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.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Wag more, bark less

It's a good philosophy for more than just dogs

Not too long ago, I spotted a bumper sticker that said in large print "Wag more," with, beneath that sentiment in much smaller print, "Bark less." The same car also had a bumper sticker that said "I (heart) my Golden Retriever" – a breed that is particularly well-known for being friendly.

Cornhusker and Bassmaster have a Labrador retriever, Bo, who embodies that sentiment. When he wags, it's not just the tail; it's the entire back half of the dog. When a person approaches, even a total stranger, Bo exudes enthusiasm, as if he's greeting a lifelong buddy. He's not exactly a great watchdog; he seldom barks, and if somebody is willing to go a few rounds of "fetch" with him, that makes his day.

Dogs do such a great job of being joyful, and retrievers do it better than most breeds. Bo goes even beyond what most retrievers do.

Even though humans don't have tails to wag, the world would be a much better place if people would follow the sentiment on that bumper sticker. Be joyful, and celebrate the moment with whoever is around to celebrate with, instead of griping and complaining. You don't have to go chasing a tennis ball; just savor the time you have with your friends.

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Friday, May 22, 2009

Top Ten Lame or Not-So-Lame Excuses Not To Get to the Lake

In New Mexico, most of the people who sail have to travel a great distance to get to the lake. That distance imposes hardships. In response to Tillerman's challenge, to create a list related to sailing, here is a list of excuses that have been used by sailors in the desert to explain why they haven't come to the lake to sail on a particular weekend:

10. I went to a party in Juarez, and in the morning I was so hung-over I couldn't even think about going to the lake.

9. My car broke down, so I couldn't come to the lake.

8. I was getting my mortgage refinanced, and the appraiser was supposed to come. I waited all day, but the appraiser never did show up.

7. I had a sick cat that I had to take to the vet.

6. The weather forecast was for no wind, so I didn't want to drive for two hours and not end up going sailing.

5. The weather forecast was for way too much wind, so I didn't want to drive for two hours and not end up going sailing.

4. I went to visit my new girlfriend, and her violent boyfriend (she had lied and called him "ex") slashed my tires.

3. My boat suffered serious damage in a storm last spring; a bunch of other people said they'd lend me boats to sail while mine was getting repairs, but none of them came through.

2. I was getting inducted into the Ohio Track and Field Hall of Fame, and I didn't want to dishonor Jesse Owens by not showing up to be honored alongside him.

1. I didn't know you were counting on me.

OK, it's pretty clear, these are all Zorro's excuses. The thing is, even though some of them make him look bad, I can still forgive him for them. I do love him, and he would have to do something seriously egregious before I would stop loving him. I am, and will always be, his number-one fan.

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Sunday, May 17, 2009

A bit of fiction

OK, so I don’t have a list yet, but I have a response to somebody else’s

Tillerman has issued a challenge to his readers to come up with blog posts involving lists related to sailing. I haven’t yet come up with my own list, although I promise that I will … I’m working on it.

Meanwhile, one of the regulars in Tillerman’s circle, Captain JP, has contributed not just one but two lists, one on “Why dinghies are better than yachts” and one on “Why yachts are better than dinghies.” Since the boat that I sail has some characteristics of both yachts and dinghies, I found the seemingly contradictory positions interesting.

Now, something I’m aspiring to do is to write novels, and I have a series in progress, centering around a fictional community college English instructor in a fictional coastal town in California, who just happens to be around when murders happen, and so she ends up solving them. (No, her name isn’t Jessica Fletcher, and she’s in her 30s, not her 70s.)

