew were available until late Friday afternoon, and then that was only one person. The other crew members and the alternate were in Las Cruces and wouldn’t be able to join us until this morning, right before the racing began. Even the one crew member who was available couldn’t stay after practice for socializing and race planning at the Fleet 141 Compound.

At that point, I was ready to bag it. All of the members of the other two teams had showed up, but I was totally teamless. It seemed like a good idea to just give up and let the other two teams be the two to advance to the semifinals in Austin. I was trying very hard not to break down, because I have worked so very hard, but it just didn’t seem worth continuing. I even planned to call the people in Las Cruces to tell them not to bother coming up to the lake.

Then Zorro stood up, in master-of-ceremonies mode, to introduce all of the women competing for the Adams Cup, and he had each skipper introduce her crew to all of the people who had assembled, and he handed a rose to each of the women. When it came my turn, he told me to tell the audience about my crew, even though they weren’t there. He handed me a rose; it had a thorn that stuck deep into my thumb.

That rose became an obligation. I couldn’t call the race off; I couldn’t tell my crew to stay home. I had made a public announcement that I had to live up to. And I had accepted the rose from Zorro. I had to come out to race.

The weather forecast for today was reasonably nice winds in the morning, stiffening in the afternoon. But since the forecast for tomorrow was for much harder winds, the race committee hoped to get in three races in round-robin format today before things got too stiff.

The first race went well for my team, especially considering that today was the first time that we had all four been on the same boat at the same time. We got a pretty good start. There was a 90-degree wind shift early in the first leg of the race, and I spotted it before the other teams did, to the extent that both the other teams tried to fly a spinnaker on the supposedly-but-no-longer downwind leg. Because of the inexperience of my crew, I never planned to fly a spinnaker, but even if I had, I wouldn’t have used it on that race. I finished behind the A team, but well ahead of the B team. As we sailed past the committee boat to prepare for the start of the next race, Zorro gave me a high-five, and I responded with a thumbs-up – the sore one.

On the second race, the winds had stiffened considerably. We got a good start, although it was hampered by inexperienced foredeck crew who had difficulty calling the distance to the line, so we ended up crossing about 20 seconds late. On the first upwind leg, we were really humming, keeping the boat close-hauled, not far behind the A team and way ahead of the B team. On the downwind, we lost ground to the A team, but even though the B team flew a spinnaker and we didn’t, we held our own. The winds were getting stiffer, but on the upwind to the finish, we were doing well. The B team tacked behind me, and I should have covered, but I wasn’t aware they had tacked – my crew is not experienced enough yet to realize they need to communicate such things. Then when I did tack, things went very wrong – the jib sheet didn’t get released from the upwind winch, and it ended up pulling the boat all the way around. We spun out, and once we’d recovered, we were all right, but we’d done a 360 and killed all speed. The B team waltzed right past us and won the race.

On the way back to the start of the third race, the winds came up really fiercely. We dropped the jib, dropped the main, tried to get back to the starting area by putting up the jib alone, then the winds came up worse, so we dropped the jib again and accepted a tow back to the marina. Zorro really wanted us to come back and race, but with the winds what they were, and with the inexperienced crew that I had, I just couldn’t see continuing to race. The safety of the boat and crew is the skipper’s responsibility, and I couldn’t see this crew continuing to be safe in the increasing winds.

The other two boats had one more race. From descriptions of conditions on the water, I’m glad I wasn’t out there. But it was rather a letdown that, because I bailed out, the other two teams are the ones going to Austin. This evening at the awards ceremony, several people told me that I really should be the skipper of the second team, that I have superior helming and trimming skills, and so forth. I feel especially bad about letting Zorro down. My thumb still aches.

a haiku

i would have quit now
but for a flower, a thorn
a rose from zorro

Weird Dreams

Lots of stress makes for strange effects on the subconscious

I got to the Fleet 141 Compound late last night, and I had a fairly good sleep, considering all of the gazillion stressful things on my mind. However, all of those gazillion stressful things caused some, um, interesting dreams.

I was with Dumbledore and Uncle Jesse, on Uncle Jesse’s big boat, down below, evaluating the galley for an upcoming shot at the San Pellegrino Cup (see http://propercourse.blogspot.com for more information), on the ocean in stormy weather. The boat capsized, but it was no big deal, since both Dumbledore and Uncle Jesse have extensive experience in the Navy.

The next time I got to sleep, El Caballero had mechanical problems. There was something wrong with the transmission, such that the car would only operate when it was headed south, not north – and the faster it headed south, the better.

In the final dream, I was entering this term’s grades in the computer, and a student that I’d never heard of showed up on the computer roster. I was about to delete her, and then I got a phone call that I’d better give her a good grade, or I’d get my kneecaps broken.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Man Shadows

If behind every good man is a woman, what, then, is behind a good woman?

Pat and I were discussing a couple who are interested in joining the sailing club; I have met them, and he has not. I discovered that I could do a fairly good description of the husband, but when Pat asked what the wife was like, I found I could hardly say anything. “She was sort of in his shadow,” I finally concluded.

That led me to think about the women who are participating in the Adams Cup training and racing efforts, and how many of them are in some sort of man shadow – like a wind shadow, a zone of bad air that keeps them from gaining full speed. Some of them haven’t attended many of the practice sessions, not because they themselves have been occupied, but because their husband or boyfriend hasn’t been able to come, and they don’t want to travel without him. Some of them have extensive sailing – and even racing – experience, but they have never really been in charge of anything; their man has always been there to tell them what to do, and so they haven’t really learned anything. Yet others have a man pushing them, seeing their accomplishments as part of his own. These women get frustrated and burned out; the project is no longer something they want, but just another effort at pleasing somebody else. Finally, there is the opposite extreme, those women whose men just don’t want them to participate. I don’t think there are too many of those – but then maybe there are, since they wouldn’t even have tried to participate in the women’s sailing effort at all, which means I haven’t seen them.

