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, July 09, 2007

The 4th of July Long Race and Dinghy Daze

A little bit of everything

Because of the drama of Tadpole’s automotive adventure, I never got around to telling about the new crew member we had on the boat two weeks ago. I’ll call him Rochester, not because he has any secrets in the attic, but because that’s where he’s from; he has had a whole lot of experience racing, especially on J/24s, in upstate New York. He has recently moved to New Mexico, and he was surprised to learn that there was sailing, and sail racing, in the desert and in the mountains.

Two weeks ago, the New Mexico Sailing Club’s second summer series regatta was supposed to happen. Except it wasn’t really the second regatta weekend, since the first regatta weekend hadn’t happened when Black Magic was the only boat that showed up to race. As it turns out, she was the only boat to turn out for the “second” regatta weekend as well, so that regatta didn’t happen either.

But we did go out sailing both Saturday and Sunday with Rochester. Conditions were very light Saturday and extremely light Sunday, but he was impressed with how the Etchells would move with only a tiny bit of air. Toward the end of the day Saturday, there was some more wind, and I let him take the helm to feel how the boat handled. He greatly enjoyed himself, and he eagerly volunteered to come on board as crew for us any time we want.

So this past Saturday was the 4th of July Long Race, and again we had Rochester on the boat. There were four boats participating: In the A fleet, we had Black Magic, the J/24 Hot Flash, and the Santana 20 Cougar of the Lake. In the B fleet was the Catalina 27 Cheers.

The race start/finish line was in the marina cove between the southwest corner of A dock and a prominent rock outcropping to the southwest of it. The course for the A fleet went up the Narrows (not shown on the map), passing to the right of the island in the middle of the lake that has a wind-warning beacon (which seems not to be working), around a white buoy near the westernmost boat ramp on the lake, around a green buoy near the dam, around the island once again, and back through the narrows to the line. For the B fleet, the course was out the Narrows, around the island and back.

Wind conditions to start with were “light and variable” – VERY variable. We would get a few minutes when it was very light, and then a few minutes when it was blowing nicely, and then we’d get a few minutes of dead calm. The direction of the wind was also variable; sometimes we’d get a lift that took us straight toward the next mark, and sometimes we’d get a header that put us way off. I was milking every lift for what it was worth, but the headers were tougher to deal with – I wouldn’t want to tack if the header was extremely temporary. For the most part, though, I think I did all right. A couple of the calls that I made on those headers really worked out well.

As we tacked out the Narrows, Cougar stuck with us, but Flash fell behind. Once we got out into the main body of the lake, we caught some good wind shifts at the same time as Cougar fell into a hole in the air. From that point on, it was Black Magic in the lead, with Cougar and Flash in a close duel some ways behind.

One of the side effects of the wind shifts was that for Black Magic, every leg of the race was upwind. We were close-hauled up the Narrows and to the island, and then the wind shifted so that we were on a beam reach to the white marker buoy. Next the wind shifted so that we were on a close reach to the green buoy. As we rounded that buoy, the wind shifted again, and we were close-hauled to the island. Meanwhile, the other boats were far enough behind that Flash had a really good spinnaker run from the white buoy to the green buoy, and while Cougar didn’t run a spinnaker, she made good time as well.

So we got to the island, tacked around the north side of it, and got ready to fall off and launch the spinnaker – finally, we thought, we would be able to get that chute up and take advantage of Black Magic’s blistering downwind speed.

No such luck. The wind died almost completely. Eventually we did get the chute up, but not for long – the wind shifted forward. We were on a close reach, and we ended up taking the spinnaker down. However, we saw that, once again, Flash was enjoying a great spinnaker run, behind us. The wind shifted aft again, and we once again tried to fly the chute, but again, the wind shifted forward and we had to douse. The next time the wind went aft, I decided we shouldn’t waste time trying to fly the chute – we were losing a lot of time and velocity in those hoists and takedowns. We just kept the jib going as well as we could. The crew was upset with that decision – they saw Flash catching up to us with the spinnaker flying. But we weren’t in the same wind that Flash was in, so there was no way we could get that chute to work for us.

Then a small thunderstorm moved in. It didn’t produce much rain, but it did produce lots of wind, including big gusts. Cougar got knocked flat, and Flash had control problems as well. Both of then ended up dropping their headsails. Meanwhile, on Black Magic, we kept our jib up and depowered the main, but with four people on the rail, we didn’t need to depower as much as we could have. Rochester was having the time of his life; he’d experienced the Etchells in light air the last time, and now he was getting to see how it would handle in rougher conditions.

Coming up the Narrows was a challenge, because the strangely twisting wind currents meant that there were little patches of air, all different, throughout. And to make matters more complicated, there were different winds at different levels, such that the wind indicator at the top of the mast would show one thing, the telltales on the shrouds would tell something different (sometimes the masthead, port and starboard and aft telltales would all differ), and what the crew felt would be completely at odds with all of the other indicators.

Still, we finished about 12 minutes ahead of Flash, and 14 ahead of Cougar. On corrected time, Black Magic was first, Cougar was second, and Flash was third. I was glad to see Cougar do well – she was a high-school graduation gift from Weatherman to his son, Robinson. Robinson’s going to be attending New Mexico State in the fall, and he’s invited Tadpole to be crew for him on Cougar.

Sunday was a little more light-hearted – we had “Dinghy Daze,” which we hope to build into an annual event. (BTW, the slogan on the flag above is "COMMITMENT TO EXCELLENCE") We had a sail division, open to Sunfish, Lasers, and any other small sailing vessel, and we had a paddle division for kayaks, canoes, rowboats, or whatever. We didn’t get a lot of participants (two in each division), but the folks who showed up had a lot of fun. As more people realize the club is still here and there is water in the lake, we hope to get more participation next year.

As we were putting sails away and otherwise preparing Black Magic to sit idle for a week, we found a strange hat on board – one that neither Pat nor Tadpole nor I recognized. We thought it was Rochester’s, but when we phoned him, he said it wasn’t his. As best as I can tell, it was blown from wherever it was (on some other boat or on someone’s head), and it landed in Black Magic. It’s a really nice hat, with a leather band and stuff like that. It has an advertising logo for a manufacturer of sailboat equipment. If you think this might be your hat, drop me a line to identify it.

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Blogger Tillerman said...

Congratulations. Interesting course that with the 270 degree loop.

Mon Jul 09, 06:08:00 AM MDT  
Blogger Carol Anne said...

Yeah, and that whole loop was upwind when we did it, but mostly downwind when Hot Flash got there. Such is the way in mountain lakes.

Tue Jul 10, 01:40:00 AM MDT  

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