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.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Not dead yet

But I sure feel like it

Last weekend (March 21-22) was the first spring series regatta for the Rio Grande Sailing Club. Winds for the weekend were mostly brisk, sometimes stiff. I had Penzance on Black Magic on helm, with me, Pat, and Cornhusker as crew. We didn't win any races, but we were in the running on all of them, and on one we came in a very close second to Zorro – we were ahead for most of the race, and only a random wind shift at the end allowed him to edge us out.

I came out of that weekend rather the worse for wear, with bruises on top of bruises and lots of muscle aches.

By Tuesday, I was feeling even more muscle aches, and I realized I was coming down with something. In addition to being achy, I was starting to develop a cough. Oh, no, I thought, not The Cough … the one that settles in and lingers, making life miserable for days, weeks even.

By Wednesday night, it became clear that, yes, I was coming down with The Cough. In addition to serious head congestion and fever, I was suffering a dry, racking cough that would not give me peace. I let my night class out early, and I headed home, stopping to pick up some extra-strength cough-suppressant/expectorant syrup. I dosed up with that, a heavy-duty analgesic, and some maximum strength decongestant. I also started downing herbal teas containing slippery elm, thyme, and other such good stuff. I settled into bed with a warm cat, with the bedroom humidifier on full blast.

All of these measures helped to make the cough less miserable, but still, I was coughing so hard my ribs were aching. I stayed in bed most of Thursday, and by the time of my Thursday night class, I was feeling a bit better.

There's something going around … only two students showed up, so I cancelled class. Pat, Dulce, and I headed north to spend at least the first part of the weekend at Five O'Clock Somewhere. He had a community center board meeting scheduled for today, although he also wanted to get back to Albuquerque this evening and then go to the Butte Sunday to work on boats and sail with Zorro, Penzance, and Ribbons.

From Santa Fe on, we were driving through blowing snow; by the time we got to the cabin, there was an inch or two on the ground, and the temperature was 19 degrees. We worked on getting the house warmed up, and I checked that we had a good supply of the medicinal teas.

Since then, I have spent most of my time either in bed or in front of the fireplace, guzzling tea and keeping myself dosed up on the conventional medicines. My throat is sore, my head feels like it's full of wool, my ribs ache, I can barely eat, and all the sleep I can get is cat-naps between coughing fits.

I suppose I could go to a doctor. But I'm pretty sure all the doctor could tell me is that this is a virus, and the thing to do is just what I've been doing. Without any health insurance, all a doctor visit would be is an expensive way to get a note that would allow me to take sick leave.

Maybe I should ask fuego what his Czech mother-in-law would prescribe. The Czechs have two powerful spirits, Becherovka and Slivovice, and one or the other of those is supposed to be good for whatever ails one.

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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Step One: Retrieve Motor

I learn so much from my students!

In a community college, perhaps more than in other educational institutions, learning happens both ways. I may be helping my students to learn how to write in coherent English in a way that communicates with the rest of the world. But at the same time, I learn a lot from my students.

This week, I was grading papers written by an English 0750 (Practical Writing) class. The assignment was to write a set of instructions. One set of instructions began, "First, retrieve your motor from the bottom of the lake …"

What followed was a set of instructions that could be valuable to a lot of boaters – how to resuscitate a drowned outboard motor and make it live again.

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Sunday, March 15, 2009

Group Writing Project results so far

We've had some good entries so far … surely there's more talent out there!

Thanks to the two of you who have so far submitted entries in the "This is Awkward" group writing project. I'm leaving the competition open still, so those of you who haven't sent in an entry yet are welcome to do so.

So far, we have the post that started it all, "Visitor in the Night," by Jerry, involving a seriously sexual hit-woman who mistakenly targets the wrong victim. That was followed up by the story Jesse left in the comments, in which a fan of classic mysteries fails to take into account modern electrical codes.

I was inspired therefore to create my own "This is Awkward," involving an out-of-work accountant and would-be actor who got picked to be in a reality television show at a most inopportune moment. I followed that with a challenge to all my readers to join in the project.

So far, I have had two readers respond. Tillerman created a story that might fit in at Soldier of Fortune, except for the groaner of a pun at the end. Captain JP had two entries. The first story followed in Tillerman's footsteps, finishing with a bad pun involving diving waterbirds. The second, "My Fair Lady," involved cruising sailors and sexual escapades in a tropical port.

Meanwhile, this project has been indexed on a Group Writing Projects blog run by Jacob Share, so maybe there will now be a few more entries.

For those of you who missed it the first time around, here's the challenge: Write a short-short story that ends with the line, "This is awkward." Post the story on your blog and provide a link in the comments here. Or if you don't have a blog of your own, paste the story into the comments.