This brings me back to something I mentioned in a post some months ago about women sailors: Who needs men? At least in the context of sailing, they just don’t seem to be all that useful. Even Pat, as wonderfully supportive as he has been, has on occasion crossed the line to become the pushing sort, and that’s left me feeling resentful.

The major factor I have seen blamed in women’s limited sailing accomplishments has been the lack of physical size and strength. But the more I look, the more I see man shadows as an even bigger factor. Clear air is vital, but many women just don’t have any.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

A Whole Lotta Catching Up

Man, it’s hard to keep up regular blog posts and also do this training thing!

Thanks to Pat’s updates on Desert Sea http://desertsea.blogspot.com you at least have some idea of what I’ve been doing. That’s good, since for much of the weekends I’m not near Internet access, and I don’t even have time to compose blog entries that I could post when I do get access. And I also just end up so tired that it takes a day or two to recover.

This past weekend, like the previous one, started on Thursday night. But even before that, El Caballero needed some repairs. A solenoid in the traction control system had gone bad – critical, since there’s a lot of sand to drive on at the Butte and that traction control system is vital. Also, while we were at it, we had the mechanic look at the problems we’d been having with the air conditioner and with the car idling rough. Turns out there were packrat nests in the air conditioning ducts and in the air filter. There’s still more that needs fixing (there’s an oil leak in the valve cover gasket, and a refrigerant leak in the air conditioner compressor), but we’ve been spending so much money on boat stuff lately that those repairs will have to wait. (There’s a joke I’ve heard that maybe can be adapted to sailing: You know you’re a bass-fishing addict when … your $30,000 bass boat’s trailer needs new tires, but you can’t afford them right now, so you take the ones off the house.)

So with El Caballero back in running condition, after my classes ended Thursday night, Tadpole and I headed south. We put Jesus Christ Superstar on the tape player (what better for Holy Week), and then Pink Floyd’s The Wall. Teenagers aren’t supposed to appreciate their parents’ music, but Tadpole sure seems to like mine.

Friday, Cornhusker, Birdwatcher, and I got in some practice time on the water with Yoda. The winds were on the stiff side, and I ended up at center, with Birdwatcher at the helm – she has more experience, even if the racing part of it is from a long time ago. I really was feeling like a fraud at that point – who am I trying to kid that I could drive a sailboat in a major race? What the *%#& am I doing out there?

Saturday, the planned Pickle Race didn’t happen. The event is for kids from the New Mexico Boys and Girls Ranches, who, because of unstable home situations, don’t have anyplace to go to celebrate Easter. Unfortunately, there were communications breakdowns, so nobody at the ranches had made any plans to get the kids to the lake.

Still, that did give an opportunity for the Adams Cup sailors to practice. Dumbledore set up a mock starting line, and we ran very-short-course simulated races. The only member of my crew available was Cornhusker on foredeck, so I had Tadpole on trim and Mother as coach and tactician – none of her crew had showed up. The other boat had its full crew. The races we ran were roughly an Olympic H course – two full upwind/downwind circuits – but the distance between the marks was so short that on the downwind runs, about the time Cornhusker got the spinnaker pole set, it was time to douse the chute. Therefore, we were very busy. However, the very short course also meant that we got lots of practice at mark roundings as well as spinnaker sets and douses. And we also did quite well against the other boat; the only races that we lost were the first two when we didn’t understand the course.

During that practice, Pat came out solo on Black Magic; he had had some problems with the jib, so he was under mainsail alone. It was the good mainsail, the nearly-new one that came with the boat. Someone had given us a beat-up old sail to use for learning and practice, but that was up in Albuquerque. Toward the end of the practice session, the wind came up, and then it really began to blow fiercely – the weather station at the Dam Site registered steady winds of 30 with gusts to 45. Mother took over the helm of our boat, and under mainsail alone, with a whole lot of depowering (she has a huge lot of experience, so she knows what strings to pull, and the rest of us knew the vocabulary so we knew what strings she meant), we got into port. Pat ended up doing a whole lot of flogging; that nearly-new mainsail is now a beat-up mainsail with a ripped batten pocket. I’m going to have to give Pat a talking-to about how he treats MY boat. I’m sure Mother understands – the boat we were on was hers, and she’s certainly protective of it.

Sunday, we sailed with Mother’s family; she, Tadpole, Cornhusker and I had Mother’s sister, while Dumbledore took out her brother-in-law and nephews. Pat once again took out MY boat, and once again, he had problems, this time an equipment failure that resulted in the mainsail falling to the deck while the halyard stayed up at the top of the mast. Once Sis and her family were headed home, Mother, Cornhusker and I went back out on the lake, while Pat and Tadpole helped Dumbledore go up the mast of Black Magic to retrieve the halyard and fix the hardware.

Zorro also showed up Sunday. I was glad to see him; I’ve discovered that, even as extremely politically incorrect as he is, his energy gives my own energy level a boost. He does use offensive language, and I wish he would tone it down, but, *$&^, a woman shouldn’t try to make a man change who he is, even if they have an intimate relationship, so who the *&%$ am I to even think about changing Zorro’s habits, when there’s not even anything like an intimate relationship involved? I was disappointed that he chose to return to El Paso Sunday night, though.

