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 30, 2008

Disaster at the Butte

A setback for Team Zorro

A couple of months ago, the marina where Zorro keeps his boat was hit by a freak windstorm. We had just returned from sailing with him and got his boat and our boat securely tied up when the blast hit. The waves and wind had boats surging up and down like manic carousel horses, and boats were breaking their mooring lines, especially along the eastern side of the marina, where Zorro’s slip was located, because it was easier to sail into and out of in a boat without a motor.

In that storm, the marina manager and his two employees were racing to secure boats that had broken loose, and Zorro, Pat, Gerald, and I, along with a couple of other boat owners, stepped in to help. One boat that had come loose suffered severe damage to its bow, but we managed to keep the others on the row from anything more severe than some damage to the gelcoat.

Saturday, the Butte experienced another storm, similar but more severe. There were fewer people around to help the marina manager, and several boats came loose from their moorings and were severely damaged, including Zorro’s boat, Constellation. As he described it, “It looked like somebody took a hacksaw and cut off the front end of the boat. It’s no longer an Etchells 22; it’s an Etchells 19.”

According to Zorro, all but one of the boats on that row suffered severe damage. Ironically, the one that didn’t was the one that had been damaged before. It did come loose, but its newly-repaired bow smashed the dock to splinters. There’s one fiberglass-repair place that will get some good word of mouth.

According to news reports, wind gusts were 75 mph, and waves were 5 feet high – although all reports were focused on the lake’s main marina, which apparently suffered far more severe damage. One of the Albuquerque television stations had some cell-phone video footage that a viewer had sent in, of waves crashing over the marina, which has covered docks. That marina had a massive breakwater constructed of tractor tires; the storm tore the breakwater apart and flung the tires at the marina. Boats suffered damage from being flung upward into the roof. The storm also caused an air-conditioning unit to collapse through the roof into the marina office.

Meanwhile, Zorro’s boat is being kept afloat by dock lines. Carguy’s boat has been on Zorro’s trailer while Zorro has been working on it; now Carguy has lent Zorro a truck, and Zorro will be taking the trailer to the lake, launching Carguy’s boat (and putting it into a slip on the sheltered back side of the marina), and putting his own boat onto the trailer. He’ll be getting help from Dumbledore, who believes the boat can be repaired – and if anybody can repair anything, Dumbledore can.

If you want to read more about the storm, here is Elephant Butte Cleans Up After Freak Storm, from the Albuquerque Journal:

Monday, June 30, 2008

Elephant Butte Cleans Up After Freak Storm

By Sean Olson
Journal Staff Writer
In less than five minutes, a relaxing day for boaters at Elephant Butte Lake turned into a harrowing rush to the safety of shore.
“I've been coming to this lake for 20 years and I've never seen anything like this,” Las Cruces resident Mary Butkewich said Sunday. “... Let me tell you, we're lucky to be alive.”
For those who saw the 5-foot swells, the shudder and sway of the lake's largest marina bending to the wind and waves, and the boats being tossed off the surface of the water Saturday evening, it was a reminder that New Mexico's gusty winds can go from breezy to dangerous in no time at all.
New Mexico Parks spokeswoman Marti Niman said that her department didn't have a monetary estimate of damages Sunday but that there were reports of swamped and severely damaged boats.
Butkewich saw the storm move in from the northeast from her 24-foot boat around 7 p.m. But by the time her five passengers noticed the coming winds, it was already upon them.
“I've never seen a storm come up that fast,” Butkewich said.
The National Weather Service estimated that winds at the lake hit 55 miles per hour Saturday evening, but witnesses on the lake said they thought the speeds were closer to 70 mph.
Butkewich said her boat was in the midst of 5-foot swells as it motored to the Marina del Sur on the southern end of the lake. Soaked and scared, the passengers managed to tie the boat onto a marina dock and back away, she said.
It didn't take long for the ropes holding the boat to snap. Butkewich watched as it was thrown violently into rocks, shredding the bottom, ripping out seats and leaving it half-sunk and lodged against an embankment.
Other boats inside the marina bounced up and down from the wind-driven waves, jumping high in the air and striking the thin metal sheeting that acts as the marina's roof, witnesses said Sunday.
“The boats were going up five to seven feet in the air; the whole marina was going up and down,” said boat owner Michael Williams, who is also a city councilor in Rio Rancho.
The lake's two other marinas were not damaged by the storm and were open to the public.
But at Marina del Sur, the “wave breakers,” a string of huge tires surrounding the marina for protection, were torn away from anchors and deposited on a nearby bank. Docks were also separated from anchors holding them in place and some were pushed as far as 100 feet away.
At least one boat sank near the marina during the storm and many more were damaged, Elephant Butte State Park boating manager Harold Zuni said Sunday. But, he added, no one was hurt.
Zuni said the damage was not surprising after seeing the storm come in with such force.
“It was a wall of brown ... nothing was protected,” he said.
By Sunday, the marina and boat ramp were filled with state park boats, marina boats and equipment, all working to restore the area to a semblance of its original layout.
“We're just trying to get the boat ramp usable again,” Zuni said.
He said the ramp ought to be cleaned up and ready by the Fourth of July weekend, a historically large tourist weekend for the lake.
Niman said most of the ramp was open by Sunday evening due to the efforts of state employees and others working in the area.
Marina owners were not available for comment Sunday, but witnesses said they would be surprised if the marina was open by next weekend.
Damage appeared to be widespread — from the marina dock's entrance there were visible tears in the marina roof and steel support beams had begun to buckle.
Williams said the dock walkways were torn apart in places and the entire structure seemed dangerous. A swamp cooler had fallen partially through the marina's management building on the docks and the office was covered with debris that had been strewn across the rooms, he said.
No one, save a few boat owners, was allowed on the marina docks Sunday — and they were escorted one by one to collect belongings.
Elephant Butte Lake, near Truth or Consequences off Interstate 25 and Highway 195, is a reservoir that stretches 40 miles, with more than 200 miles of shoreline.
It is a popular destination for boaters, fishermen and campers, especially in the summer months.
Local hotel employees said worries about Fourth of July tourism were probably unfounded. They said most hotels had been sold out for months and some marina damage wouldn't deter most boaters.

