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, October 31, 2009

The International District

Sometimes, a name IS important.

For many years, a certain area of Albuquerque was known as the "War Zone," not just informally, but actually in Albuquerque Police Department communications and reports – it was a collection of lower-income neighborhoods, with a very large population of immigrants, and an extremely high crime rate, exacerbated by much gang activity.

But then things began to change.

The changes started out small. Some of the residents of the area started to get together. They started to pressure the city for better street lighting – or at least for the city to maintain the street lights that existed but seemed never to get fixed when they broke. The people wanted other street safety measures as well – more speed-limit signs, and speed humps, roundabouts, and other "traffic calming" measures, things that would discourage drive-by shootings and also make drivers drive more carefully, so it would be safer for kids to play outside.

Somewhere along the way, the area residents also decided that they did not want the place they lived to be known as the "War Zone." They went to the City Council, and they got the name "War Zone" officially deleted from the police department's vocabulary. Instead, they promoted the use of the term "International District," to emphasize the richness and diversity of all of the different cultures, both American and immigrant, that live in the area.

At the time, my response was, "Yeah, right." Like changing the name of that area would really make the crime go away. Like no longer calling it the War Zone would make it no longer be one. Like the wonderfully New-Agey "International District" would magically be full of peace and light.

As it turns out, the residents of the area were willing to go beyond the semantics and well-meaning thoughts that so often characterize outsiders' attempts to improve the quality of life in less-privileged communities. They did it themselves. With inspiration that came from people within the community, they got organized. They put pressure on the city to provide infrastructure. They formed neighborhood watches that cooperated with the police to get crime under control. They formed neighborhood associations where everybody got to know everybody else, and they got to caring about their neighbors and wanting to help each other out and work together. They got together in work parties to clean up the neighborhoods and refurbish the decaying community center. They put together a community garden.

Now, as one of my students who lives in the area says, it's a safe, happy place for children to play. And even at night, after the children have gone to bed, it's not the same as it used to be. In the past, once darkness fell, the streets belonged to the gangs. Now, people are out in the streets, and there's life. Vans and pushcarts sit on street corners and sell tacos and tortas and such, and there are plenty of customers out. It feels like what I imagine an ethnic neighborhood in a big city might feel like – socialization, togetherness, community.

Sometimes a name really DOES matter.

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

NaNoWriMo upcoming

Looking for characters and clues on the sports desk

Those of you who have been following my blog for a while know that during the month of November, I vanish – or at least fade out for a while. That's because November is National Novel Writing Month, when I take up the challenge of writing 50,000 words in 30 days.

I've been participating in this event since 2004, and I've always made the 50K-word mark. That first year, I did an action-adventure yarn that ended up going nowhere, but since then, I've been doing murder mysteries. The formula is simple: I start in an interesting location, I create a totally obnoxious, unlikeable character, I give about a dozen people reasons to want that character dead, I kill that character off, and then I spend the rest of the 50,000 words investigating all of the suspects. My main character is a community-college English instructor who sometimes gets some help from her police-detective boyfriend.

In past years Hannah and Harry have investigated murders at the community college, the yacht club (who could ever imagine that sailors would bicker and have conflicts?), the family reunion (that one was my mom's idea), and the little theater. In this year's NaNo novel, Hannah has been invited to write a guest column on grammar for the local newspaper, and she discovers intrigue and then murder on the sports desk.

So … this year, I'm asking for input about what sorts of characters might be hanging around the sports desk, or be subjects of articles and investigations by reporters on the sports desk, or otherwise might be involved in a murder on the sports desk. I've got a few ideas from when I worked on the sports desk of a metropolitan daily newspaper some years ago, but I'm interested in hearing others' ideas.

When I mentioned this year's title to someone who works for a sports promotion firm, she immediately suggested that I kill off a photographer. But I'm kinda sweet on photographers, especially as my son is now in college learning how to be one.

FWIW, based on the chronology of when last year's NaNo novel ended, it's hockey season.

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Sunday, October 18, 2009

Sail tuning clinic and other great stuff

… including a lot of time on the water …

The past couple of weeks have been very rough, and so it was a good thing to get to the lake this weekend. Zorro had finished putting new bottom paint on Black Magic, so it was time to put her back in the water and move her back to the other marina, where the mast-up storage lot is. But in the meantime, she, Constellation, and Caliente were to be used Saturday in a sailboat tuning and sail trim workshop to be run by Zorro and Dumbledore.