He may also have been disappointed. A big part of the reason he left Sunday was that the weather forecast for Monday was for really nasty winds. As it turned out, the morning was fantastic, and Dumbledore took me and the other novice Adams Cup skipper out for practice on starts, mark roundings, and spinnaker handling. We both learned a whole lot. Had Zorro stayed, he could have had some great time on the water, and he could have at least pretended to be competition at mock starts or something. Or he could have gone off and done his own thing on the water, and we could have had the same practice we got, but Zorro could have had some of his own on-the-water time.

Monday afternoon, Tadpole and I headed home. After getting through the last portion of The Wall, he shuffled through my tapes and selected the Beatles. We played Revolver and Abbey Road, and then he chose to put on Sinatra.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Wizards of Winds and Waves, chapter 29

A Party

OK, I hear some of the more nautical of my fans groaning, “When are we going to get back onto the water?” Patience, friends, we’ll get there. Meanwhile, we do get to find out exactly what that magic necklace does.

Wizards of Winds and Waves
Chapter 29

We took a cab to the party, and I was glad to have Pierre to help me out when we arrived. As tall as I am, I seldom wear heels at all, and the ones I was wearing that night were the highest I had ever worn. I wobbled a bit and leaned on Pierre for support, then giggled as I realized I now towered over him. We were greeted at the door by a servant in a tuxedo – maybe the butler, but I wasn’t sure about which servant would be doing what. I’d have to ask Pierre to clarify such things for me if we were going to be moving in these sorts of circles. It was clear that Pierre himself moved in this particular circle fairly often, as the butler (or whatever he was) greeted him. “Ah, Monsieur Pierre, it has been so long since you last visited. And I see you have brought a new girl. Ah, she is the most beautiful yet.”

Pierre lifted my left hand so the butler could see the wedding ring. “This one’s for keeps,” he said.

“She has enchanted you, then,” the butler said, kissing my hand. “Ah, the other girls, they will be so disappointed to hear that you have been taken.”

We proceeded to the main room; I was gradually becoming accustomed to the tall shoes, but I was still unsteady enough that I needed to hang onto Pierre for support. As we approached the doorway, I could hear the sounds of a very large crowd, talk, laughter, music, and the sounds of roulette wheels and slot machines.

I was unprepared for what happened next. As we stepped through the doorway, the noise dropped abruptly, not all the way to silence, but still, a sharp hush. All eyes were on me, and I wondered what I had just done to draw such attention to myself. Was Pierre so well known that everybody had to look and see what his latest new girl looked like? Or was I so clumsy on my heels that I stood out? I did notice a distinction among the crowd: All of the men, and a few of the women, were smiling appreciatively, as if I were a work of art. The majority of the women, however, simply looked startled. What was that about? Sure, in that dress, I did look good. But from the neck up, I wasn’t much to look at. My hair was still the unruly tomboy mop I’d had most of my life, and I seldom wore makeup, although for this occasion I had applied just a touch, far from the glamour look that all of the other women in the room wore. Taken by surprise, I stumbled, and I would have fallen if Pierre hadn’t been there to catch me.

Suddenly, the room sprang back to noise and life, as people surged toward us, offering to help me to a chair, offering champagne and canapés and cigarettes, overwhelming me, sweeping me into the room with Pierre trailing behind. Almost as an afterthought, people began to notice him. “Pierre, what a lovely girl you have brought this time!” “Such a beauty, where did you find her?” “You lucky devil, how do you get all the pretty ones?”

Pierre put an arm around my waist and again showed my wedding ring. “This is the only pretty one I need now,” he said, smiling up at me and winking.

“This is news,” one of the men said. “Pierre, the eternal bachelor, got himself trapped. Well, old friend, if you had to get trapped, you certainly picked a stunning girl to get trapped by.” He raised his champagne glass in a toast. “To Pierre and, uh …” He paused and leaned over to Pierre. “Uh, what is her name?” he whispered.

“It’s Sarah,” Pierre said.

“To Pierre and Sarah!” the man said, straightening up and raising his glass again.

I felt my face grow hotter and hotter, and I wondered how anyone could consider me beautiful if my face was as red as it felt. I switched focus to Pierre’s eyes to see what I looked like as he looked up at me. Yes, I was blushing, but it wasn’t detracting from my looks. There was a radiance, some sort of subtle glow that seemed to shimmer, almost imperceptibly, around me. I realized that glow actually was imperceptible to ordinary people, but it was affecting their perceptions. Pierre was stretching up on tiptoe, and I realized he wanted to whisper something in my ear, so I bent down. “Dora used to turn heads like that,” he said. “She could walk into a room with the glitteriest of high society, and she would out-glitter them all. And it wasn’t just heads; she turned, uh, other organs as well.”

“Let me guess,” I said. “She was wearing this necklace.”

“Come to think of it, that was the one she usually wore to these sorts of occasions.”

Having pinpointed the cause of my becoming the center of attention, I was able to relax and enjoy myself more. I worked on learning how not to fall off my shoes, and then on how to walk in them gracefully, so that I would no longer need to lean on Pierre for support – at least physically. As the men in the room came into orbit around me, eager to please, it was good to keep Pierre with me to keep them from overwhelming me. It was an odd feeling to know that, if I wanted anything, I would have dozens of people eager to run and fetch. I wondered whether queens felt that way.