A couple of my loyal readers have commented about how I don’t put as much fiction up as I used to. And then Captain JP made this observation on his discussion of why yachts are better than dinghies:

2. Yachts are romantic, allowing you to sail your love off into the sunset or find a quiet cove to go skinny dipping in

So here is what I hope is a special treat – the closing passage of my first novel, Murder at the Community College, illustrating the point that JP makes. A bit of background is in order: my main character, Hannah, has successfully solved the murders (there were several), but in the process of bringing the criminal to justice, she ended up with a serious brain injury (I wrote this before the incident in which I got clocked by the boom on a sailboat, so don’t attribute any realism to my experiences). In the denouement, she has been convalescing in the home of her new boyfriend, a police detective with whom she originally had no intention of falling in love, and, as far as she knows, the sailboat that used to be her residence is languishing, neglected.

On a sunny, bright, clear day in late fall, Harry’s pickup pulled up at the Siete Mares Marina. Harry helped Hannah out of the truck, and she leaned on him as she walked, unsteadily, with the help of a cane, to the marina gate. She was gaining strength, as her injured brain re-learned how to make her legs walk, but she was far from completely recovered, and she still suffered from some numbness as well as poor control. Harry opened the gate, and he helped her to get down the pier, almost carrying her down the steep gangway until they reached the level floating docks, then steadying her as they made their way to Nice Ketch. “I’ve been doing some work,” Harry said. “I hope you like it.” He picked her up and carried her up the steps and over the gunwale, and then he settled her on a seat in the cockpit.

Hannah noticed several new pieces of deck hardware, shiny and bright – cleats, fairleads, padeyes, shackles, and winches, and she realized that Harry had rearranged all of the lines so that they all led to the cockpit. That meant that all, or nearly all, of the operations of the sails could be handled from there. The boat could be run without anyone having to get out on the foredeck, and it could probably even be run by only one person – not that sailing single handed sounded all that interesting now that she had Harry to sail with. She also noticed that all of the old hardware had been cleaned up, so that it, too, gleamed in the sun, and that dirt, mildew, and seagull droppings no longer marred the sail covers. She imagined that beneath the surface, the sails themselves had probably also been cleaned up, and probably the winches had been taken apart, cleaned, lubricated, and then reassembled. Harry had seemed to be spending a lot of time at work lately; now she realized that he hadn’t been spending all of that time working at the job he got paid for.

“Why,” Hannah said, barely able to speak, “why, it’s lovely! We can sail now, without waiting for me to get better!”

Harry sat down next to Hannah and took her in his arms. He kissed her, and she kissed back, savoring the feel of his arms around her, and clinging to him with all of the strength that she could summon. “Yes,” Harry said. “We can sail right now.” He went below to inspect the engine filters and belts, and then he came back up and started the engine. Unlike the first, balky start, it came to life quickly, and settled into its gentle purr, like a happy kitten. Harry climbed up on the deck to unzip the covers on the main and mizzen sails; the genoa, the large sail at the bow of the boat, was roller furled, so its cover didn’t need unzipping. He then stepped ashore to cast off the dock lines, and then got back into the cockpit, where he pulled the throttle back. The boat shifted into reverse with a satisfying thunk as the reversing prop set itself, and Harry nudged the throttle a little more, easing the boat out of the slip, turning the wheel as the bow of the boat cleared the pier. Then he straightened the helm, pushed the throttle forward through neutral and into forward gear, with another thunk from the prop, gave the throttle another push forward, and steered the boat out of the marina, down the channel toward the sea. Hannah was impressed with his skills; she now almost regretted that it was she, and not he, who had ended up with Nice Ketch all those years ago. Harry and the boat almost seemed to go together. Then she realized, Harry and she did go together. And since she and the boat went together, too, that meant the three of them were all part of one unit.

The boat swayed gently; the waves within the channel were small, and the wind, while steady, wasn’t too strong. Harry turned the boat into the wind, put the throttle in neutral, and then hauled on the main halyard to hoist the mainsail. Once that was up, he cleated the halyard and loosened the topping lift so that the boom was no longer held up by it, but rather by the sail. He then repeated the motions with the mizzen sail, the smaller sail aft of the mainsail. The sails began to billow in the wind, and the boat heeled slightly as the wind’s power pushed on the sails. Next, Harry uncleated the genoa furling line and pulled on the port genoa sheet to unroll it so that it, too, could fill with wind. The boat heeled more, and it surged forward with the power of the wind. Harry switched off the engine, and an uncanny quiet descended on the boat. Now, all of the sounds were natural – the splashing of the waves against the hull, the cry of the seagulls in the distance, the quiet whoosh of the wind, the billowing of the sails, and the occasional creak of the rigging.