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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The passing of a master

The world is poorer by one linguistic genius

Sunday saw the passing of the comic great George Carlin – except that he would have skewered my use of the euphemistic “saw the passing of.” In his special, irreverent way, he loved the English language, playing around with it, pointing out the foibles and irrational usages. I can just hear him saying, “Why don’t you just come out and say it … I died!

I always admired him, and I found much in his material that I could use in my teaching. No, I don’t use those seven words … I’d probably lose my job immediately if I did. But his irreverence, his looks at language, seeing beyond the clichés, all the fun he had while he was at it …

“‘Tell me what happened using your own words.’ ‘My own words? Meep badeep bap blaaah.’”

But beyond the sheer joy of wordplay, much of Carlin’s genius was in his comic timing. He could go fast in the right place, pause in the right place, to keep the audience having fun along with him. Over the years, as I have developed course curricula and specific lesson plans, I have come to appreciate the gift of great timing. If I can keep my audience – er, students – engaged in my routine – er, lecture – the way Carlin always kept his audiences alert and enjoying themselves, they come out ahead. They remember more, and they remember it more vividly.

One of the professors I remember most vividly from my days as an undergraduate bore a strong resemblance to Carlin, both physically and in his delivery. This was a lecture class, in a 998-seat auditorium, although typically only about 500 students would show up to each lecture. This professor could keep the house alive, because he had the same sort of genius timing as Carlin, and I’m guessing every student in the audience felt a connection to him.

I’m playing to a much smaller audience, since the class limit is 20 students, and as the term goes on, students sometimes have to drop the class for various reasons. But still, I have found that Carlin’s sort of timing and wordplay pay off. I may be playing to a small supper club rather than a big auditorium, but the delivery has meaning, and the interplay between the performer and the audience is even more a vital part of the success of the act.

Recently, I had a classroom observation by an administrator, part of this year’s round of evaluations. I wonder what the administrator would say if he heard (or will say if he looks at this blog and finds out) that my lecture style is based on George Carlin’s monologues.

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Monday, June 23, 2008

A tale of two laptops

One of these things is not like the other

Here are two laptop computers.

The computer on the left …

  • Has a big, beautiful screen that renders movies (and Pirates of the White Sands) in dazzling detail
  • Has a very good built-in speaker system that gives decent, but far from perfect, sound quality, plus the ability to get really high-quality sound through earphones
  • Has a full QWERTY keyboard plus a numeric keypad, although the arrow keys are awkwardly placed
  • Has a hard drive and a DVD/CD reader-burner
  • Runs about 4 hours on a full battery charge
  • Is fully compatible with iPods and the iTunes software
  • Weighs a ton and should really be considered “luggable” rather than portable
  • Is clunky and unrefined in appearance, so as to be ashamed of in public
  • Runs on Vista, which still has a lot of bugs even more than a year after introduction
  • Runs all of the standard software that the rest of the world expects when you send files, because you don’t have any choice other than Microsoft
  • Didn’t cost a lot

The computer on the right …

  • Has a small screen that renders colors well but can’t do justice to a big movie
  • Has a dismal sound system that really makes earphones a must
  • Has a minimal keyboard with no numeric keypad
  • Has to use plug-in peripherals to use DVDs and CDs and may not even have a hard drive
  • Runs about 4 hours on a full battery charge
  • Is fully compatible with iPods and the iTunes software
  • Weighs almost nothing and is truly portable
  • Has way cool styling that attracts attention at an Internet-enabled eating establishment
  • Runs on Leopard, which seems to have been mostly free of start-up bugs, but still has a few
  • Runs all of the standard software that the rest of the world expects when you send files – provided you get the Microsoft software
  • Cost considerably more than comparable computers that use Windows.