With the crowd’s attention focused on me, we wouldn’t have wanted to try anything magic even if it had been safe, so we just cruised through the room, playing the different games in totally non-magic fashion, and by the end of the evening, we had lost some money, but not much. We danced some, too, although that was awkward for me. I had never learned dancing before, and those high shoes were a handicap. Pierre, however, was an accomplished dancer and was able to lead me in some basic steps, in spite of being so much shorter than I was. “We’re going to have to see about getting you some lessons,” he said.

I bent down to whisper in his ear. “Only if you can be my teacher,” I said, brushing his cheek with a light kiss. “You’re the only partner I want.”

“Ooh, we’re going to get hot when we tango!” he whispered back. Both our bodies were physically responding to the idea, and we decided it was time to leave the party and get back to our hotel room. I couldn’t help but notice a few envious glances from Pierre’s friends as we departed.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Action Heroes?

Well, at least I can agree with the quiz’s findings this time

A couple of the other blogs that I frequent have discovered this quiz: http://quizfarm.com/test.php?q_id=92013 which seeks to determine which action hero most closely matches your personality. This is what it had to say about me:

You scored as Batman, the Dark Knight.

As the Dark Knight of Gotham, Batman is a vigilante who deals out his own brand of justice to the criminals and corrupt of the city. He follows his own code and is often misunderstood. He has few friends or allies, but finds comfort in his cause.

Batman, the Dark Knight     96%

Captain Jack Sparrow          79%

Indiana Jones               67%

The Terminator          63%

The Amazing Spider-Man     63%

Neo, the "One"          63%

James Bond, Agent 007     58%

Lara Croft               54%

William Wallace          54%

Maximus               54%

El Zorro               46%

So, loyal readers, which action hero are you? I can make a few guesses, but I’ll keep them to myself until after you take the quiz ;)

Wizards of Winds and Waves, chapter 28

A Shopping Trip

Oops, late again … I hope I’m not disappointing my loyal fans too much …

At this point, I was really getting to have fun with that Corsican twin thing. It was somewhat challenging to write with two viewpoints rather than just one. Of course, the device also allows me to report on events that my narrator doesn’t experience directly, so that’s another twist. Well, actually, some of the more interesting twisting was back in Chapter 26, but that’s another story.

Wizards of Winds and Waves
Chapter 28

When we got back to the room, with the protections we had set up, I decided it was time to talk shop. “Well,” I said, “our little experiment this morning seems to have worked.”

“Yes,” Pierre replied. “It seemed to work especially well for you to have that spa treatment, so you could pay attention to me most of the time. Although it was hard driving back while you were getting that massage – it was a bit distracting.”

“You also said you wanted the boat to be a surprise. Well, at least you surprised me with how much you had been planning ahead.”

“Oh, yes, I’ve been in touch with Alois from the day after you enrolled in the school and I knew we were going to join. I wanted us to have the perfect boat.”

“And so are we, really, going to sail around the world?” The thought seemed most appealing to me – being alone together for days and even weeks on end, on those long passages. It didn’t even much matter where the destination was – getting there would definitely be at least half the fun.

“If you want to, we will,” Pierre said. “But first, we have a job to do.”

“Yes,” I said. “How do we get started on that?”

“We get started by finding some of the circles that the Others move in. As a start, I have tickets to a fund-raising gala thrown on behalf of some of the more liberal-leaning members of Parliament. It’s a Monte Carlo night – I hope you don’t object to gambling.”

“Oh, I don’t have any objection at all,” I said. “Of course, I’ve never gambled in my life.”

“Also, you’ll need something nice to wear,” Pierre said, handing me a credit card. “I’ve already added you to the account, and there’s no limit on it, so go crazy. I wouldn’t mind seeing you in red.”

I took the card and signed my name in the space on the back. I could feel the tingle of magic in it. “What else does this card do?” I asked.

“It has a small protection field – not all that powerful, but if it were, it could get noticed by the Others. It also has an alarm function – if anything gets through the card’s protection field, you will inexplicably smell the odor of your late, great sofa.”

I remembered that sofa – a treasure I’d picked up at a yard sale that smelled like a cat litter box, upon which Pierre had had to sleep at one point. “You’re diabolical,” I said. “Did you know that?”

“I needed something that would get your attention without getting anyone else’s, and that wouldn’t disable you. A loud noise, for instance, might impair your hearing just when it needs to be sharpest.”

“You have a point there.” I put the credit card into my wallet, put my wallet into my purse, and went out shopping.

It was rather an odd experience to have Pierre’s advice along on the shopping trip, but not Pierre himself. Every time I tried something on in the fitting room and looked at myself in the mirror, I got Pierre’s comments. Mindful of his recommendation, the first dress I tried on was a red one, in a sort of old-fashioned crinoline style. “Nah, I don’t like that one,” Pierre said, startling me. “I like to see the actual shape of your backside.”

“I’ll bet,” I said.

“Pardon?” said the girl at the dress shop who was helping me.

“C’est rien,” I said, moving on to the next dress, a very slender style in deep, midnight blue.

“Now that’s more like it,” Pierre said. “She walks in beauty, like the night.”

I held my tongue this time. I figured I’d be hearing romantic bits of Victorian poetry for the rest of my life. I decided to buy the blue dress, but as I was preparing to go pay for it, I got objections from two fronts.

“You can’t go home after only buying just that one dress,” Pierre said. “You’re going to have a lot of formal occasions to attend, so you’ll need several nice dresses.”

“Vous ne voudriez pas essayer des autres?” the shop girl asked. “Il y a beaucoup des autres, et vous etes si belle.”

“Listen to the girl,” Pierre said. “She’s right.”

