Two great days on the water
Our plan for New Year’s Day had been to start the year sailing with Zorro. Because of a communication problem, Pat ended up sailing for him for the last couple of hours of daylight, but Gerald and I missed the boat. As consolation, we did get to watch a very exciting football game, Nebraska vs. Clemson in the Gator Bowl and the accompanying party at Cornhusker and Bassmaster’s house, with lots of great food and interesting people, especially some of the ones Bassmaster hangs out with. Nebraska won, but it was a very close game. Still, I would have enjoyed going sailing; Bassmaster was recording the game, so we could have watched it later.
We returned to Albuquerque that evening so we could take care of some financial matters, then headed to the lake again yesterday. We got there mid-afternoon, and we met Zorro, Ribbons, a friend of Ribbons’ whom he’s training as crew, and a woman who has recently moved to T or C from Florida, where she sailed extensively – we’ll call her Tampa Bay.
Zorro divvied up crew: Pat, Ribbons, and the friend on Ribbons’ boat; Zorro, Gerald, Tampa Bay and I on Zorro’s boat. Then we set sail.
The wind was stiff, but the temperature was nice, about 60 degrees, and the sun was shining from a clear sky. With that much wind, an Etchells can really fly, and that’s what we did, roaring up and down the lake. Tampa Bay is a natural; while she hasn’t sailed on an Etchells before, she has sailed a lot of other racing boats. She should be a good addition to the Black Magic crew when the RGSC racing resumes.
As the sun went down, we put away the boats. Ribbons and his friend had to return to Albuquerque, but we made plans to sail again with Zorro today. We went out to dinner, watched a football game (another squeaker; the Chargers barely beat the Colts) and some sailing videos on television, and discussed sailing. Gerald is on the Arizona State sailing team, but the program is very small and gets almost no money. The sailors sail on old, patched-up boats, they do not have a coach, and the average skill level is low – when they go to major regattas in California, the high-powered programs give them a thorough shellacking. Zorro had a great idea, to invite the ASU sailing team to Elephant Butte over Spring Break and offer them a sailing clinic with himself, Dumbledore, and others of our better racers coaching the team. An intensive workshop with Zorro in charge would help the program immensely. Of course, some of Zorro’s motivation might come from seeing photos of a couple of Gerald’s teammates in bikinis, but still …
Early this morning was sunny and calm, but later on clouds moved in and wind came up. We set sail about eleven in moderate conditions and sailed for a couple of hours, getting fairly good boat speed. Then the wind went light and switchy – a common prelude to a change in which the wind gets squirrely for between 20 minutes and an hour, then comes in strong (sometimes too strong) from the south. True to the pattern, the wind began to do exactly that. The question was whether the wind would continue to build, or would level off at a good speed for sailing. We decided to break for a late lunch and see what the wind did.
When we finished lunch, the wind was still good. We took off. This time, we ventured north, around Long Point (which is now an island, but not circumnavigable by anything with a keel). North of Long Point is a body of water that, with the lake level higher than it has been in years, is huge. We got the spinnaker up and soon we were flying along.
The northern part of the lake has some spectacular scenery, such as Kettle Top Butte, Little Kettle Top, Red Cliff, and several coves, places where in the past the sailing club has held raft-ups and, many years ago, Zorro used to take his son in their old MacGregor 26, to camp out and have shore excursions, aka “pirate raids.”
Then there are other landmarks, the history of which Zorro hadn’t known – for example, there is a point called Three Sisters, and a cove called Cat House Cove, both of which, according to legend, had brothels in the 1920s and ’30s. Zorro lamented that he was born in the wrong era.
The wind increased, and Zorro’s GPS showed the boat speed up to nearly 7 knots. Then the wind switched, and suddenly we were headed upwind, so we hauled down the spinnaker. The wind speed picked up and so did the boat speed. The waves were getting higher; in this larger pool of water, with the wind from the north, we were getting waves that resembled those of the ocean.
We went a half mile or so past the South Monticello boat ramp, and we could have gone further, but the sun had gone behind clouds and would be setting in an hour, so we had to get back to the marina before it got dark. By this time, we were also getting cold – the temperature to start with had been ten degrees colder than yesterday, and it was falling rapidly. Under spinnaker, we clocked a speed of 8.2 knots, and we were going about the same speed as the waves, surfing. Sailors of dinghies may be used to that kind of maneuver, but it doesn’t happen often in a displacement-hulled boat with a 2300-pound lead keel.
Before entering the narrow part of the lake leading to the race course area, we took the spinnaker down, so we wouldn’t have to wrestle with it while jibing. Even without the spinnaker, we logged speeds above 7 downwind, and then we turned toward the marina on a screaming reach, where we got up to 8.1 even with Long Point blocking some of the wind. We got to the marina and put the boat away as darkness was falling. We had probably traveled about 10 miles, in just over two hours. We were cold, wet, tired, and exhilarated. It was a grand day to sail.