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Monday, March 09, 2009

A disappointing weekend

At least most of the other sailors had a good time

As mentioned in a previous post, this weekend was the Big Boat Challenge regatta at Elephant Butte Lake. The race was to be a distance race, scheduled for Saturday, with Sunday as a backup date in case conditions didn’t permit racing Saturday.

Team Zorro was planning to sail on Twinkle Toes’ Hunter 34, Windependent, and many preparations were made. Twinkle Toes spent hours scrubbing the bottom of the boat to help it go faster. Zorro found a heavy-air spinnaker that could be adapted for the boat. Large quantities of sandwiches and beverages were procured for what was expected to be a large crew.

Saturday dawned blustery and became blusterier, with steady winds around 20 knots and gusts higher. If this had been one of the RGSC’s regular regattas, it would have been called off before anybody left the dock. But since we were dealing with big, heavy boats and large crews, we decided to go ahead and try to hold a race – the fleet and the committee boat would go out, and if things got too hairy, then the committee would postpone to Sunday. Zorro was especially eager to race and not postpone; he had good crew, and he expected much of the competition to have trouble with the stiff conditions.

That, it turned out, was not a good idea.

As we prepared to leave the dock, with a double-reefed main and no headsail, the winds increased. Before we got out of the harbor, we began having problems; the traveler gave way. Fortunately, it was only a knot that had come untied, so once we got out clear of the breakwater, Dino took the helm and took the boat head to wind so Zorro and Twinkle Toes could re-run the lines.

Next the boom topping lift somehow came loose from the boom, and we had to have Seymour hanging out from the shrouds with a boat hook to try to catch it so it wouldn’t foul anything else up.

By this time we had been out on the water for about 15 minutes, and the wind had increased; the steady winds were probably somewhere between 25 and 30 knots, and the gusts were definitely higher.

The end came when, following a particularly violent jibe, we looked up and saw that nearly the entire luff of the mainsail had come loose from the mast. It took Seymour, Dino, and Dino’s business partner – all three of them big, burly guys – to get the sail hauled down, and Dino took a couple of major hits to the head and lip in the process.

Once we got the sail down, Seymour and Dino reported that all of the plastic sail slugs had broken. The sailmakers had apparently never envisioned that a Hunter 34 would be sailed in conditions where a jibe would coincide with a 40-knot gust and so had equipped the sail with plastic slugs and not metal ones. Windependent’s weekend was over.

Motoring back to the dock was not pleasant. Zorro had been so excited at the prospect of an exciting day of racing, and to have all hopes dashed before the race even began made him seriously angry. He was lashing out at anything and everything – except himself. He was angry with the boat for having so many things break; he was angry with the crew for not responding quickly enough to disasters and for allowing that violent jibe; he was angry with the race committee for trying to hold races in these conditions (even though the rest of the committee probably would have called the races off from the dock if it weren’t for Zorro’s insistence that the show must go on); he was angry with Pat and me for allowing Tampa Bay, a talented potential crew member for Black Magic, to sail with Applegal and therefore possibly be persuaded to become part of Applegal’s crew.

As it turned out, racing didn’t happen Saturday after all. Of the four boats whose skippers chose to try to race, three suffered disabling major equipment failures before the racing even began, and the fourth had some minor problems. And Pat, on the water-ballasted MacGregor committee boat, couldn’t maintain a steady position even with a really heavy-duty anchor and a 300-foot rode (in about 65 feet of water) with 20 feet of chain at the bottom end. One of the boats reported a wind meter reading of gusts more than 70, and while that seems extreme, the meter on Windependent was reporting steady winds of more than 40 by the time we got back to the dock.

The sailing club dinner that evening was characterized by many tales of disaster and mayhem, but Zorro was a no-show.

Sunday morning was calm – very calm. Three of the four boats that had tried to race Saturday had been able to make repairs or at least jerry-rig temporary repairs, but Windependent had no means of replacing the broken mainsail slugs, so she was out of the running. Zorro chose to go out on Constellation with Twinkle Toes – even though they wouldn’t be officially racing, they would be sailing with the fleet. I would have liked to have gone with them, but I sensed that the two of them needed some time together, so when Zorro suggested that I go with Pat on the committee boat, I was seriously disappointed, but I wasn’t particularly angry. Yes, I would have liked – loved – craved – spending some quality time with Zorro, but I got the feeling that Twinkle Toes needed it even more.

The first two and a half hours of the race Sunday were the complete opposite of Saturday’s weather conditions. The wind was about 3 knots, gusting to 5, and there were periods of no wind at all. The fleet slowly drifted toward the turning mark. At one point, one of the boats radioed us to ask whether we night shorten course or possibly even call off the race. We raised anchor (remember that 300 feet of rode?) to go to the mark with the thought that we might shorten the course at that mark.

But when we got there, the wind was beginning to fill in. We decided not to shorten course, and we returned to the original start-finish area, where we re-anchored.