I tried another red dress, and then a pink one, and several others. I ended up with a daring red dress with a plunging neckline and a slit that showed a whole lot of leg, a little black cocktail dress with a very simple style, and several others. The shop girl also helped me to select an assortment of undergarments suitable for these very fancy dresses, help I very much appreciated, as I had never in my life even come near to having such clothes. This time, when I went to check out, both Pierre and the shop girl approved. Next, I went to another shop and got shoes and handbags to match all of the dresses, again with some coaching from Pierre.

When I got back to the room, we had a quick room-service supper, and then it was time to get dressed for the party. Pierre put on a tuxedo, and I put on the red dress. As Pierre zipped up the back for me, he said, “We need a couple of finishing touches here.” He went over to the vanity and picked up a pink box, which he handed to me. I opened the box to find a bottle. “It’s eau de toilette,” Pierre said. “Not as heavy as perfume, but then you’re not the heavy sort. It’s called Chartreuse de Parme, and it’s fairly unusual.”

I sprayed a bit on my wrist and took a whiff. It was very light, with a combination of citrus and spices, and I liked it very much. “Unusual, you say?” I asked. “I suppose that lets you find me more easily in the flock.”

“How so?”

“A mother sheep can always find her own lamb even when it’s in the middle of a bunch of others, because it has its own scent and she recognizes it.”

“Well, I’d hardly consider you a lamb, now – I know you’re far from helpless.” Pierre spritzed the scent on my neck, behind the ears. “But I suppose the principle applies.” He rubbed the scent in with his fingertips, then drew the fingertips up my jawline to my chin, drawing it to him so he could kiss me. Then he picked up a large, flat jewelry case and opened it to reveal a glittering diamond necklace and earrings. “We want you to sparkle tonight.”

“They’re beautiful!” I exclaimed. “Where did you get them?”

“They were originally Dora’s,” Pierre said. “They’re family heirlooms, more than a hundred years old.” He stepped behind me to drape the necklace around my neck.

As the jewels came into contact with my skin, I felt a familiar tingle. “They’re magic!”

“They are?” Pierre touched the necklace. “Oh, so they are.”

“I wonder what they do.”

“Probably a protection of some sort. Maybe a good luck charm too.”

“Well, that should be good on a Monte Carlo night, shouldn’t it – although we certainly don’t want to draw attention to ourselves with active magic, do we?”

“No, we don’t.” Pierre nuzzled my ear, wrapped his left arm around my waist, and ran his right hand down my side, feeling the silky, shimmery fabric of the dress as he traced the curves of my breast, waist, and hip, and when he reached the slit in the skirt, he continued down my thigh, bare except for a very light, barely-there silk stocking. I could feel the familiar desiring feeling down below, and Pierre was also experiencing his own.

“Shouldn’t that wait until after the party?” I asked.

“Yes, I suppose it should,” Pierre said, slowly relaxing his grip.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Busy, exhausted, and overwhelmed

Team building is hard work, especially when you have only two weeks!

Well, I managed to get a team put together, at least on paper, in time for the April 7 deadline to register for the Adams Cup. On foredeck, I have a hugely enthusiastic person who has raced a lot but whose responsibilities have been limited (guys, don’t be so chivalrous all the time – we can do some of the heavy stuff, too); we’ll call her Cornhusker. For center/tactician, I have a woman who used to race a lot but has been mainly cruising for the past 15 years; there’s some rust, and I worry a bit about her stamina, but she’s really sharp at reading the sails and knows way more than I do on the finer points of trimming and also tactics; she shall henceforth be known as Rose. On trim, I have another person who hasn’t raced in a long time, but who has been cruising a whole lot; with her, the main thing is shifting out of cruising mode and back into racing mode; let’s call her Birdwatcher. And then I think I have found a real treasure in my alternate, G.I. Jane, who has been on a sailboat maybe only twice in her life before, but who has recently returned from active duty in the Middle East and has strength, stamina, and a real knack for picking things up quickly. She’s also good at following orders, especially “Duck!” (Yes, we had an accidental gybe, but nobody got clobbered this time!)

The racing this weekend featured a little bit of everything. Friday afternoon, Birdwatcher and I joined some of the other women for practice. She wasn’t able to participate in the racing Saturday and Sunday, but the rest of my crew was available, along with Yoda as coach. Both Saturday and Sunday started out with extremely light air, and then the wind picked up each day so that by the end of racing, things were pretty stiff. We had four races Saturday, each requiring an increasing level of physical exertion. Then Sunday, we did two races; we skipped the third due to exhaustion.

So I didn’t get any blog posts up over the weekend because even though I at least had dial-up access at my motel room, I was just plain too tired. And I spent most of yesterday recovering. But if you want some more details, Pat has his version of events over at http://desertsea.blogspot.com for your reading pleasure.

Meanwhile, with less than two weeks to go until the Adams Cup quarterfinals, it looks like my team will not actually all be sailing together until the race itself. We have still had only limited success with the spinnaker, and Rose in particular isn’t going to be available for additional practice. At least Cornhusker is very available, and G.I. Jane may be as well. This coming weekend, there won’t be a regular series regatta, but on Saturday there will be the Pickle Race, a special event the sailing club does each year with kids from the New Mexico Boys and Girls Ranches. That leaves Friday afternoon, Sunday, and Monday morning for practice (along with somewhere along the way Pat and me getting our income taxes filed).

All of this is looking rather overwhelming now. What the *$&# have I gotten myself into?

