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, January 28, 2007

On the water with Zorro again

It was cold, but the sailing was good, and there was other excitement

Friday afternoon and evening, Pat and Tadpole worked on preparations for Tadpole’s weekend, camping out in the snow on Mount Taylor with the Boy Scouts for the council’s annual Klondike Derby. Once Tadpole was on his way, Pat and I packed up the cats to go to Elephant Butte, where we still had work to do to install the new gooseneck fitting on Black Magic’s boom and some other boat-related tasks. We stopped briefly in Socorro on the way to drop off a Sunfish small sailboat for the New Mexico Tech Sailing Club to use in a display at the college Club Fair on Monday. During the final 40 miles or so of our journey, we drove through patches of freezing fog – a phenomenon that just plain doesn’t happen in the desert.

Late Friday night – OK, so it was actually early Saturday morning – Zorro phoned us to say he was planning on being at the lake Saturday. That was great news, since it looked like our own boat wouldn’t be sailable yet. The curse of sailing in the desert is that we don’t have a chandlery or marine store right around the corner, so we have to rely on Internet and mail order. In this case, we needed to get an eyestrap or padeye to attach the outhaul block to the inside of the new boom end we just got, and the websites didn’t give enough information about the dimensions of the hardware. So Pat ordered several eyestraps and padeyes, in hopes of getting one that would fit. There were two that came close, but all of them were too big to fit into the space available – and mostly they were bigger than the dimensions given both on the website and on the packaging the eyestraps came in. If we could have gone into a physical store, we could simply say, “We need the next smaller size.” As it was, we were going to have to improvise.

Saturday morning, the weather left us feeling as if we were on another planet. We were cloaked in dense fog, and the temperature was below freezing, so the fog was gently coating everything in frost, gradually getting thicker. There are two large cacti at the sides of the front gate, and the way the thickening frost was clinging to the cactus pads was stunningly beautiful. I would have gotten pictures, but the camera battery was dead.

We hadn’t heard anything more from Zorro, so we did some shopping in town for housewares. We then went to the True Value hardware store in T or C and got some eye bolts and related hardware that we could use to jerry-rig an outhaul until we could do the Internet equivalent of asking for the next smaller size. We had also received some parts via mail order to rebuild the spinnaker pole ends, so we headed for the boat so we could pick up the pole and take it to the apartment to make the repairs.

By this time, the fog had melted away. The sun was shining through a sky that was partly cloudy, partly high overcast. Winds were light, but they did exist. The temperature was in the high 40s. Nice weather for sailing.

When we got to the marina, we discovered that Zorro had arrived shortly before, along with Seymour, and 5-year-old Seymour Junior. Zorro invited us on board, and we set sail.

It was a good sail, although it did get chilly when the wind came up – I ended up borrowing Zorro’s heavy jacket. As 5-year-olds go, Junior wasn’t too bad. But a 5-year-old doesn’t have the attention span to do well with an extended time on the water, and on a racing boat such as an Etchells, there’s a lot going on that even a well-behaved 5-year-old gets in the way of. A boat with an enclosed cabin would have provided someplace that Junior could go to get out of the way and out of the cold. I’m guessing that Mrs. Seymour allowed Seymour to go sailing on the condition that he took Junior with him.

Now, Junior did show at least a little understanding of sailing, such as trimming the jib sheets, even if he was slightly unclear on exactly which line to pull when. I could easily see, in a couple of years, when he weighs about 20 pounds more, letting him loose on a Sunfish in warm weather on gentle waters, and then letting him work up to more challenging conditions and more challenging boats. He might end up being the only sailor who grew up sailing in New Mexico. The bigger challenge may be getting Mrs. Seymour’s approval for such a plan. She’s not all that supportive of Seymour’s sailing.

Saturday night, we had Zorro over to dinner – a very large quantity of pizza – before he headed back to El Paso.

Sunday morning was sunny but calm, and Pat worked on jerry-rigging a padeye on the inside of the boom fitting to attach the outhaul. Eventually, he cut down one of the too-big padeyes and drilled a new hole in it to match the holes in the boom end fitting. We also looked into rebuilding the spinnaker pole ends with new springs and plastic inner sleeves. However, the new sleeves were a completely different design from the old ones – apparently there was a redesign sometime between 1972 and now – so we just worked some WD-40 into the existing mechanism; we’ll have to order complete new pole ends now. At least those won’t be as expensive as replacing the whole pole would be.