“Oh, Harry, it’s so beautiful!” Hannah exclaimed. “Thank you for fixing my boat so we could sail together.”

“It’s as much a gift to myself as to you,” Harry said. “Being on a beautiful boat, on a beautiful day, with a beautiful woman.” He reached out, took Hannah’s hand, and squeezed it.

Harry steered the boat out into the open ocean. The waves were bigger here, but the boat was large enough to take them smoothly, surging up a bit, plowing through the crests with a splash, and then dropping down a bit in the troughs. The wind out here was steadier and stronger, and the boat heeled, just enough, as if to let Hannah know that the boat was eager to go. Harry set the boat on a reach, a course at right angles to the wind, at which the boat would sail the most efficiently, and then he set the autohelm and came to sit next to Hannah on the upwind side of the boat. He put his arms around her, and she put her arms around him, and they kissed, savoring each other’s taste and the warmth of each other’s bodies.

“I love you,” Harry said.

“Love you,” Hannah said.

So it’s sappy. But I really did like the idea of Hannah and Harry literally sailing off into the sunset.

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Thursday, May 14, 2009

Internet access blues

Whatever happened to all the incentives to get rural and low-income people onto the Net?

As I've chronicled here before, Pat's and my Internet access has been threatened by a battle between our little local ISP and the Big Bad Telecom company, and the Not-So-Big Not-So-Bad Regional Telecom company has also gotten snarled up in the battle, and so have a lot of other little ISPs and telecoms. Now our ISP has been divided up into at least two different divisions (both of whom had been sending us bills, and we thought maybe we had straightened out the situation, but now it seems the wrong one is the one that is getting our money), and that ISP is no longer providing service at Five O'Clock Somewhere.

The problem is compounded by new policies at the community college where I work. Even though the state legislature cut our funding and ordered us to raise tuition in order to make up for the funding cuts, our administration has chosen NOT to raise tuition, reasoning that in periods of financial hardship, the very last thing our students need is a tuition increase. The upshot of that decision is that a whole lot of expenses have to be cut elsewhere.

One of the areas in which we are to cut expenses is paper, and all of the person-hours it takes to handle said paper. No longer will there be paper grade sheets, on which we record students' homework, attendance, and other data. That will all now be on electronic spreadsheets. The burden of keeping records has been shifted to the instructors; the department will no longer maintain file drawers of paper grade sheets, so if a student protests a grade, the instructor's electronic spreadsheet will be requested.

(I consider that system to be flawed, since an instructor could easily alter the spreadsheet before submitting it to the administrator dealing with the protest; it would be much better for the instructor to submit a spreadsheet to be kept on file, just as the paper grade sheets have been kept, routinely at the end of the term. We want to keep the system honest. But that's just a digression from my main point.)

Anyhow, because of these changes in how things are done, I must now keep in contact with the college even when I'm not physically present. I might be able to be out of touch over a weekend, but I shouldn't go longer than two days without checking in. That means no more extended stays at Five O'Clock Somewhere unless I have Internet access.

But, since Pat is currently not working (or at least not working for money – he's been doing some great volunteer work for both the New Mexico and Rio Grande sailing clubs, and some stuff for the sailing folks in Arizona and elsewhere), we can't afford to pay any more for Internet access than we're currently paying, $20 a month (plus taxes) for dialup access.

Here is what we need: Internet access, both in Albuquerque and in northern Rio Arriba County (dialup will do), from a single provider, at a single price of $20 or less.