Here, you have a demonstration of the fact that there is no one computer that will be right for everybody. The one on the left, while not perfect, suits my needs very well. The one on the right, again, doesn’t suit Gerald’s needs perfectly, but it is the one that does the best job for what he wants.

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Sunday, June 22, 2008

Iced tea management

Getting it right isn’t as easy as it looks

On the way home, Pat and I made a quick stop in Española for supper, at a New Mexico fast-food chain restaurant. It’s slower than the national big chains, but the burgers are much better – certified Angus, fresh rather than frozen, and they don’t start cooking until you order, so they never sit under a heat lamp, so they’re good and fresh.

I ordered iced tea with my burger, and I ended up with tea that was cool but not cold and that had no ice in it.

This is one of the key areas in which fast-food workers face a challenge with iced tea. For soft drinks, the beverage is already chilled, and so it doesn’t take much ice to keep it that way – in fact, when I’m drinking a soft drink, I prefer not to have so much ice. But with iced tea, especially if it’s brewed rather than from concentrate, it will be room temperature, or, if it’s fresh, often warmer. That means it takes more ice. A good fast-food worker will recognize this fact and adjust the amount of ice accordingly. In a fast-food place where the drinks are self-service, I will put ice into the cup to a level appropriate for room-temperature tea, and then I will start to add the tea; if the ice melts quickly, indicating the tea is warm, I will add more ice before filling the cup with tea.

On the other hand, there should also not be too much ice, or the customer gets very little tea. One fast-food chain that I often visit errs in that direction. It uses crushed ice, which packs more densely than ice cubes, so there is less room in the cup for tea to start with. And then the workers pack the ice in tightly before adding the tea. In a 44-ounce cup of iced tea, I may get only eight ounces of tea. If I get such a cup on the way to work, I have discovered that, after I have consumed the tea, I have enough ice left that I can go to the campus cafeteria (if it’s early enough in the day that it’s still open), get a large hot tea (the only iced tea at the cafeteria is overpriced, bottled, and heavily sweetened) with two tea bags to brew it strong, pour the hot tea into the cup of ice, and get a just-about-perfect 44-ounce iced tea.

Iced tea management is also important at full-service restaurants. In the vast majority of American restaurants, refills of coffee and tea are free (except in New York City, where I once ordered many refills and only later discovered that each one cost $4), and the servers at such restaurants need to know the finer points of refilling the iced tea.

When the server is pouring tea from the pitcher, he or she has a choice of pouring through the front spout, which will allow only a few ice cubes to pass, or maybe not any at all, or of pouring over the side of the pitcher, allowing plentiful ice to pour as well. Some pitchers have a wide spout-like area at the side, which allows the server to pour smoothly with a minimum of splashing; other pitchers don’t have that design feature and therefore require more finesse on the part of the server. Sometimes the pitcher is so poorly designed that even finesse doesn’t work; in that case, a good server picks the glass up and holds it away from the table while pouring, in order to avoid splashing the customers.

It is important for the server to observe the customer when choosing which pouring method to use. There have been times when I have been very thirsty, and I have drained the tea from my glass while consuming very little ice, but the server pours from the side of the pitcher, giving me more ice along with the tea. With each refill, I get more ice, until there is very little room in the glass for tea, and I need a refill more often because it takes me very little time to consume the tiny amount of tea. On the other hand, if the tea is warm to start with and the ice is melting fast, or if the customer is eating the ice (a horribly rude habit that irritates me extremely but nevertheless still happens), the server should pour from the side of the pitcher. Pat is often left with a glass of lukewarm tea because the server wasn’t attentive to the ice level and never poured from the side of the pitcher.

Yes, this may seem like a really trivial issue. But it is important. When Pat and I are deciding on the tip, we take into account the server’s attention to detail, and the server’s iced tea management is one of our considerations.

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Friday, June 20, 2008

Rose colored glasses?

Musings on the physical manifestations of optimism

Pat and I have occasionally had the privilege of visiting and sometimes staying on the Queen Mary, the majestic ocean liner that now sits in Long Beach, California. While it is a pity that she no longer sails the seas, it is a blessing that she has been preserved as a hotel and convention center, rather than being left to rot in some graveyard fleet. I applaud the officials whose decisions led to the preservation of the ship.

On the Queen Mary, both in the public spaces and in the staterooms, the mirrors all have a pink tint. This was an effort to fend off seasickness – the idea was that if people were feeling queasy, and they looked at themselves in a mirror and looked pale, it would aggravate the queasy feeling. But if people didn’t look so pale, maybe they wouldn’t feel so pale, either.

As far as I know, it worked. The medical literature is full of studies in which people felt better, and sometimes experienced improved health, because of perceptions. Rose-tinted mirrors could well have reduced the incidence of seasickness on the Queen Mary.