Visitor 4K

And we have a winner ... nbk.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Wizards of Winds and Waves, chapters 26 and 27

This begins Part 2

I apologize for being late with this episode. You’re getting two chapters this time, since I had to redact a lot from Chapter 26, and it wouldn’t have been fair to give you all just a few paragraphs. I was writing this in October, as a warm-up for National Novel Writing Month, and I was working hard on the “show, don’t tell” aspect of getting in a lot of description.

You may also note the gift of a boat as a wedding present. As I said earlier, I wrote this back in October, and Pat isn’t getting to read this any faster than any of the rest of you. So the boat I got as a Valentine’s gift is pure coincidence … or is it?

Wizards of Winds and Waves
Chapter 26

“Check out the view from our balcony!” I exclaimed.

“Ah, very nice,” Pierre said without looking up from unpacking our suitcases into the armoire of the hotel room. “Great view of the Eiffel Tower.”

We had just flown across the Atlantic, for the start of what we were planning to be a very long honeymoon in Paris. I was still getting used to some of the side effects of our joining, such as the way we were now each able to experience what the other saw, heard, and felt. At least we couldn’t directly eavesdrop on the other’s thoughts, but then, our thoughts were already fairly closely in tune.

Pierre finished unpacking and came to join me on the balcony, coming up behind me and placing his arms around my waist and pressing his hard, muscular body up against mine. He was shorter than I was by about two inches, making my shoulder just the right height for his chin to rest on. “Ah, honey, I’m so glad to be here with you,” he whispered in my ear.

It was late afternoon, and the sun was beginning to get lower in the western sky, giving a golden glow to the city through a low-hanging summer haze. Our hotel suite was high enough up that we were somewhat removed from the noise of the city, and the peacefulness was a welcome contrast to the hustle of the past 24 hours or so, which had been spent in packed airports or even more crowded airplanes. At least the flight across the ocean hadn’t been as turbulent as it could have been; a weather system that had been in the flight path had veered aside as we approached. A little magic can go a long way.

But we had been traveling a long time, and both our bodies were aching. We returned to the room and settled onto the bed to rest. Pierre picked up the telephone and ordered a snack from room service, his French so smooth that even Parisians might mistake him for a native. Soon, a waiter appeared at the hotel room door with a cart bearing an ice bucket with a champagne bottle and a platter of oysters on the half shell. Pierre shut the door after the waiter left and checked that the protection spells he had put on the room were in good order.

I remembered the last time we had had oysters – the evening had had a less than pleasant ending. “Here,” Pierre said, handing me one. “This time, we’re going to enjoy them, and enjoy them properly.” I slipped the oyster into my mouth, savoring the creamy, salty flesh, while Pierre popped the cork on the champagne. He poured two glasses, handed me one, and then pulled the cart alongside the bed, where we both could reach the platter of oysters, and settled down alongside me, facing me. “We’re going to pick up where we left off last time,” he said, picking up another oyster and popping it into my mouth. I followed suit, putting one into his mouth, which he swallowed; through him, I could feel it going down his throat, and the sensation continued.

[This portion has been redacted to keep the blog at a safe, family-friendly level of decorum.]

Pierre smoothed my hair off my forehead, savoring the silky feel of the short, springy curls, and he kissed my cheek, tasting the salt of the tears that had come forth.

“Something I’ll never ever have to ask again,” Pierre said quietly. “I’ll never have to say, ‘Was it as good for you as it was for me?’”

I chuckled. “Because you’ll always know it was, won’t you? Won’t we?”

Pierre laughed, too, and popped one of the remaining oysters into my mouth. “Now do you believe the stories about these being an aphrodisiac?”

Chapter 27
Tired as we were from traveling, we knew that the best way to cure jet lag was to force ourselves to stay awake until it was a reasonable time to go to bed, so after taking a quick shower to freshen up, we decided to go out to supper. It was a warm summer evening, and we went to a sidewalk café near the hotel. I had crepes filled with chicken in a creamy sauce; Pierre had medallions of lamb. Both were absolutely delicious, and I found myself thinking about how now, Pierre and I could enjoy twice as much delicious food without actually eating twice as much.

After supper, we went to the Eiffel Tower, where, after a half-hour wait, we took the elevator to the top for a spectacular view. There’s a good reason Paris is called the City of Lights. We could see the Arc de Triomphe, and the open area leading to the parliamentary buildings, and in the distance, the brightly lit streets on the hill of Montmartre and the white onion domes of the Sacre Coeur Basilica. Not too far away, we could also see our hotel, and we could even spot the balcony of our room. We stood for a long time, enjoying the view. There was a slight breeze, and I shivered a bit; Pierre tightened his arms around me, releasing a warm glow, and we kissed.

The next morning, we had breakfast served in our room. As we were finishing up, Pierre said, “Today I need to see a man about a boat.”

“A boat?”

“Some of the best sailboats in the world are made in France,” Pierre said. “And some of us wizards work on them. I’m going to have one custom-built as my wedding present to you.”

“Oh, Pierre, how wonderful!” I knew this would be one very special boat, not only because it would be built in one of the world’s best shops, but also because it would have, I was sure, special magic built in by the wizards, and because it would be designed with love.

“You can get the spa treatment here at the hotel while I’m gone,” Pierre said. “Might as well enjoy that.”

“Why can’t I come along?”

“Well, officially, I want to surprise you. However, really, you will be along, if this Corsican twin thing works at a distance. This is a chance to test how far it works.”