Here is what we have found: No land-based Internet provider serves both Albuquerque and northern Rio Arriba County. We can keep our existing ISP in Albuquerque for $20 a month, and pay another ISP another $20 a month for service at Five O'Clock Somewhere. We can ditch our land-line in Albuquerque and use our cell-phone provider for high-speed Internet, saving $20 a month on the land-line and $20 a month on what we pay our current ISP but adding $60 a month to the cell-phone bill, and cell signals don't reach Five O'Clock Somewhere, so we'd have to drive to somewhere there was a signal to access the Internet. We can get satellite-based Internet for about $50 a month that would be available anywhere, but right now, $50 a month would be a severe strain on our budget.

Here is what we have not found: Where the money is going that you get charged on your telephone bill that is supposed to subsidize Internet access for rural (e.g. Rio Arriba County) or low-income (e.g. AGI of $16,000) people. Yeah, look at your phone bill, your cell phone bill, your Internet bill … how much are you being charged in taxes that are supposed to be helping people like me and Pat? None of these ISPs make any mention of any way for rural or low-income people to apply for subsidies. We did find one ISP with a great discount for educators in Taos County, but that was just that ISP's special program, and it had nothing to do with the federal system.

An interesting thought … if you would rather not spend your money on these strange fees that you see on your telephone bill, you could send them to Five O'Clock Somewhere instead. I guarantee you that they will actually be used for what they claim to be for, Internet access for rural and low-income people. If some angel were to pay for satellite-based Internet, we would probably erect a shrine.

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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The weather was perfect

And not just on average!

This past weekend had its ups and downs. Saturday was the Joshua Slocum single-hand race, while Sunday was the Jack and Jill his-and-hers race. The plan was that I would be Principal Race Officer on Saturday, allowing Pat to sail Black Magic in the Slocum, and Pat would be PRO Sunday, so Zorro and I could defend our title in the Jack and Jill on Constellation.

The club has recently been given a small motorboat for use as a race committee support boat. It's old, it's been sitting in a back yard neglected for some years, and it needs some work. However, it is a basically sturdy boat, and it's already beginning to prove its worth (more on that in a moment).

Pyrat and Goldilocks, who donated the boat to the club, have been enthusiastic about getting it fixed up and outfitted as a race support boat. Goldilocks is an artist, and this project is giving her creativity a new outlet – the boat is developing a distinctive Sierra County feel. For example, instead of a bimini top, she found an inexpensive beach umbrella to put into the fishing-rod holder at the center of the boat. It's not good in higher winds, but it's distinctive; sailors can recognize the boat because it's the only one on the lake with a parasol.

Goldilocks was delighted to learn that I wanted to use the motorboat for race committee duty Saturday. The boat gives her an opportunity to support Pyrat's racing, but she wants to learn more about how things work, so she can be more help in the future. Pat had given her a notebook with procedures of running races, but she wanted some hands-on experience. Gerald, after finishing his college finals, had driven all night to join us at the lake; he came on board the motorboat as well.

To begin with, there was almost no wind on the lake. Since only one of the boats racing in the Slocum had a motor, we towed all the rest out to the race area. Score one for the motorboat. Once we got to the race starting area, we did have to wait for wind, but because all the racers were there, we could start a race immediately when the wind did come up.

Just as the wind came up, Pyrat's MC Scow capsized, and although he got the boat upright, he wasn't able to get himself back up onto the boat. Compounding the problem was that he hadn't completely buckled up his PFD, and he was gradually slipping out beneath it. We zoomed to the rescue, deploying the motorboat's boarding ladder so Pyrat could get aboard and then onto his own boat. Score another one for the motorboat. Goldilocks thought maybe we should then tow Pyrat to shore, but he assured her he was all right and could keep sailing. With the temperature in the 90s, there wasn't much worry about hypothermia, so he finally persuaded her to let him sail.