At the community college where I teach, the light fixtures are being replaced. Where formerly, there was a harsh blue-white glare, the new lamps have a gentle rose hue. I’m sure the primary reason for the new light fixtures is energy savings. I seriously doubt the physical plant people thought about the emotional impact of the new lights – they were thinking only about cutting costs by switching to more energy-efficient lamps.

On the other hand, one of the buildings I work in has had an environmentally shaky past. A couple of years ago, it was remodeled, and the remodeling included re-roofing. It was closed for most of a year. Then, when it was re-opened, many faculty and students reported noxious fumes and negative health consequences. Eventually, after a large number of complaints and some negative publicity, the powers-that-be tested the air quality in the building.

The air-quality tests showed that harmful materials from the new roof were being vaporized by the sun shining on them, and then drawn into the building’s ventilation system. So the building was once again closed down, and the ventilation system was rebuilt so as not to draw in harmful vapors from the roof. To my mind, it would have been smarter to remove the roof and replace it with non-toxic materials, but apparently the powers-that-be decided an overhaul of the ventilation system would be better.

So after an additional many-months-long shutdown of the building, it was once again reopened this spring. Things were all right for the rest of the spring term. But now it’s the summer term, and the hot summer sun is beating down on the roof, and the building is full of fumes again and people are getting sick again. The new-and-improved ventilation system is just not up to the burden. And people are experiencing headaches, nausea, and a lot of other unpleasant symptoms.

But, hey, we’ve now got rose-colored lighting. Maybe if we don’t look so sick in the mirror, we aren’t really so sick after all.

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Saturday, June 14, 2008

Centipede speed bumps

Sometimes, figuring out what makes something funny just can’t be done

A couple of days ago, Gerald was munching on some candy from a bag that he’d been given as a party favor. He (and I) liked the pastel-colored, tangy-flavored tablets that came in a roll, but neither of us was particularly thrilled by the small, spherical hard-candy lollipops. Without thinking, I made the comment, “You took all the Smartees and left the Dum-Dums.”

After a half-second, we both cracked up laughing. And we laughed. And we kept laughing. And we continued to laugh, gasping for breath, wiping tears from our eyes. And just when we thought we’d gotten over it and caught our breath, another wave of hysteria would wash over us, and we’d be at it again.

And why? What was it about that one not-intended-as-a-joke remark that had us both helplessly wrapped up, alternating between giggles and guffaws? On the face of it, there was nothing particularly outstanding about the humor of that comment, nothing especially punny or anything like that. Maybe it was a comment about Gerald’s prospects for a career in Human Resources?

I have invented a term for these moments of inexplicable hilarity: centipede speed bumps.

Many years ago, before Gerald was born, I was involved in church mission work. The church that I belonged to at the time sent groups of people to Agua Prieta, Mexico, to work on construction projects. The first time that I went, we worked on housing repairs for poor people, and we also laid the foundation for a church building.

The second time that I went, we had a corporate sponsor. A major concrete-products manufacturer had a new product that seemed perfectly suited for Agua Prieta, where wood is extremely scarce. The company hired an architect to design easily-constructed homes using the new product – homes that would be substandard by U.S. standards, but which were much better than what most Agua Prieta residents lived in – and the company donated all of the materials to build these homes. Our group was in on the beginning of the project, starting the construction of seven of these homes.

This time, we stayed in the church whose foundation we had laid the year before. It could not, by most standards, be considered beautiful, being built of bare concrete blocks with almost no ornamentation. But really, it was beautiful, with thick masonry walls to soften the blistering desert heat outside, a large sanctuary, a nice kitchen, bathrooms, Sunday school classrooms, and, most beautiful of all, a medical clinic.

However, in the Sonoran desert, even in the most solidly constructed of buildings, the desert critters get in. In particular, we found ourselves sharing space with a variety of arthropods – spiders, scorpions, and centipedes. It’s not too big a problem: The spiders, especially the ugly ones, are non-venomous or have venom that is only a minor irritation; likewise for the centipedes. The scorpions are a worry, especially the little ones, but the main thing is to stay out of their way.

So a few of us were sitting in metal folding chairs in the sanctuary, roughly in a half-circle, at the end of a long day of pouring concrete and otherwise dealing with concrete blocks and concrete-related material. And we were discussing our various encounters with the local arthropods, with much laughter about the incidents, and some comment about how fast those centipedes were going.

Then somebody noticed the ripples in the floor. When the concrete was poured for the sanctuary floor, it wasn’t done in one smooth flow of many trucks coming from a concrete plant somewhere; it was done with a mixer that could make only a few yards at a time. So at the boundary between batches from the mixer, there was a very slight ridge. Somebody other than the somebody who had noticed the ridges made the comment, “Oh, those are centipede speed bumps.”

After a slight pause, the entire group erupted in laughter, and that laughter went on for a good ten minutes or more, with somebody occasionally repeating the punch line “centipede speed bumps” – or at least trying to repeat it but cracking up before completing the phrase.

So now, whenever I experience an occasion when a random comment arouses much hysterical, uncontrollable laughter, I call it a centipede speed bump.