So Pierre took off in the little rented Mercedes – much like his own car at home – while I went downstairs to the spa. As I sat in the hot mineral bath, I worked on my focus. I could be mostly myself in the steaming water with only a slight awareness off Pierre, or I could be mostly Pierre, driving through the streets of Paris and out to a newer, more industrial area on the outskirts, only vaguely aware of myself. By focusing on Pierre, I could learn the route to the boat factory. I’ve always been good at navigation – once I’ve been someplace once, I can always get there again. Pierre was a skilled driver, and he had also been a world traveler, so he knew Paris well and maneuvered the sports car deftly through traffic, arriving quickly at his destination.

I had to remove my focus from Pierre for a few minutes when it was time to get out of the tub and get a mud pack, in which warm, slightly sulfurous smelling gray mud was spread over my body, and then I was wrapped in sheets to lie down and let the mud absorb oils and toxins. Mud was also applied to my face, and cucumber slices were placed over my eyes, immediately producing a cooling feeling that relieved the lingering tiredness of the jet lag. While I waited for the mud to do its thing, I refocused on Pierre. He was now inside a large building in which boats were being built. There were only a few, and I could see that they were being built carefully, with much attention to detail. Pierre was speaking in French with a man who I guessed to be the chief boat-building wizard; I knew enough French to follow the gist of their conversation, if not the nuances. Every once in a while Pierre would say something in English, and I realized those remarks were meant for me – I couldn’t read his mind, but if he said something out loud, I could hear it.

Pierre and the boat-building wizard – I learned from the conversation that his name was Alois – were looking at a particularly long, graceful hull, and Alois was pointing out how the shape of the hull and keel on this model would make this a very fast boat. Pierre nodded in approval and said in English, “Fast is good.”

“Yes, fast is good,” I whispered, hoping the other women in the spa would think I was napping and talking in my sleep.

Pierre and Alois continued to talk about the hull design for a while, and then they went over to a table where Alois unrolled a sheaf of blueprints. They showed a boat that didn’t match any of the ones currently under construction. “Ce sont les dessins preliminaires que tu m’as demandé,” Alois said.

“Ah, you’ve been planning this already!” I whispered. “I should have known.”

“I didn’t know your French was that good,” Pierre said. Alois gave him a startled look. There was no one else around that Pierre could have been talking to, and it must have been puzzling for a fluently French-speaking American to compliment a Frenchman’s French skills – in English. I could feel Pierre’s face heat up as he blushed.

“Let’s hope Alois’ English is such that he thinks he misheard you,” I said.

Pierre diverted Alois’ curiosity by returning attention to the blueprints. They were looking over plans for the cabin layout now, and I could see that, within the sleek racing hull, the interior of the boat was going to be luxurious. The challenge was to reach a good compromise – if we put too much luxury into the boat, it would get heavier, hampering performance. However, we didn’t want the boat to be too bare, either. A certain level of comfort would be needed if we wanted to cross oceans in it. “Ah, Pierre, are we going to sail around the world?” I asked. “No, don’t answer that. If we do, I’m going to love every minute of it.” Pierre and Alois continued to discuss the plans, and I added my input via Pierre, so that in the end we were both satisfied with the plans, and Pierre gave Alois the go-ahead to start building the boat and wrote him a check for the initial payment.

The time limit was up on my mud pack, and after getting the mud washed off, it was time for my massage. I savored the intense rub, although I missed the extra warmth that came from Pierre’s hands. I was aware of Pierre in the background, driving through the city streets and then going into some shops here and there, but mainly I concentrated on enjoying the relaxation the massage yielded. The heat of the mud pack, and before that, the bath, had softened up my muscles, so by the end of the massage, I was very thoroughly relaxed. As I was leaving the spa, one of the attendants from the mud pack room passed through the reception area. “You were having a very good dream, non?” she commented. “I almost didn’t want to wake you. It is a very special boat you were talking about.”

“Yes, very special.”

“I hope some day you get your dream boat.” Little did she know.

When I got to the room, Pierre was already there, waiting for me. “I figured we could have a classic French picnic lunch,” he said, picking up a wicker basket. “I got bread, and cheese, and wine.”

“That sounds perfect,” I said.

We took a stroll to the Tuileries gardens, where we found a spot on the grass near the fountain where small children sail small wooden boats. I was reminded of Betsy, Pierre’s daughter and my former roommate, whose hobby was carving sailboat models, and whose magic talent was infusing them with the spirit of whoever the boat was carved for. I wondered how the little racing dinghy she had carved for me and Pierre – our boats were identical, so one model could serve both people – would sail among the relatively primitively designed boats on the pond. The breeze was gentle, about 5 knots, and the colorful boats sailed gracefully across the pool, while their skippers would dash around to the other side to meet their craft and use a two-foot-long stick to bring the boat about on another course.

“Hmmm,” I said. “Here’s another idea for our school – a nursery school for very young sailors!”

“Not a bad idea at all,” Pierre said, spreading out a red-checked tablecloth for us to sit upon for our picnic. “Of course, that means finding some very young sailors to enroll in such a class. It’s hard to spot talent among even older kids; you may have noticed that most of the students at the spelling school were young teens.”

“Well, we’d at least know to look among kids of wizards,” I said, opening the picnic hamper and getting out plates, utensils, napkins, and glasses.

Pierre pulled the cork from the wine and poured two glasses. “Now, where would we be looking for kids of wizards?” he asked, grinning.

“Well, I don’t know about right away,” I said, “but some day …” I took a sip of wine; it was a white wine with a light green-apple taste, very refreshing on such a warm day.

“Yes,” Pierre said. “Some day … ours.” He cut a slice of the baguette bread, topped it with a slice of Swiss cheese, and held it up for me to take a bite. The bread was chewy, the crust was crunchy, and the cheese had just the right blend of tanginess and butteriness. We lay back on the picnic cloth, enjoying the food and wine, the sunshine, the gentle breeze, and the laughter of the children.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Black Magic sets sail


No motor? No coach? No backstay? No problem!

