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, 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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