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A very strange dream

Yeah, I’ve been accused of believing Zorro walks on water, but …

I had a dream. In this dream, I was sailing around in a small marina that had only a few boats in it. It wasn’t at Heron, since this marina had a large mooring field outside it that had a goodly number of boats in it. And it wasn’t at Elephant Butte, because the terrain near the marina was greener and had trees. The sky was overcast, and the water was relatively calm.

As I sailed out of the marina, I saw Zorro sitting in the mooring field. Yes, that’s right, he was sitting there, no boat, just sitting cross-legged on top of the water. He threw something toward me that I thought was a spit-wad. And then he threw something else, a ping-pong ball that bounced off one of the few boats in the marina and then over my head. And then he kept throwing ping-pong balls.

No, I’m not going to even try to figure out what it means.

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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

A peak experience with Team Zorro (part 3)

The high continues

Twinkle Toes was delighted with how well Windependent, the previous jinx boat and disaster waiting to happen, had done in the race. So he treated the entire crew, plus a couple of spouses, to dinner. Over dinner, the conversation centered mainly on the day’s events, and how well we had done.

We came back to several recurring themes: Even a boat with a slow design can be made to sail fast. Twinkle Toes’ improvements to Windependent were well worth the time and trouble, and although there are still a few things to improve upon, such as the mainsheet, traveler, and throttle linkage, this boat’s in a lot better shape than it ever was before.

A good crew can get good performance out of even a marginal boat. That was one of the best feelings – I’ve had similar experiences when performing with musical groups, such as choirs and chamber music groups. It’s that groove where everybody in the group is working together with everybody else in the group, and the whole is far greater than the sum of the parts. Sure, I can play the tympani part of the Carmina Burana, but without the rest of the orchestra and the chorus, all I am is some booming sound. It’s when the whole group functions that the audience gets the experience – and so do the musicians. Being together with the crew on Windependent was the same way. We were not seven individuals; we were seven components of a smoothly functioning … well, machine isn’t the right word, because we were more intelligent than a machine, and far more flexible and instinctive … we were an orchestra.

And of course, part of what makes an orchestra great is the conductor. Saturday, that was Zorro, who was at the helm and directing the entire show. He was able to call on the various talents of the musicians – er, sailors – under his command and get the most out of all of us. While some of us have sailed with him, and a few have sailed together for many years, we had a couple of newcomers, and Zorro was able to direct them and help them to become part of the ensemble.

As if to emphasize the value of a skipper’s leadership, as we were getting settled in to order our food, the skipper and crew of Erebus showed up. “Ross” has been on adventures in both polar regions, and has sailed to Alaska. His daughter, son-in-law, and two grandsons had never been sailing before. Saturday’s racing involved the sort of conditions that typically will scare off never-before-sailors and make them sure they never want to take up such a dangerous sport. But Ross’ son-in-law reported that the family had had immense fun, and that once they were sure the boat wasn’t going to tip all the way over, there was no fear whatsoever. The grandsons even did a lot of the driving. With a lesser skipper, the family’s experience could have been disastrous, but now, we’re looking at another family wanting to get into sailing as a way to have fun together. And it was icing on the cake that Erebus didn’t finish dead last, but beat Cultural Infidel, a theoretically much faster boat, on corrected time.

People may express doubts about a team of sailors from the desert doing well in the national Mallory Cup finals in San Francisco. But Team Zorro has a crew that can work well together, and a skipper who can inspire. If the team can get some good practice time in – both J/24 training locally and San Francisco training to learn the currents, I fully expect them to do well.

Meanwhile, back to this weekend. Sunday morning, we had the awards ceremony for the spring series races, as well as a sailing club board meeting. The most important results of the board meeting were approval of a cooperative agreement with the Coronado Optimist Club to support youth sailing, and approval of financial support both for Team Zorro to go to San Francisco and for Mother Superior’s team to go to the Adams Cup national women’s semifinals on J/22s.

During the board meeting, Zorro made an official announcement about his team. On his crew, he will have Twinkle Toes, Penzance, and Space Invader, and he will have Dumbledore, the J/24 genius, as his alternate crew. He also named me his press officer, so I will be doing a lot of work on publicity for his team, and, if possible, I’ll be going to San Francisco with the team in September – I’ll have to look into policies for taking leave from work.

In the awards, I got third place in the Etchells fleet for the spring series races, but the fun trophy that I got was for the Jack-and-Jill race. The perpetual trophy is a pail, and the tradition is that the previous year’s winner puts a bottle of champagne into the bucket for the current winner. Zorro and I won last year, and Zorro and I won this year. Since Zorro’s favorite is pink champagne, I put a bottle of that into the bucket this year, and then I shared it with all of Team Zorro. As big of a peak experience as I had this weekend, I could hardly do otherwise.