About noon, we got a phone call from Zorro, to tell us that he was featured prominently in Sunday’s El Paso Times, in an article about his upcoming induction into the Ohio Track and Field Hall of Fame, and that a television crew was on the way to interview him. Before he was a sailor, he was a world-class athlete in collegiate, Olympic, and professional pole-vaulting; and when he retired as an athlete, he became a college track coach. He still coaches individual athletes, and he’s now also a very successful racing sailor who nearly made the Olympic team sailing Stars. I consider myself lucky to have him as my sailing coach.

On our way to the boat, we scraped together enough change to buy the last copy of the newspaper from a vending box. The article was good, but I was disappointed that it didn’t mention Zorro’s sailing. Oh, well. I suppose being nominated to a track and field hall of fame generates more interest in pole-vaulting than in sailing.

Once at the boat, we worked on attaching the boom and connecting various lines in various places. By the time we finished, what little wind had been around had gone away. But we got our practice mainsail on the boom, so next time we’re at the lake, we’ll be able to get out on the water that much faster. Then we headed to the apartment to pack up the cats and other stuff for the trip back to Albuquerque.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

After All …

In New Mexico, if you ever make plans based on the weather, you plan to change your plans.

We did go south Sunday ... we retrieved Syzygy from the State Parks parking lot, where we had left her in readiness to be committee boat for the regatta that didn't happen.

Then we went further south to El Paso, where we visited with Zorro and his cats. It was much too short of a visit, but I hope we'll be seeing more of him soon, since we've commissioned him to work on the new Etchells we’ve acquired. We delivered Christmas presents that had been waiting – a bottle of the wine that Zorro had enjoyed the last time he visited us, and some cat treats for the pride that occupies his house, and a special gift of duck-based cat food for one cat who seems to have digestive problems similar to Tres’ problems.

We also visited with Dino and Sister Rosebia. Our new Etchells is currently at Dino’s house, and he showed us some of the work that needs doing. It’s mostly cosmetic, but there’s a lot of sanding involved before we even get near to the idea of painting. Previous owners of the boat haven’t necessarily been all that knowledgeable about how to maintain it. But then, that sort of thing goes with the territory when one buys a boat for a price that’s considerably lower than what the boat is worth. We got Black Magic for probably about a tenth of what she was worth, and this new Etchells is a similar deal – in this case, we’re hoping to refurbish the boat, probably putting in another two tenths, and then sell it to someone who will keep it in New Mexico, West Texas, or Colorado, to help to build Etchells Fleet 31. Yeah, it’s going to be a lot of work, but we’re up to it, and we’re going to pay Zorro to help us with it.

We do still need to do a bit more work on Black Magic’s boom, attaching the outhaul to the new end plate that fits the super-heavy-duty pin in the new gooseneck fitting. We also need to work on the bilge pump, either repairing a rip in the diaphragm or putting in a new diaphragm. That project has been challenging, since it’s hard to track down parts for a pump that wasn’t used in very many boats, and, as far as I can tell, hasn’t been used in any boat for at least 30 years. At this point, I’m thinking of getting some sheet rubber and seeing what I can do with it.

Ah, boats. Yep, a boat is a hole in the water into which one throws money.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Movie Nights

What to do when sailing isn’t exactly practical

With the weather less than pleasant for sailing or even for traveling to the lake, this weekend, we’ve been at home in Albuquerque. It’s the first weekend in a long time that we haven’t gone somewhere else, and it’s been nice.

We have a huge pile of DVDs that we haven’t watched, and so this weekend, we’ve been catching up on them. Friday night, we watched a set of Horatio Hornblower DVDs that my folks had given to Pat for his birthday or Christmas or something or other a couple of years ago.

Saturday, Pat was more interested in reading, but Tadpole and I got in a couple of four-star movies that had been waiting to be viewed.

One of the classes that Tadpole is taking at school is a seminar for gifted students called “Murder and Mayhem.” The instructor is a former assistant medical examiner, and I’m hoping what Tadpole learns will help me as I work on finishing Murder at the Yacht Club. Meanwhile, the class is studying serial killers – each student has been assigned a serial killer to research and write a report about. (Tadpole’s researching Andrei Chikitilo.) He doesn’t think anyone in the class is doing Aileen Wournos, but we decided that watching Monster should count as something resembling homework.

That is one really good movie. It’s emotionally wrenching, because the viewer does get wrapped up in Wournos’ story. It’s like that nightmare where you’re running to get away from something, but the faster you run, the slower you go, until you’re going backwards. How she kills, and why she kills, and how that all gets further and further out of control … it’s a giant whirlpool sucking her in.