We got to the lake late Friday afternoon; Zorro and Dumbledore and a couple of other sailors had just set sail, but the winds were so extremely light that they didn't get very far. We went to the mast-up lot and pulled out Syzygy, our MacGregor, which had been parked in Black Magic's spot for the past couple of weeks, de-rigged the MacGregor, and hauled her to her usual storage lot.

Saturday morning, we launched Black Magic in extremely light conditions and sailed (or, really, drifted) the block or so to the marina, where we tied up for the clinic. In addition to the three Etchells, Dumbledore's J/24, Kachina, was available as a demo boat, and two cruising sailors had brought their boats in to learn how to tune the rigging on their boats. We also had two sailors on hand who didn't bring their Catalina 30s, but who wanted to learn more. While a lot of the finer points of rig tuning apply more to racing boats than cruisers, even cruising boats can benefit from a well-tuned rig, and so the cruisers really appreciated the lessons.

Then it was time for the lessons in sail trim. There was still very little wind, so we took the sailors out on Constellation, Caliente, and Kachina. Pat and I ended up with Zorro on Constellation, Dumbledore took the cruising sailors out on Kachina, and a couple of others were on Caliente. For a while, things weren't very exciting, as even the racing boats weren't exactly going fast. The guys on Caliente gave up and went back to the marina.

They quit too soon. Almost immediately, the wind began to fill in. It never got really stiff, probably reaching a maximum of about 10 mph, but it was just right for sailing lessons. Constellation and Kachina had a good mock-race upwind to one of our turning marks and then back downwind to the marina; Dumbledore reported that the cruising sailors had a great time. After Kachina headed back to the marina, we stayed out for another hour or so, and all in all we had a great time.

Sunday morning, Pat sailed Black Magic to the other marina, while I drove the truck and trailer to meet him at the other boat ramp. The wind was great, and Zorro on Constellation and Carguy on Caliente were out sailing, too. From the parking lot at the top of the boat ramp, the three Etchells looked wonderful out together. We hauled Black Magic out, and just as we were finishing putting everything away, we got a call from Zorro – he and Carguy were going to take a break for lunch, where we could join them and then go out sailing with them afterward.

So after lunch, I joined Zorro on Constellation, while Pat got on board Caliente with Carguy. The winds were getting stiffer, and there were a couple of small thunderstorms in the area, but nothing too threatening. We figured we could expect a few brisk gusts from them, but those would only make things more interesting.

We had some good sailing, and with the two boats close together, Zorro could give Pat and Carguy lessons in sail trim, to help them improve their sail handling. We went up and down the lake, and then back and forth between some buoys nearer the marina. Pat and Carguy decided that a nearby cloud looked a little too threatening – and besides, Carguy's girlfriend wanted him to get home to El Paso to attend a party – so they headed back to the marina. Meanwhile, Zorro and I decided that cloud looked like it was breaking up, so we stayed out.

For about another half hour, we had more good wind. Then that cloud broke up as we had thought it would, and the wind began to fade. Then it went away, and we were once again in "Slow Boat to China" mode, two miles out from the marina. Oh, well, at least that gave Pat a good opportunity for a nap.

So let's see what we accomplished this weekend:

  • Major stress relief from some seriously awful things that have been going on over the past three weeks.
  • Some cruising sailors who now know how to make their boats perform better, and at least two who would like to volunteer as crew for racers on regatta weekends.
  • Improved racing sailboat handling for Pat and Carguy.
  • An opportunity for Zorro and me to hone our karaoke skills.

Yeah, it was a good weekend.

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Sunday, October 11, 2009

Is less more?

Looking at the past to answer the current question

Over at Proper Course, Tillerman has posted a writing project assignment, "Less is More," inviting bloggers to either agree or disagree with that statement and apply it to sailing or blogging about sailing or whatever else we happen to do on the water.

I have two posts from the past that might be seen as addressing the issue, and they are distant enough in the past that many of the current regular visitors to this blog may not have seen them. With some updates, I'm reproducing them here.

One post, whose title was something like "One of these things is not like the other," has disappeared from my blog archives (I have spent two hours searching for it, and I'm convinced it's not there anymore). It featured a picture of our MacGregor, Syzygy, parked alongside my Etchells, Black Magic, in the parking lot above the main boat ramp at Elephant Butte Lake. Both boats were rigged – I believe there had been a regatta, in which Black Magic had been a participant, and Syzygy had been the committee boat. The post went something like this:

Can you see a difference?