The wind picked up nicely, and it was probably about 10 knots for the return leg of the race – and then at the end, it picked up even more. The three boats that were racing finished in winds that were in the 15-to-20 range, with higher gusts.

After the racing boats finished, the wind continued to increase. It was a challenge to raise anchor, retrieve the pin buoy, and then get the boat onto the trailer – although not as challenging as it was Saturday.

So my rating of this weekend was … not good. No actual racing, a series of disasters when we did try to race, far too little time with Zorro, and that little time extremely unpleasant. The events of the weekend did absolutely nothing to provide relief from the increasing stresses that my non-sailing life is throwing at me, I’m suffering stress-related health effects that I no longer have insurance or money to take care of, and I’m left wondering what is the point of anything … except maybe that little slip of paper reminding me of an old gospel song.

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Saturday, March 07, 2009

Poetry Corner: Robert B. Ferguson

Corny, but inspiring

In the place where I am now, there are assorted notes and quips on little bits of paper or napkins or whatever, randomly scattered. Some of these are inspirational: “Nobility is rooted in humility.” Some are humorous: “Artificial intelligence is no match for natural stupidity.”

Then there was one that wasn’t a complete thought: “On the wings of a small white dove.”

Many long years ago, when I was a teenager, there were two girls in the neighborhood who were several years younger than I was and who were the closest things I had to kid sisters, as I had only brothers. One of them had an antique player piano in her bedroom. Unlike most antique player pianos, this one still worked, and she had dozens of scrolls of music for it.

One of our favorites was “On the Wings of a Dove,” and we would play it over and over again, taking turns pumping on the foot pedals of the piano to crank the song scroll through the piano, singing along together to the tinny, slightly out-of-tune, honky-tonk sound that only a player piano can make.

The first line of the chorus of that song is actually “On the wings of a snow-white dove,” rather than a small white one. But I still think it’s a great song.

As I was preparing to compose this blog post, I wanted to include a link that readers could use to find a site where they could hear the music, because part of what makes this song great is the way the harmonies work. I was worried that I might not be able to find such a site, since the computer that I’m currently using doesn’t have a lot of the multimedia plugins, and since it’s somebody else’s computer, I didn’t want to install plugins without permission.

I needn’t have worried. One of the owners of this computer is an avid participant in karaoke, and so this computer has all the needed plugins to access a website that gives song lyrics along with an accompaniment to sing with.

You can hear the tune and sing along at NelsonDirect. This version is rather more jazzy than the original player-piano scroll, but you can still get the general idea.

On The Wings Of A Dove

Words and Music by Robert B. Ferguson

When troubles surround us, when evils come,
The body grows weak (body grows weak),
The spirit grows numb (spirit grows numb),
When these things beset us, He doesn't forget us.
He sends down His love (sends down His love),
On the wings of a dove (wings of a dove).

On the wings of a snow-white dove,
He sends His pure sweet love,
A sign from above (sign from above,
On the wings of a dove (wings of a dove).

When Noah had drifted on the flood many days,
He searched for land (he searched for land),
In various ways (various ways).
Troubles, he had some but wasn't forgotten.
He sent him His love (sent him His love),
On the wings of a dove (wings of a dove).

On the wings of a snow-white dove,
He sends His pure sweet love,
A sign from above (sign from above),
On the wings of a dove (wings of a dove).

On the wings of a snow-white dove,
He sends His pure sweet love,
A sign from above (sign from above),
On the wings of a dove (wings of a dove).

On the wings of a dove (wings of a dove).

On the wings of a dove (wings of a dove).
On the wings of a dove (wings of a dove).

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Friday, March 06, 2009

Looking forward

Conditions are shaping up for another peak experience – and I could use one about now

This coming weekend is the Big Boat Regatta at Elephant Butte. Entries must be at least 27 feet long and at least 5000 pounds displacement. By ocean standards, this isn't particularly large, but on our lake, these restrictions mean only the very biggest boats will be participating.

Desert lake winds are often fickle, and light winds would make a race of big boats, to put it mildly, frustrating. It takes some air to get these things moving.

Fortunately, the weather prediction for the weekend is for stiff winds. It should be an exciting race.

We're looking forward to a reunion of the team and boat from our peak experience last June in the Anniversary Cup – Zorro will take the helm of Twinkle Toes' 34-foot Hunter, Windependent, and we'll have many of the same people on the crew. Zorro himself is really excited; every time he sees a new weather forecast, he phones Pat or me to communicate how great this weekend's sailing is going to be. The excitement is rubbing off, and that's a good thing. I've been feeling somewhat low lately, with Pat's and my local corner of the economic downturn looking especially bleak. There are times when I feel low, and I know a good dose of Zorro helps a lot. His enthusiasm about the weekend is making me feel better already, and if we have a great experience on the water, that's going to be even better.