We then set a starting line and called a course, and Goldilocks got to learn about how to run a starting sequence, with timing, flags, horn signals, and such. Pat even provided an extra learning experience when he had Black Magic over the line early, so she learned about recall procedures. She already knew that we should have fishing-rod holders on the boat to hold flags; now she knows how many we need and where they should go, and she's eager to get to work on that project. This boat had originally been abandoned in the back yard by the previous owner when she and Pyrat bought their house; now, instead of a decaying eyesore, it's a fun project. Score yet another one for the motorboat, although this one is more about personal fulfillment than sailing regatta duties.

When the wind came up, it did so nicely. Conditions were perhaps a bit on the stiff side for single-handed racing, but all of the racers handled it well. The motorboat's anchor – another great find that Goldilocks had come by – held well. By the time the race finished, the wind was beginning to scream. Gerald, at the helm, cranked the motor up and we roared back to the boat ramp, getting somewhat wet in the process, but glad we had a way to get back to port quickly. Score another biggie for the motorboat.

Sunday's weather shaped up similar to Saturday's, calm to start with winds showing up around midday and increasing – the main difference was that the temperature was about ten degrees warmer.

Zorro had had to go back to El Paso the night before for a special event at UTEP, but he had told us that he planned to return in the morning so he and I could sail in the Jack and Jill. Cornhusker had talked Bassmaster into being crew on her boat for the race, so I rode with them to the marina where both her boat and Zorro's are docked, while Pat and Gerald went to the other marina, where the motorboat lives. It had taken Bassmaster some time to get his stuff together, so I was worried about being late to meet Zorro. It turns out I didn't need to worry; there was no sign of him.

So, while other sailors got ready and set sail for the Jack and Jill, I waited for Zorro. I tried calling him, but the call went straight to his voice-mail.

Meanwhile, Pat and Gerald got the motorboat out to the race start area, but then the motor died. Yoda was preparing to sail the race with Esther; he got onto the motorboat to see if he could do something with the motor. He came to the conclusion that probably there was a problem with the carburetor, such as a stuck valve – as old as that motor is, it has a lot of, to use a technical term, gunk in it.

When it became obvious that Zorro wasn't going to show up, one of the other racing boats, Cultural Infidel, came to the marina to pick me up, so I wouldn't be roasting in the sun at the marina all day with no boat to ride, no money, and no vehicle, as Cornhusker and Bassmaster had given me a ride to the marina. We got to the course while Yoda was still working on the motor; eventually, he and Gerald managed to get the motor to where it would run, sort of, and then he got back on Esther's boat and I got onto the committee boat.

As on Saturday, we had to wait for the wind, but when it arrived, it came in nicely. If Zorro had showed up, he and I would have had a great afternoon on the water, with wind that remained mostly steady, a little on the light side but not frustratingly so, with some gusts to make things interesting.

While the wind was far from frustrating, the fact that I was sitting on an anchored motorboat instead of out sailing in the race was more than frustrating. I was watching my bucket go away. The trophy for the Jack and Jill race is, appropriately, a pail. The tradition is that each year, the previous year's winners provide a bottle of champagne to put into that pail, along with ice, for the new champions. The past few years, Zorro and I have simply been buying ourselves champagne every year (he likes pink). But Sunday, I was left to watch and see who Zorro and I would be buying the champagne for this year.

Cultural Infidel was first over the line. However, Esther and Yoda on Hot Flash were right behind and won the race on corrected time. So they will get the champagne and custody of the bucket. However, since Team Infidel came to my rescue, I plan to buy them a bottle of bubbly as well.

Once the race was over, it was time to start the motor and get back to the boat ramp. The motor ran rough, and it wouldn't put out much power, but it did get us there, stalling out just as we reached the courtesy dock. Gerald was able to paddle the boat onto its trailer. We'll be having one of the mechanically inclined members of the club look at that carburetor; it shouldn't be too hard to fix.

Meanwhile, the question remained … where was Zorro?

Late Monday, we finally heard the story. After the event at UTEP, instead of going home to rest up and prepare for the Jack and Jill, Zorro decided to pay a visit to his new girlfriend in Juarez. I have my doubts about this particular girlfriend, but then, well, he's in love (or at least thinks he is), and there's nothing I could say that would change his mind. Still, the decision to go and visit her wasn't exactly wise; while he was there, somebody slashed the tires on his car.