Sunday afternoon, the hullaballoo died down, and eventually the wind came up. Pat had been suffering severely since Saturday evening, as I and many other sailors had been enthusiastically telling of our adventures, while he had been restricted to a miserable time on the committee boat to get the races started and then sitting at the marina waiting for the racers to finish. So when the wind came up, Zorro invited us out on Constellation, for a couple of hours of low-stress time on the water.

The steady wind ranged from about 5 to about 20, with some higher gusts. We got in some work on shifting gears. But mainly, this time on the water was low-pressure unwinding time. Zorro talked – a lot – he tends to do so … he wants to get sponsorships to go to San Francisco, he wants to get practice time for his crew … and he told me that my presence on Windependent was a valuable contribution to the weekend’s success. He told me that having me on board, seeing me hauling on the main halyard to get the sail up when the engine was having problems, gave him the confidence to keep on sailing rather than giving up.

I suspect that was an exaggeration. I can’t imagine Zorro giving up a sailing race because the motor gave up. More likely, Zorro would have started hauling on the main halyard himself if nobody else was doing it. I just saved him some trouble.

Still, it feels good that Zorro values me so much. And now we’re at a stage where my strongest skills, my writing skills, are something that can really help Team Zorro. Prepare for the media blitz.

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Monday, June 09, 2008

A peak experience with Team Zorro (part 2)

Was it a miracle, or was it a really good crew?

All the new hardware in which Twinkle Toes had invested began to prove itself, especially the lovely, shiny, extra-large winches. Some of the other innovations, such as movable jib cars, also helped the boat to handle well. There were still some rough spots, such as the old mainsheet and traveler line, both of which tended to jam, but with much else on the boat working smoothly, those were less of a problem than they used to be. Zorro reported that the helm continued to be much easier to handle than it had been in the past, and the boat was staying flatter, pointing higher, and maintaining speed much better than the Windependent of yore.

Better yet, the crew began to really come together and get the hang of both the boat and our positions – Windependent is a much larger boat than most of us usually sail, especially the Scow guys. Twinkle Toes worked the traveler, and, to a lesser extent, the mainsheet, to keep the boat steady in the gusts. Seymour and Deli Man on jib trim figured out how to cross the boat behind the helm in the tacks to help each other sheet. Space Invader on the bow proved to be a superb lookout. Santa Claus at first had some trouble getting from one side of the boat to the other during tacks, but then he figured out how to slide, if not gracefully, at least efficiently, under the boom without getting tangled up in the vang. I floated, helping where extra help was needed, primarily helping Twinkle Toes with the main and traveler, but also helping on the halyards, genoa furler, and jib trim as needed, and going below to fetch things, especially beverages.

One by one, we began passing boats. Erebus was holding her own about as well as a Hunter 28 could in those conditions, with a captain experienced in ocean sailing and a novice crew who nevertheless were having a great time – confidence in a skipper goes a long way toward preventing crew panic when the boat heels over – but we had more waterline and therefore better boat speed. Next, Cultural Infidel, in spite of having a lot of rail meat on the crew, still was having trouble with the conditions and dropped her headsail to reduce power.

Soon we were catching up to the J/24s and the J/22. Sirocco’s Song was sailing under full sail but took a tack off toward the west side of the lake – not the favored tack. Kachina and Oso had been sailing under jib alone but raised their mains as we passed. Still, we continued to pull ahead of them. When Sirocco’s Song came back, she was behind all three of us, but Oso took off to the west anyway, and again, Windependent was ahead when we came back together. Kachina stayed to the east, but continued to fall behind.

We rounded the windward mark ahead of the J’s and continued to pull out our lead. We took first one, and then the other, reef out of the mainsail, and we unrolled the genoa completely. Now we were really flying, in spite of the Hunter’s swept-back spreaders that kept the mainsail from going fully forward. We passed Cultural Infidel and Erebus, still on the upwind leg, while behind us, Kachina and Oso got into a luffing duel, allowing Sirocco’s Song to pull out ahead and open up a lead on them. About halfway to the finish line, Sirocco’s Song made a daring move, considering the conditions – she launched a spinnaker. Now she was flying along, but Windependent was too far ahead for her to catch.

As the finish line was at the entrance to the harbor, we rolled up the genoa before we got there and finished under main alone; we also had Santa Claus below on the string so we could start and run the engine the moment the finishing horn went off. We got the mainsail down, and with Twinkle Toes on the helm giving instructions to Santa Claus on the throttle, we pulled into the slip in triumph.

Sirocco’s Song finished second, a couple of minutes behind Windependent, followed by Kachina and Oso a couple of minutes after that. Eventually Cultural Infidel finished, with Erebus last over the line – although Erebus finished ahead of Cultural Infidel on corrected time.

To be continued …

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Sunday, June 08, 2008

A peak experience with Team Zorro (part 1)

One of the best weekends ever

This weekend was the Rio Grande Sailing Club’s Anniversary Cup, a distance race. Pat was serving as race committee, and I had agreed to sail with Team Zorro.

