A weekend of ups and downs
Saturday had originally been scheduled for the New Mexico State University sailing class to have time on the water, primarily on J/24s with Mother Superior and Dumbledore, but Pat and I also had agreed to make Black Magic available if needed. Meanwhile, Tadpole and Pat were planning on taking the New Mexico State Parks boating safety class – Tad because it’s now required for boaters under the age of 18 to operate a boat (including PWCs) in New Mexico, and Pat because he and I are planning to become certified to teach the class.
But as of Thursday, the weather forecast for the weekend looked decidedly unsuitable for taking beginning sailors on high-performance boats: steady winds over 20 mph, and gusts up to 55, especially Friday but also Saturday. So the college students’ lesson was postponed, and I signed up to join Pat and Tad in the boating safety class.
We got to T or C Friday afternoon, and the wind was wicked. Fortunately, the propane tank had been filled, and electricity had been restored to both halves of the doublewide. We could see that Tres was not doing well, and we turned the heat up for his comfort. I fired up the laptop, and just for fun, I plugged in the wireless card to see what would happen; amazingly, it picked up a signal from somewhere – I’m guessing probably the Lutheran church across the street, since this is not the sort of neighborhood where people have the sort of money to pay for high-speed Internet. So even though cell phone reception is iffy, and television signals are nearly nonexistent, I can still be in touch with the world.
When we got up early Saturday to get ready to go to the boating safety class, Tres was dead. We put him into a small ice chest to preserve him until we could get back to Albuquerque, where we plan to have him cremated.
The boating safety class lasted all day Saturday, save for a break for lunch. The majority of the students were teenagers, along with one family, one other adult, and one park ranger who, like Pat and me, was working to get certified to teach the class. As we went through lessons about rules, regulations, and safe boating practices (especially as applied to PWCs – one of the issues was how in the world to carry all of the state-required stuff on PWCs, especially the older ones that don’t have storage compartments), the wind howled outside; we were definitely glad to be inside the warm classroom. Out the window, Tadpole saw one of the portable toilets on the beach blow away. The boating safety education center also has an automated weather recording station, “Wendy” the Weather Wizard; it recorded a gust of 49 during one of the class breaks when Tad was watching it.
At the end of the day, we all passed the test and got our certificates, as well as a coupon for two free nights’ camping in New Mexico State Parks – the park system’s incentive to get people to take the class (the other incentive is that the class is free). We returned to the doublewide, where Dulce was especially friendly and possibly a bit puzzled by Tres’ absence. It had been a long day.
Sunday morning was calm, and the weather reports Pat got from the Internet indicated that the winds would pick up around noon to between 10 and 15, possibly with gusts to 20, depending on which forecast we looked at. That gave us the morning to do some more cleaning up in the doublewide, and then we headed to Black Magic about 11. We phoned Cornhusker and invited her to come along; she showed up as we were getting ready to set sail a half hour later.
To begin with, the wind was very light, on occasion fading to nearly nothing. We ghosted along for a couple of hours, waiting for the predicted winds to show up. We were about halfway from Horse Island to Rattlesnake Island when we finally did get wind in the 10 mph range. Black Magic took off, and we were flying along through the racecourse area and on toward Kettletop Butte. Then we headed southward, and we had the idea of getting the spinnaker up. But no – we had been on a close reach going north, and now, once again, we were on a close reach. This time, however, we were headed south. Just for fun, we called Wendy the Weather Wizard to find out what the wind report would say; it indicated that over the past 20 minutes, the wind speed had ranged from 0 to 13 mph.
Then things started to get seriously weird. First, the wind died. Then it did a major shift to the northwest. Then it got stronger. Then it shifted back to the south. Then it got even stronger. We were sailing in whitecaps, little at first, then getting bigger. Meanwhile, just behind us, from Rattlesnake Island northward, the lake was glassy smooth.
We were screaming close-hauled down the channel past Horse Island toward the Elephant. Wind shifts knocked the boat around, making it difficult to hold a steady course. We took the jib down, but we were still getting blown about, and tacking our way to the marina was hairy. We ended up going past the marina to the area between it and the Dam Site, where we dropped the main. Even without any sails, we still had enough momentum to get back to the marina, and we still had enough way on when we got to the slip that docking was a bit rough. But we only put a minor dent in the dock and dislodged one rubber cap from a corner of a pier, and there was no damage to people or boat. We called Wendy again, and we found that in the past 20 minutes, the winds had ranged from 6 to 41.
There’s a saying about wind on New Mexico lakes: In general, you have either way too little wind, or way too much. Of course, that means, on average, it’s perfect.
We got our late lunch/early supper at a Mexican restaurant near the doublewide, where the cook definitely believes there is no such thing as too much garlic. Since I agree with that philosophy, I enjoyed the meal immensely. Then we packed up and headed back to Albuquerque.