The other movie Tadpole and I watched was The Aviator. Tadpole didn’t even know about who Howard Hughes was before watching the movie, even though his college fund includes some Baker-Hughes stock. He hadn’t been through the 1970s brouhaha involving Hughes quarantining himself on a floor of a Las Vegas hotel that he bought, and then the ensuing craziness over false biographies and wills after he died.

This was another great movie. It was also another picture of insanity, this time of someone who was brilliant in many ways, as a businessman, movie director/producer, aircraft designer, and persuasive talker – but who was also descending into the depths of serious mental illness. Hughes was a genius, and he also was a playboy who enjoyed the company of beautiful women, but he also earned the loyalty of at least two (Katharine Hepburn and Ava Gardner) who continued to support him even after their romantic relationships ended and the mental illness had taken serious hold of his life. Hughes himself had a couple of final triumphs before finally losing it for good.

We still have a few more un-viewed movies on the shelf. Yes, we like when the weather is good enough that we can sail, but if it isn’t, we do have alternatives: Elizabeth, The Pianist, Spanglish, Gods and Generals, Batman Begins … and up north, at Five O’Clock Somewhere, we have still more.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Frostbite Regatta Cancelled

We can’t control the weather

The Rio Grande Sailing Club’s Frostbite Regatta last year was special for me. It was the first regatta that I sailed in as a skipper, and I came in second, beating everybody but Zorro. Mother Superior was out with the flu, and I was sailing her boat, so a lot of people thought I was her – a flattering comparison, since she is an accomplished racing skipper with a lot of experience.

This year, I would have been sailing my own boat, Black Magic, and I was looking forward to being out at the front of the fleet with Zorro. The last couple of race weekends of the fall series, Zorro and I had been out ahead of the fleet, and we had some tacking duels that got people excited about racing in general and Etchells in particular.

But the weather forecasts for Elephant Butte Lake this weekend are for temperatures that get up into the vicinity of freezing as a high, and winds that bring the wind chill much lower. Plus there’s snow in the forecasts, possibly as much as a foot, and in a part of the world where the highway department seldom has to deal with any snow at all, there’s not a lot of equipment available to make highways passable, so regatta participants might not even be able to make it to the lake. Therefore, after consulting with the commodore and vice commodore, Zorro decided to cancel the Frostbite.

I would have liked to sail the Frostbite again, in my own boat and with my own reputation to keep and build. I would also have liked to see Zorro – we’ve been on the phone a lot, but I miss the energy field he puts out in person. It’s been about two months.

There might be more opportunity in the near future: We’re working on building Etchells Fleet 31, covering Colorado, New Mexico, and West Texas. Since Zorro is the inspiration for the fleet, and I’ve been appointed fleet secretary, we’re going to have to get together for fleet-building activities.

Meanwhile, even if the weather keeps us from sailing, it does something important: It provides moisture that will fill the lakes in the spring when it melts. Therefore, I implore those of you who believe in the power of prayer: Do NOT pray for the snow to stop. Pray for it to continue, so that we may have a prosperous summer.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

How the weekend went

It went well, and I don’t even have to spend a lot of effort telling about it.

I know it’s been a while since I got a post up here … I was going to tell you all about the weekend, but Pat beat me to it. You can read all about our doings with Black Magic and Syzygy and a new (to us) Etchells by paying a visit to Desert Sea.

Meanwhile, I ran across this photo from the distant past:

Let’s just say this is a very good example of why a photographer should pay careful attention to what’s behind the person being photographed.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Grammar Moment: the Top Eight Pet Grammar Mistakes

In the words of the philosopher, “Know thyself.”

Normally, I wouldn’t run a Grammar Moment about editing until near the end of the school term, since it’s more important to get all of the other stuff out of the way first, such as making logical sense or providing sufficient supporting evidence for one’s thesis. But I am sometimes reminded that not all of the world runs on an academic schedule, and so there are people out there who are editing even in January. By popular request, therefore, I am offering some editing tips.

Many people tell me they are ashamed of their grammar because they claim they make “every error in the book.” In the vast majority of cases, however, that’s not true. Yes, the writer may have a large number of grammar errors, but usually they will be primarily only one or two major types. I call those errors the writer’s “pet mistakes.”