So, because of the slashed tires, Zorro didn't make it to the Jack and Jill race. It would have been nice if he could have phoned or otherwise communicated, so I could have made other arrangements. Penzance was at the lake, working on his boat, and he and I could have sailed Black Magic. Or Pat could have done committee boat duty solo and I could have had Gerald as crew. Or I could have twisted Teddy Bear's arm – he's regaining confidence about racing after recovering from some health problems, and Sunday's relatively gentle conditions would have been just right to take Warm N Fuzzy out.

But since I didn't hear from Zorro, I never got a chance to make other arrangements. Later, when Pat brought up that issue, Zorro claimed that his cell phone wasn't working, so he had told one person to give a message to another person to give a message to me – and both of the persons in that chain are not known for being reliable, and neither of them is particularly interested in sailboat racing or the Jack and Jill race or anything of the sort. I strongly suspect Zorro never gave the message in the first place, and he's blaming those other persons for my not receiving it to avoid taking any blame himself. But even if he did give the message, he should have known that the likelihood of my getting it was remote. He knows my cell phone is set to take his calls as high-priority 24/7. And even if I were asleep and not answering the phone, he could have left a voicemail that I would have gotten as soon as I woke up Sunday morning.

Final report on the weekend:

Motorboat for race support: big thumbs up, especially when we get the carburetor fixed and additional flag holders in place. And Goldilocks has other improvements in mind – those are going to be fun to see.

Zorro: thumbs down for leaving me high and VERY dry on the dock. Yeah, I can be sympathetic about the slashed tires. But he definitely could have done a much better job of communicating so I could have made other arrangements. I could be enjoying that champagne with Penzance, Gerald, Teddy Bear, or somebody else.

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Tuesday, May 05, 2009

New Mexico in sports headlines

The state’s been getting some respect lately

This past weekend was the final regatta of the Rio Grande Sailing Club’s spring series. It turned out to be one of those “on average, it’s perfect” weekends, with way too much wind on Saturday and very little wind on Sunday.

Saturday, most of the boats in the racing fleet went out, but conditions were so rough that nearly all of the boats headed back to the marina before the racing even began. After getting boats put away and securely moored in the marina, a large number of sailors ended up in the living room of the J/24 Fleet 141 Headquarters, with a television on, tuned to that little horse race in Kentucky.

We watched as the horses left their stalls to be led to the starting gate for the race. Among the audience was Zorro, who often goes to Sunland Park and generally does well at assessing the horses he bets upon. I can’t reproduce the dialogue exactly, as I can’t remember exactly who said exactly what, but it went something like this:

Oh, I like that one, he’s my boy. Look at how long his legs are …

Now that’s a pretty horse …

Look at how that one is jumping – he has so much energy, but he’s nervous; he’s not going to do well …

Hey, here’s our hometown hero – he’s from New Mexico!

Nah, he’s too small.

What an ugly horse.

He’s a fifty-to-one long shot; maybe I oughta put money on him.

He came in fourth in the Sunland Derby – how’d he get here?

I like that tall gray one, what’s his name?

I gotta go for Pioneer of the Nile, he’s my boy.

And so on and so forth … and now anybody who hasn’t been living under a rock somewhere knows that the little brown horse from New Mexico, Mine that Bird, won the Kentucky Derby. He bears a strong resemblance to Seabiscuit, not just physically, but also in the emotional response he draws from fans. He’s the little guy, the ordinary person, who somehow manages to pull off great things.

But Mine that Bird isn’t the only New Mexico sports success recently … last year’s Baja Ha-Ha sailing race was won by three desert rats from New Mexico.

Zorro has his eye on a boat in the San Francisco Bay area that he wants to buy. Maybe next year, he and I can do the Three Bridge Fiasco.

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