Early in the day, there was practically no wind, so we told the prospective new team member that we'd be working on Black Magic for a while, and then if the wind came up later, we'd take her out on Syzygy again.

Much to our surprise, when we arrived at the marina, we found Larry, Braxton, and a friend of theirs working to get the boat formerly known as Intrepid -- whose slip Black Magic will now have -- onto the trailer. The trailer kept getting hung up on a sandbar before it got deep enough to get the boat onto it, and our efforts involved quite an aerobic workout, with some of us holding lines attached to the trailer or the boat, running back and forth alongside up and down the boat ramp and the courtesy dock in an effort to get everything together. We got some help from a bass fisherman with a large motor, and finally from one of the State Parks boating safety boats, and eventually we got the boat onto the trailer straight and out of the water.

Then Larry, Braxton, and their friend wanted to go out sailing; they set up Constellation, and Larry suggested that when they got back, we could take Black Magic out -- even with the backstay in bad condition, we could still sail in the light air without a headsail. About this time, the prospective new crew member showed up, and she was game for that idea, so Larry and crew set out to sail for a bit while Pat, Gerald, PNCM, and I rigged the boat. We were just about ready to sail when Larry came back, but instead of coming aboard, he helped shove off. "I thought you were coming with us," I said. "Sorry, I have to get back to El Paso," he said. "If the mainsheet gets too hard to handle, use the fine-tune. "

So now we were under sail, tacking out of the marina, in my new boat that has a whole lot more strings to pull than any other boat I've been on before, and all of the experts were piling into the truck to head south. I really didn't have any choice but to sail on.

As it was, it was a great experience. The wind came up, but not to any sort of fearsome level. We got that boat going fast even without a headsail, and we did some trial-and-error figuring out what happens when which string is pulled. PNCM is no longer PNCM -- she's now CNCM, confirmed new crew member. It's a bit of a pity Larry couldn't be along -- he's been eager to sail this boat since he first heard I might buy it -- but I also wonder whether he might have done this on purpose, to let me know I can sail the boat without him or any other coach on board. I probably needed that, although with light air and no headsail, the task was easier.

We sailed close-hauled to the far side of the lake to give CNCM's former skipper the honor of being one of the few people to see Black Magic's maiden freshwater voyage. He isn't expected to live much longer, but he's making the most of the time he has left; he was out on the lake yesterday with family members to help him sail. He has a house on top of a mesa overlooking the lake, and he and his wife have a telescope through which they watch everybody sailing. Any victory we have in the Adams Cup, CNCM and I will dedicate to him.

Then we had a great run back to the marina. I was really wishing we didn't have the problem with the backstay; it would have been great to get the spinnaker up. Once we got to the marina, we decided we didn't need to use the motor; we just gybed into the lane behind the houseboat dock, pointed the boat at its new slip, and dropped the sail. I did have to scull just a little to get in, but all in all, I didn't do too bad.

Well, tomorrow the parts for the backstay are supposed to arrive at Larry's, and Tuesday he plans to come up to the lake to work on the boat. Friday, I'll be back at the lake, back working on the Adams Cup preparations on J/24s, but I hope I'll be able to find some time for Black Magic.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Frustration

The Ferrari's still in the shop, so I had to drive the Chevy.

Last night and this morning we had more bad news about the shipping of the parts for Black Magic’s backstay – we had ordered the parts first thing Monday morning and paid extra for second-day air shipping so Larry would get them on time to install them so we could sail the boat this weekend. But the shipper fouled up, so the parts went to Pampa, Texas (outside of Amarillo) instead of El Paso, and then the package languished in Amarillo for a while, and now it’s supposed to arrive at Larry’s on Monday.

So today, Pat, Gerald, and I were on our old MacGregor, Syzygy, along with a potential crew member for my Adams Cup team – she’s been crew on racing boats on the lake for a long time. To begin with, we had very light air, so we were barely moving, but, thanks to our very old, blown-out sails, we were actually moving. Pat said he was impressed with how I can make that boat move. I’m almost toying with the idea of racing the MacGregor, just to see if I could win on corrected time.

Later, the wind came up. For a while, it was moderate, and I was able to get some good speed on close-hauled. Even Gerald was impressed with the speed I could get. Then the wind really came up. It wasn’t as fierce as on the day of the “boom” incident, but a boat that has water ballast and a ten-inch-wide swinging piece of fiberglass instead of a massive lead keel just isn’t all that stable in those conditions. We reefed the genoa (it’s roller-furled), and then we took it in almost completely, and then we got the motor running to power-tack the mainsail, and finally we took the mainsail down and motored back to the marina with a tiny bit of jib up front. By this time, the wind was blowing at least 20 mph and gusting higher – more wind than any of the major online weather forecasters had predicted. Meanwhile, the potential new crew member showed a stability that I have come to see as especially valuable – she doesn’t panic, but rather, she gets the job done.

Tomorrow, we again plan to take Syzygy out with the potential new crew member. The weather forecasts (take with grain of salt, knock on wood) predict much lighter conditions.

Meanwhile, there’s one other important order of business. If I’m handing out birthday greetings to my coach, I’d darn well better do the same for my own brother. Technically, it’s not yet his birthday here in New Mexico, but he’s in Prague, so it’s been his birthday there for about eight hours. I’m hoisting a bottle of Roswell Alien Amber Ale. Happy birthday, Jer.