If you can figure out what your pet mistakes are, you can learn strategies for spotting them and correcting them. Work on those strategies. The following is adapted from a handout that I give to my students toward the end of the term, when they are editing their best works to put into their portfolios. Many of the editing strategies involve finding subjects and verbs; click on this link to find a previous Grammar Moment that deals with this basic skill. FANBOYS is an acronym used to remember the coordinate conjunctions: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so. KFW is a reference to the grammar textbook I use, Keys For Writers, 4th edition, by Ann Raimes, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2005. You can use the homonyms section of your favorite grammar text for untangling confusable words.

1. Sentence Fragments
□ Underline subjects once and verbs twice (take your time; don’t make random guesses).
□ Does each sentence have a subject and a complete verb?
□ If there is a dependent word, such as “although” or “which,” is the sentence connected to another complete sentence?

2. Run-on Sentences (including comma splices)
□ Underline subjects once and verbs twice (take your time; don’t make random guesses).
□ If you have a subject and a complete verb, and then another subject and another complete verb, is there a proper connection: separate sentences, comma + FANBOYS, semicolon, or dependent word?

3. Apostrophes
□ Apostrophes ARE used for contractions and possessives.
□ Apostrophes are NOT used for plurals, the -s forms of verbs, or possessive pronouns.

4. Commas
□ Used with FANBOYS when connecting complete sentences.
□ Used to separate items in a series.
□ Used to separate descriptive words if you can change the order of them and they still make sense.
□ Used to separate out extra information that can be removed without changing the meaning of the sentence.
□ Used to set off introductory words or phrases.
□ NOT used to separate subject from verb.
□ NOT used to separate essential information that changes the meaning of the sentence if it’s removed.

5. Subject-verb agreement
□ Underline subjects once and verbs twice (take your time; don’t make random guesses).
□ Does each verb match the subject – singular verb for singular subject, and plural verb for plural subject?

6. Confusable words
□ Mark each confusable word with a star. Pay special attention to their/there/they’re, its/it’s, your/you’re, and the like.
□ See pp. 461-469 of KFW if you’re not sure you have the right word.

7. Pronouns
□ Circle each pronoun and draw an arrow from the pronoun to the word it refers to.
□ Is it clear what the pronoun refers to?
□ Does the pronoun agree with the word it refers to – singular or plural?
□ If the pronoun is the subject of the sentence or renames the subject, is it in subject case (I, he, etc.)? Otherwise, is it object case (me, him, etc.)?
□ In formal writing, such as the essay, does the writer avoid using “you”?

8. Misplaced Modifiers
□ Are modifiers close to the word they modify so it is clear what they refer to?
□ If there is a descriptive word or phrase at the beginning of the sentence, does it describe the subject of the sentence?
□ If there is a restrictive adverb such as “only” or “not,” does it come right before the word it modifies?

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Happy Holidays 2006-07!

Here’s hoping everyone had a great holiday season, and wishing all a happy 2007.

Apologies for this letter being a bit late – the end of the year kind of crept up on us this time, with boat things and other activities keeping us busy, plus, to top everything off, a record snowstorm that has paralyzed Albuquerque for days.

The biggest news has been boat-related. Carol Anne started the year training as a skipper for the women’s Adams Cup national championship. The race, and therefore most of the training, took place on J/24s, which are fast boats but still have such amenities as an enclosed cabin, bunks, and a toilet. Then one day, she got to try an Etchells, which is a fast boat that doesn’t bother to waste weight or space on bunks and potties. It’s stunningly beautiful, modeled on the America’s Cup 12-meter boats but scaled down in size, and it goes very fast. And there’s just a feel about the boat, its stability and the cleanness of the decks (almost nothing to trip over, since nearly all of the lines are run below deck). Carol Anne was hooked.

So for Valentine’s Day, Pat bought Carol Anne a boat. It needed to be retrieved from Ventura, California, and it was an older boat with a few problems, but it was very cheap. Since the boat was painted solid black, and the Etchells at Elephant Butte are traditionally named after America’s Cup yachts, and this one was coming in from far away to challenge the guy whose (American-named) boat always beats everyone else, there was no choice but to name the boat Black Magic, after the successful challenger from New Zealand.

Carol Anne continued to train for the Adams Cup on the J/24s, but that program was less than successful. In one incident, she was sent to the emergency room after a nasty blow to the head from the boom. Because of politics and misunderstandings, she was left without a crew and had to scramble at the last minute to put a crew together. She ended up third out of three boats in the quarter-finals.