Normally, the team would be sailing on Constellation, and there wouldn’t be room for me. Or Zorro and his team would be sailing on a J/24 in order to practice for the national Mallory Cup finals in San Francisco this fall. But one member of Zorro’s team, Twinkle Toes, has just finished two years of working on his large boat (or waiting for others to work on it or correcting improperly done work that others had done on it), and Zorro felt that he owed it to Twinkle Toes, as a long-term and very faithful crew member, to give him the support of sailing on his boat.

The weather forecast was for some pretty stiff conditions, and it looked good for the Hunter 34 Windependent, especially as we were able to put together a large crew. We ended up with Zorro, Twinkle Toes, and Space Invader from the Mallory Cup team, former Team Zorro member Seymour (who now primarily sails an M Scow, a boat for which the weather conditions were not appropriate), two other M Scow guys (we’ll call them Santa Claus and Deli Man), and me.

Windependent has in the past been something of a disaster. It has been slow in the first place, having been designed for cruising and not for racing. In addition, Twinkle Toes has had to deal with many equipment failures, which have often happened during races. So we weren’t expecting to do particularly well; we just hoped that the major refit of the boat would improve its performance to the point we wouldn’t be dead last.

Things did not start well. As we set out from the marina under motor, Twinkle Toes began having trouble with the throttle. A 20-knot wind was blowing us toward the shore, and the boat was unable to make headway against it. Quickly, we got the mainsail up, while Seymour and Santa Claus went below to work on the engine. Eventually, Santa Claus was able to make a temporary throttle linkage using some twine, and we got out of the harbor. It looked like this would be another typical Windependent race, besieged with problems.

Conditions continued rough, with winds gusting into the 30s and possibly even higher. Pat was having trouble setting a starting line, as, even with extra weight on the anchor, the committee boat kept dragging it. Finally, he had to use the motor to keep in place.

On Windependent, we put two reefs in the mainsail and unfurled the headsail, leaving it partly furled to keep the boat from being overpowered by the conditions. As we sailed around the starting area, the crew began coming together, with the newcomers finding their places among those of us who already had sailed together. Zorro reported that the helm was feeling much better than it had on his previous times on the boat, and with the reefed sails, we were still getting knocked around, but not as much as some of the other boats preparing to start the race – the J/24s Kachina and Oso, the J/22 Sirocco’s Song, the S2 3.4 Cultural Infidel, and the Hunter 28 Erebus. We got some especially good looks at the bottoms of Sirocco’s Song and Erebus; the J/24s coped with the conditions by sailing under jib alone.

Just before the start of the race, I went below to bring up life jackets. While I was down there, I discovered that Windependent’s interior was not designed for aggressive sailing, including severe heeling and a whole lot of bouncing around. Cushions and other junk were strewn around the cabin, and some of the galley drawers had flown out of the cabinets. I found myself dodging flying knives and an airborne potato peeler. The thought occurred to me … it would certainly be one of the more bizarre sailing accidents to get impaled by a potato peeler.

At the start of the race, some crew mis-coordination and an inopportune wind gust caused Windependent to start dead last, 500 yards behind the rest of the fleet. It definitely looked like this was going to be another typical race for this boat. We were looking at eight miles of continuing disaster. Well, maybe at least we could stay close enough to the rest of the fleet that we could beat a couple of them on corrected time; the Hunter 34, being a cruising boat, has a pretty large handicap.

Then something miraculous happened …

To be continued …

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Friday, June 06, 2008

My Goal Post

Yeah, if you know me by now, you know the pun’s intentional

Tillerman’s latest writing challenge is for his loyal readers to create a blog post about goals, especially sailing goals, and then give him the link for his writing project.

Well, if you’ve been paying attention lately, you already know that I have a seriously jaundiced attitude toward all that optimistic goal-setting stuff, especially as I have been forced to do at work.

So my first reaction to Tillerman’s challenge was to blow it off. But then … but then … I owe Tillerman too much to blow him off. I really ought to come up with something at least vaguely goal-like in nature to add to his group writing project.

So I started thinking … What goals do I have?

Well, I’d really like to see a good youth sailing program going here in New Mexico. For several years, Pat and I have been working on getting Scout troops and youth groups onto the water on Sunfish and other small boats. Getting kids on the water and having fun in sailboats does two things: It gets the kids themselves interested in sailing, so when they grow up, they continue to sail and keep the sport of sailing going. It also gets their parents involved, and brings their families into sailing, to keep the sailing club young and active.

It looks like youth sailing here might finally be reaching a threshold at which it will be taking off. I will be in on it, but it is really others who will be the driving force. So I can’t really consider this to be one of MY goals.

And then there’s Zorro’s team, participating on behalf of the Rio Grande Sailing Club in the national men’s championships, the Mallory Cup, in San Francisco this fall. According to the folks up in Denver, there has never been a team from the Sailing Association of Intermountain Lakes in the national finals before. I want Zorro to do well, not only for his own sake but for the RGSC and SAIL. And I want to do everything I can to help Team Zorro to succeed.