One of these boats has a cabin, bunks, a toilet, sink, stove, electricity, stereo system, motor, and various other luxuries.

The other one doesn't. It just goes fast.

The other post, "Strings to Pull," from September 2006, gives another answer to the question:

Yes, the Etchells is a special boat

This picture shows how the Etchells can be both simple and complicated at the same time. Above the deck, the boat is very clean. There is very little to trip over, very little to get bruised on, very little to get tangled up. In the terms used by mathematicians, the Etchells is very elegant: it has power in simplicity.

On the other hand, the Etchells also has a whole lot of controls that most boats, even most racing boats, don't have. Very few other classes of boats allow racers to change the setting of the shrouds during racing, and almost none permit adjustments of the mast at either the partners (the joint at the deck) or the butt (where the bottom end of the mast rests) during a race. But Etchells sailors are permitted such adjustments. And then there's the legendary fraculator – it's the line that Etchells sailors point to when they really want to emphasize that this boat is different from all others. Yeah, some other boats have fraculators, but not many.

Here is a quick quiz: How many lines can you identify? If you can name at least half of them, then you probably already sail an Etchells, but if you don't, you should get in contact with the nearest Etchells fleet, because some skipper there probably needs your talent. To make the task easier, I will list the lines, so all you have to do is match the names with the lines in the photo.

Aft mast block

Bilge pump

Boom vang

Forward dock lines

Forward mast block


Jib halyard

Jib luff


Mast aft

Mast forward


Port jib fine tune

Port jib sheet

Port spinnaker sheet

Port spinnaker twing

Port lower shroud

Port upper shroud

Port shroud keeper

Spinnaker halyard

Spinnaker pole keeper

Starboard jib fine tune

Starboard jib sheet

Starboard spinnaker sheet

Now, of course, there are some lines that don't show up in this picture, such as the mainsheet fine tune, the starboard spinnaker twing, the starboard upper shroud, lower shroud, and keeper, the spinnaker pole topping lift, the foreguy, the backstay, the traveler, and the aft dock lines.

Yeah, when you sail an Etchells, there are a lot of strings to pull. Learning all of those strings is, for me, part of the beauty of the boat. It's not a boat for sissies, and it's also not a boat for intellectual lightweights. It's a boat for people who think, and who have brains to process a whole lot of information very quickly and then translate that information into action. I'm only just learning, but I love all of what I have learned from Black Magic, and I plan to learn more.

So … Is the Etchells a boat in which less is more, or a boat in which more is more?

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Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Sunset, moonlight, Sunrise Regatta

Not much time to write; will try to keep this brief

This past weekend was the Rio Grande Sailing Club's Sunrise Regatta, consisting of four fleets: 10-mile, 25-mile spinnaker, 25-mile non-spinnaker, and 50-mile. The regatta gets its name because if the winds are light, sunrise is about when the 50-milers finish.

Pat and I got to the lake Friday afternoon, so he could take the club's motorboat out and put flashing lights on the navigation buoys that were to be used as turning marks during the race, so sailors could see them after dark. Before going to get the boat, Pat dropped me off at the Rock Canyon Marina, where I was to meet Zorro to sail with him. When I got there, he was already out sailing on the lake, but after about a half hour, he came to pick me up.

The wind was brisk, and so I had to hop on board Constellation from the dock while the boat was moving fairly fast. In order to make the jump easier, and since it was only going to be a short sail, I left almost everything in my gear bag, which I stowed on Windependent, Twinkle Toes' boat, on which Zorro and I and a few other people would be sailing in the 25-mile spinnaker fleet Saturday. Thus, when Zorro and I set sail, I was wearing my hat, sunglasses, and PFD, but I didn't have my non-sun glasses, my lip balm, or my cell phone with me. Well, we weren't going to be out long, so I wouldn't need those things – or so I thought.

It was late afternoon, but the wind was good, so Zorro decided to make a reconnaissance trip to the southernmost of the turning marks, to verify exactly where it was so we wouldn't have to hunt for it Saturday. As we arrived at that mark, the wind began to fade. On our way back to the marina, as the sun was going down, so was the wind. Then, when we were about halfway back, the wind went away completely. If I had had my cell phone, I could have called Pat to bring the motorboat and give us a tow in, but, well, I didn't have it. As it turned out, Pat had tried to phone me to ask what was up, but when he didn't get an answer, he figured that Zorro and I were simply enjoying our time on the water.