Since then, we’ve been doing a lot of things with Black Magic. We’ve participated in racing at Elephant Butte and attempted to get some racing in at Heron, although the club up there is still recovering from two years when the marina was closed due to lack of water, so turnout was almost non-existent. We also took the boat up to the Dillon Open Regatta in Colorado, a crazy but immensely fun experience involving more than 100 boats going all sorts of directions in a mountain lake at over 9,000 feet of altitude.

In addition to sailing, we also got to do a lot of work on the boat. Racing boats need more TLC than ordinary boats, and older boats (Black Magic is more than 30 years old) generally need more repairs, and some of Black Magic’s previous owners have been, well, less than diligent about maintenance. We also had to custom-build a trailer suitable for launching and retrieving the boat on a ramp – most Etchells sail in places where there’s a hoist to get them into and out of the water.

Meanwhile, in non-boating news: Pat is still working as a technical writer-editor for a contractor at Sandia National Laboratories, and Carol Anne is still teaching English at the local community college, which has changed its name from TVI to Central New Mexico Community College. She still teaches primarily evening classes, where the students are motivated. Pat somehow got shanghaied into a second term as Commodore of the New Mexico Sailing Club that sails on Heron and into being Vice Commodore of the Rio Grande Sailing Club that sails at Elephant Butte. Carol Anne got roped into being secretary of the RGSC and of International Etchells Fleet 31 (in formation).

Gerald, meanwhile, is a junior at Highland High School, and he has been busy with music and Boy Scouts. He’s playing both the cello and the bass, and this past year, he auditioned on bass and made it into the All-State Orchestra, where he earned first chair. He also participated in the state Solo and Ensemble Festival. In Scouts, he has just completed a term as Senior Patrol Leader, and he has earned his Life rank, just one step below Eagle.

The cats are getting older, but they’re still fairly healthy. Dulce is mainly just slowing down, so we need to watch that she doesn’t overeat and get overweight. Tres, on the other hand, had been getting skinnier and having digestive problems, so this spring the vet ran blood tests and discovered he had a thyroid imbalance. Medication soon set that right, but this fall, he was still having stomach troubles, so the diagnosis was a probable food allergy – Tres has always been a sensitive sort. So now he’s on a special diet based on duck instead of the usual chicken or beef, and he’s doing much better. Because we can no longer leave the cats for a weekend with a bowl of kibbles, we’re now taking them with us when we go to either lake; we’ve found a place to rent near Elephant Butte from one of the members of the sailing club who deals in real estate so we can take the cats there, and, of course, we have our cabin near Heron Lake when we go there.

Meanwhile, if any of you all find yourselves passing through New Mexico, drop us a line. Whether you’re at the northern or southern end of the state, or in the middle, we can get together and show you the sights – or take you sailing.

Carol Anne, Pat, and Gerald Byrnes, Dulce & Tres

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

On Wisconsin?

Yeah, it’s literally a life-long dream. But why?

Every once in a while I run into some life-management something-or-other or otherwise supposedly positive motivational exercise that, for whatever reason, I can’t avoid. These are often silly optimism-boosting, feel-good-about-yourself activities or assessments that are supposed to make me a better, and therefore more productive, person by making me feel good about myself. Like “Don’t worry, be happy” is going to make all of my troubles disappear. Give me a break.

Often on these tests, there is a question about where I’ve always dreamed of traveling, and why. The thing is, I’m sure the quizzes are interested in daydreams, places I’ve consciously wished to visit. The hitch is that I have literally been dreaming of visiting a place, but it’s not a conscious choice – it’s not a daydream, but something that has been recurring in my night dreams since I was a child. If I answer the actual question on the quiz, I have to say I have been dreaming of going to Wisconsin.

It started when I was about 12. I had a dream that I piled everything I owned, including the family cat, into the family’s small car, and I took off driving for Wisconsin. I haven’t the foggiest notion why. I didn’t know anything at all about Wisconsin at the time, and I still don’t know all that much, except that I like the Packers, and I have a friend who has vacationed there and showed me some beautiful photos.

Since that first time, I have had the same dream over and over again, every few months. It updates itself, in that it always reflects the car and cat (or cats) I have at the time, but otherwise, it’s unchanged. I take off driving to Wisconsin, but I never get there. Usually I’m somewhere in the vicinity of Omaha when I wake up.

I just can’t figure it out – why Wisconsin? I don’t have any family ties there; my dad’s family came from Ireland and Germany by way of Ohio, and my mom’s parents were from Arkansas and New Orleans. But still, I keep dreaming of going to Wisconsin.