But again, that’s not a goal for me. It’s a goal about other people, and it depends on those other people to do their part.

So what the heck should I put into my goal post?

Well, let’s see … as Bobby Bare sang, to words and music by Paul Craft …

Drop Kick Me Jesus Through The Goalposts Of Life

Drop kick me Jesus through the goal posts of life
End over end neither left nor to right
Straight through the heart of them righteous uprights
Drop kick me Jesus through the goal posts of life.

Make me, oh make me, Lord more than I am
Make me a piece in your master game plan
Free from the earthly tempestion below
I’ve got the will, Lord if you’ve got the toe.

Drop kick me Jesus through the goal posts of life
End over end neither left nor to right
Straight through the heart of them righteous uprights
Drop kick me Jesus through the goal posts of life.

Take all the brothers who’ve gone on before
And all of the sisters who’ve knocked on your door
All the departed dear loved ones of mine
Stick’em up front in the offensive line.

Drop kick me Jesus through the goal posts of life
End over end neither left nor to right
Straight through the heart of them righteous uprights
Drop kick me Jesus through the goal posts of life.

Yeah, Drop kick me Jesus through the goal posts of life
End over end neither left nor to right
Straight through the heart of them righteous uprights
Drop kick me Jesus through the goal posts of life.

No, sorry, that doesn’t work either. I’m not one to get kicked around like a football, even the American sort. So I don’t really have a goal for myself, and I really don’t want some other entity to be making a goal for me.

I guess when it all comes down to it, my goal is not to have a goal. I just want to sail, and as sailing happens, I want to enjoy it. I will take joy in the youth sailing, and I will take joy in Zorro’s success, as those happen. Why am I supposed to be hungry for more? And why is being hungry and then satisfying the hunger supposed to be better than not being hungry in the first place?

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Monday, June 02, 2008

Poetry Corner: G.K. Chesterton

You can’t get there from here … at least not straight there …

As I mentioned before, when we headed up north this weekend, we couldn’t go straight there. Because of an accident on Highway 84, we ended up going a roundabout way up Highway 285 and then through the mountains on Highway 64.

In the accident, a 26-year State Police veteran lieutenant on the bomb squad was killed. He had just been on a disposal or retrieval mission in Chama. While, at least as of the most recent news reports I have seen, the authorities are not saying whether there were any explosives in the vehicle, shutting down a major highway for many hours indicates more than just the usual extra concern law-enforcement people have when dealing with one of their own.

Some of the members of the sailing club who were trying to come up to Heron got stuck in traffic; a trip that usually took them less than 2 hours ended up taking more than 6. We got lucky – when we were in Española, we heard on the radio that the highway was blocked, and we took the long way around. That added a mere 30 minutes or so to our travel time, rather than 4 hours.

As we traveled to Tierra Amarilla by way of Tres Piedras, I was reminded of this gem of poetry from G.K. Chesterton, a British poet and author who apparently was a favorite of my paternal grandparents – when they had both died, my parents inherited their massive oak bookshelves, with the condition that they also take the books. There was a lot of Chesterton in the collection.

The year the family lived in England, we learned about the rolling English road. It never goes straight from where one is to where one wants to be. It is full of curves and hills and curves on hills, and hills around curves.

Such roads were quite satisfactory for farmers herding their cattle to market. But when the Romans arrived in Britain, they found the roads exceptionally unsatisfactory for marching armies along. So the Romans built their own roads, straight and wide. In the modern highway system in Britain, one can still tell which ones were the original rolling English roads and which ones were later Roman construction, just by looking at which ones are twisty and which ones are straight.

So here is Chesterton’s homage to the Rolling English Road. For those of you not familiar with British geography, all of the places mentioned are far from each other.

The Rolling English Road

by G.K.Chesterton

Before the Roman came to Rye or out to Severn strode,
The rolling English drunkard made the rolling English road.
A reeling road, a rolling road, that rambles round the shire,
And after him the parson ran, the sexton and the squire;
A merry road, a mazy road, and such as we did tread
The night we went to Birmingham by way of Beachy Head.

I knew no harm of Bonaparte and plenty of the Squire,
And for to fight the Frenchman I did not much desire;
But I did bash their baggonets because they came arrayed
To straighten out the crooked road an English drunkard made,
Where you and I went down the lane with ale-mugs in our hands,
The night we went to Glastonbury by way of Goodwin Sands.

His sins they were forgiven him; or why do flowers run
Behind him; and the hedges all strengthening in the sun?
The wild thing went from left to right and knew not which was which,
But the wild rose was above him when they found him in the ditch.
God pardon us, nor harden us; we did not see so clear
The night we went to Bannockburn by way of Brighton Pier.

My friends, we will not go again or ape an ancient rage,
Or stretch the folly of our youth to be the shame of age,
But walk with clearer eyes and ears this path that wandereth,
And see undrugged in evening light the decent inn of death;
For there is good news yet to hear and fine things to be seen,
Before we go to Paradise by way of Kensal Green.

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