At this point, well, we didn't have much choice but to sit there and enjoy the sunset and try to find at least a little bit of a hint of a puff of wind. So we did. The sunset was glorious – but I didn't have a camera, or even a cell phone, to take a picture of it, so readers will have to take my word on that.

It was about this point that some song lyrics started humming through my head … and Zorro's too. I ended up with "Slow Boat to China" stuck in my brain for the whole weekend, and then some – it's still floating around my synapses. Zorro admitted that he, too, thought of the same song, although I was thinking of Jimmy Buffett's version, and he was thinking of Bette Midler's.

Just about as the sun set, we picked up just a hint of wind, and then a little more, and the boat was again moving, although not all that fast. The light was fading from the sky, and I realized I wouldn't be able to see all that well in the dark with my sunglasses on, but I didn't have my other glasses to change into. I tried going without any glasses on, but I'm so nearsighted, I couldn't see a thing – dark glasses were better than no glasses. Zorro admitted that his own night vision wasn't so great, either.

Meanwhile, in the east, the full moon was rising. So was the wind. Constellation picked up speed. We put up a spinnaker to get back to the marina more quickly. The wind built. And then it built some more. We were flying along, keeping pace with the waves, as the silvery moonlight reflected off the water like a million diamonds and gave us just barely enough light to see what we were doing. It was an awesome feeling, surfing the waves, the wind in my face, ripping along in the glow of the moon.

When we arrived at the marina, we found the harbor entrance almost by accident, and when we came to the dock, a fisherman on the shore facing the marina had a spotlight that provided enough light to allow us to get into the slip without incident.

I have in the past blogged about a peak
with Team Zorro … this was another peak experience.

Saturday was the Sunrise Regatta. On board Windependent were boat owner Twinkle Toes, Zorro, Blondie, Blondie's boyfriend, and a friend of Zorro's from Belize who now lives in the U.S. and has his own boat. Zorro was at the helm, Twinkle Toes on main trim, Boyfriend and Belize on jib trim, Blondie tailing, and I wherever there was a hole that needed filling. Winds were stiff, and they gradually got stiffer as the day went on, but they never got to the really insane levels that they sometimes get. For the first half of the race, in particular, they were in the range that was great for a Hunter 34, enough to make such a big and clumsy boat move smartly. Later, they got to a level at which reefing the sails would have been good, but this boat's not rigged for easy reefing, so we kept full sail up and just pressed on.

One of the rules of thumb about racing on Windependent is that something ALWAYS breaks. That is especially true in rougher conditions. But this time around, we got lucky. There were two things that broke, neither of them a serious problem. On the first upwind leg, because of the stiff winds, we didn't raise a full-size spinnaker; instead, we used an old Etchells spinnaker that Zorro had donated to the cause. It did the trick, bringing the boat up to the maximum hull speed for a Hunter 34. It also looked very silly, just a little handkerchief high up and out in front of the mast. As we were approaching a narrow channel leading to the northern part of the lake, Zorro was talking about how we were going to take that sail down in order to zigzag through the channel – and then there was a major wind shift and we broached. The spinnaker was ripped to shreds in the incident.

The second thing that broke was the nail on my right pinkie. That's OK; I don't think I've ever had a worthwhile sail on which I didn't break a nail or two. If there were no broken nails, it was probably not fun. Maybe whenever Windependent races, I should be on board so what gets broken is one of my nails, and nothing important.

In our fleet, we were second over the finish line behind the J/24 Hot Flash, but we beat her on corrected time.

Oh, yeah, that song … Consider this a lengthy intro to a Poetry Corner – another one on Frank Loesser, whom I've featured before. This is the version that Buffett sings, adapted from Lyrics Depot.

On A Slow Boat To China
By: Frank Loesser

I'd love to get you
On a slow boat to China
All to myself alone

Get you and keep you
In my arms ever more
Leave all your lovers
Weepin' on a far away shore

Out on the briny
With the moon big and shiny
Melting your heart of stone
Honey I'd love to get you
On a slow boat to China
All by myself alone


I'd love to get you
On a slow boat to China
All to myself alone
A twist in the rudder
And a rip in the sails
Driftin' and dreamin'
Honey throw the compass over the rail

Out on the ocean
Far from all the commotion
Melting your heart of stone
Honey I'd love to get you
On a slow boat to China
All by myself alone

Honey I'd love to get you
On a slow boat to China
All to myself alone

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