Five O'Clock Somewhere

Welcome to Five O'Clock Somewhere, where it doesn't matter what time zone you're in; it's five o'clock somewhere. We'll look at rural life, especially as it happens in Rio Arriba County, New Mexico, cats, sailing (particularly Etchells racing yachts), and bits of grammar and Victorian poetry.

Monday, June 18, 2007

One-design sailing NMSC style

It may not be as glamorous as an Etchells, but the Sunfish can be fast and fun too

Sunday would have been a great day for sailing, with brisk (if at times gusty) winds and no looming thunderclouds. But there was work to be done on the marina, and also work to be done on our little flotilla of Sunfish, so we didn’t get out on Black Magic at all.

Tadpole, however, took one of the ’fish out, and another sailor, whom I’ll call “Old Connecticut,” borrowed another, so the two got to sail together for a while.

They did go up the Narrows toward the main body of the lake a couple of times, but the winds out there were stiff, so for the most part, they just cruised around the relatively sheltered cove in which the marina floats. The wind was hugely variable, so at times the ’fish would come to a near stop, and then there would be a gust that sent them careening across the cove. Those things can really fly.

Tadpole and Old Connecticut were having loads of fun. They were still having fun when a sudden gust of wind hit OC. He blew the mainsheet, but not in time to keep the boat from tipping over, in the gradual sort of slow motion one normally sees only in horror movies and nightmares – the boat leaned farther, and farther, and then the sail was in the water. He got himself up on the centerboard and tried to right the boat, but mainly all he could do was slow the inevitable, as the boat turned turtle. The boat ended up upside-down, with the daggerboard sticking up in the air, with OC sitting on top.

(cue soap opera dramatic music) At this point, Tadpole was getting ready to tow the upside-down Sunfish with his right-side-up one, but rescue arrived in the form of a family in an old-timey motor launch (I’m guessing circa 1948) flying a pirate flag. It turns out that the family has a vacation place in the same neighborhood as Five O’Clock Somewhere, and a daughter has been a classmate in Tadpole’s German class.

So the pirates in the motor launch towed OC and the ’fish back to the dock, where we eventually were able to right it. OC went to change into dry clothes, and then we socialized for a while in the marina pavilion.

The conversation came around to Black Magic, as well as Etchells in general. It turns out that when OC was a teenager sailing in Long Island Sound (interestingly, his first boat was a Sunfish), he saw the very first Etchells in competition. He talked about how the racing committee had a hard time dealing with these strange new boats, and especially their habit of wiping out the competition. Ironically, however, he’s never sailed on one. I told him that he must come for a ride on Black Magic sometime.

One of the reasons that the Etchells is seeing a resurgence of popularity has been its strict one-design status. In one-design racing, all of the boats are supposed to be as close to identical as possible, so the contest is strictly about the skills of the skippers and crews of the boats involved. It’s a lot like NASCAR, in that there are very strict standards for the boat, crew, and equipment, so that, at least in theory, nobody has an advantage.

On the other hand, if you have a fleet full of different boats with different handling and sailing characteristics, you have to have some sort of handicap system to adjust the finishing times of each boat so that the official score is at least an attempt to quantify the skills of the boats’ skippers and crews, rather than just being a measure of the boats’ inherent speed (or lack thereof). But while some of the handicap systems are pretty good, they are all far from perfect. One-design racing avoids the issue of handicap altogether.

Zorro has been working for ages to develop an Etchells one-design fleet in New Mexico and west Texas. Now, that dream of his looks to be coming true. But I was looking around the New Mexico Sailing Club marina this past weekend, and I realized that we probably have a really good Sunfish fleet, if we could only coordinate things. Pat, Tadpole, and I have five, and several other club members have one or two lying around somewhere. In terms of sheer numbers, the Sunfish are probably the NMSC’s biggest one-design fleet. We ought to put on an event to get them all out sailing together.

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Blogger Tillerman said...

Why didn't OC just right the boat and sail it back?

And by the way, the sail on the Sunfish with stars on its sail is rigged way too high and the helm is sitting too far back in the boat. He should hold the end of the tiller extension and sit at the front of the cockpit. The helm of the red, white and blue Sunfish has much better form.

Oops. Sorry. Did't mean to preach. It's just that it's an ingrained habit to comment on such things having spent many years coaching novice Sunfish sailors.

Mon Jun 18, 10:07:00 AM MDT  
Blogger Pat said...

OC is used to sailing Freedom keelboat sloops.

Mon Jun 18, 02:20:00 PM MDT  
Blogger Carol Anne said...

Tadpole will be pleased to hear your assessment of his sail trim. Looking back, I realize that part of OC's problem was that, even with the mainsheet all the way out, when he tried to right the boat, the wind just hit the sail and kept knocking the boat down again. If he had gotten the boat turned around, he might have had a chance of righting it, because then the wind would have been pushing the sail up.

Tue Jun 19, 12:23:00 AM MDT  
Blogger Tillerman said...

On solution that we found useful in a situation where one inexperienced Sunfish sailor couldn't right a boat but there was another better Sunfish sailor nearby, is to swap boats. The guy already in the water takes the upright boat; the better sailor from the upright boat gets in the water and rights the capsized boat.

Tue Jun 19, 06:56:00 AM MDT  
Blogger Gerald said...

"Heidi" from my German class said that I was looking good in the Sunfish. I told her that it's easy to look good when you're in the only boat still upright! OC said that while he'd had his 1st solo on a Sunfish, he'd never rigged one, nor had he much recent experience in one. Also, red, white and stars is a brand new Sunfish to us (1975 or so), OC was the first to learn it's previous rigging setup and short(tall)comings.
Good news: OC still had a great time, and he looks forward to sailing a Sunfish again soon.

Wed Jun 20, 11:35:00 PM MDT  
Blogger Carol Anne said...

This coming week, some Boy Scouts from Amarillo will be coming to Heron to do sailing on the Sunfish and various other water-related activities.

The latest NMSC plan is to have a Sunfish Fiesta/Dinghy Derby the same weekend as the Independence Day Long Race -- get as many people as possible out on whatever small boats they can come up with. We're looking at a Sail Division with Sunfish, Lasers, and the like, and also a Paddle Division with kayaks, canoes, rafts, and whatever else.

Of course, we'll be making our surplus Sunfish and kayaks available to whoever wants to borrow them.

Sat Jun 23, 02:19:00 AM MDT  

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