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.

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Location: Rio Arriba County, New Mexico, United States

Sunday, February 25, 2007

A weekend of ups and downs

Draining both physically and emotionally

Saturday had originally been scheduled for the New Mexico State University sailing class to have time on the water, primarily on J/24s with Mother Superior and Dumbledore, but Pat and I also had agreed to make Black Magic available if needed. Meanwhile, Tadpole and Pat were planning on taking the New Mexico State Parks boating safety class – Tad because it’s now required for boaters under the age of 18 to operate a boat (including PWCs) in New Mexico, and Pat because he and I are planning to become certified to teach the class.

But as of Thursday, the weather forecast for the weekend looked decidedly unsuitable for taking beginning sailors on high-performance boats: steady winds over 20 mph, and gusts up to 55, especially Friday but also Saturday. So the college students’ lesson was postponed, and I signed up to join Pat and Tad in the boating safety class.

We got to T or C Friday afternoon, and the wind was wicked. Fortunately, the propane tank had been filled, and electricity had been restored to both halves of the doublewide. We could see that Tres was not doing well, and we turned the heat up for his comfort. I fired up the laptop, and just for fun, I plugged in the wireless card to see what would happen; amazingly, it picked up a signal from somewhere – I’m guessing probably the Lutheran church across the street, since this is not the sort of neighborhood where people have the sort of money to pay for high-speed Internet. So even though cell phone reception is iffy, and television signals are nearly nonexistent, I can still be in touch with the world.

When we got up early Saturday to get ready to go to the boating safety class, Tres was dead. We put him into a small ice chest to preserve him until we could get back to Albuquerque, where we plan to have him cremated.

The boating safety class lasted all day Saturday, save for a break for lunch. The majority of the students were teenagers, along with one family, one other adult, and one park ranger who, like Pat and me, was working to get certified to teach the class. As we went through lessons about rules, regulations, and safe boating practices (especially as applied to PWCs – one of the issues was how in the world to carry all of the state-required stuff on PWCs, especially the older ones that don’t have storage compartments), the wind howled outside; we were definitely glad to be inside the warm classroom. Out the window, Tadpole saw one of the portable toilets on the beach blow away. The boating safety education center also has an automated weather recording station, “Wendy” the Weather Wizard; it recorded a gust of 49 during one of the class breaks when Tad was watching it.

At the end of the day, we all passed the test and got our certificates, as well as a coupon for two free nights’ camping in New Mexico State Parks – the park system’s incentive to get people to take the class (the other incentive is that the class is free). We returned to the doublewide, where Dulce was especially friendly and possibly a bit puzzled by Tres’ absence. It had been a long day.

Sunday morning was calm, and the weather reports Pat got from the Internet indicated that the winds would pick up around noon to between 10 and 15, possibly with gusts to 20, depending on which forecast we looked at. That gave us the morning to do some more cleaning up in the doublewide, and then we headed to Black Magic about 11. We phoned Cornhusker and invited her to come along; she showed up as we were getting ready to set sail a half hour later.

To begin with, the wind was very light, on occasion fading to nearly nothing. We ghosted along for a couple of hours, waiting for the predicted winds to show up. We were about halfway from Horse Island to Rattlesnake Island when we finally did get wind in the 10 mph range. Black Magic took off, and we were flying along through the racecourse area and on toward Kettletop Butte. Then we headed southward, and we had the idea of getting the spinnaker up. But no – we had been on a close reach going north, and now, once again, we were on a close reach. This time, however, we were headed south. Just for fun, we called Wendy the Weather Wizard to find out what the wind report would say; it indicated that over the past 20 minutes, the wind speed had ranged from 0 to 13 mph.

Then things started to get seriously weird. First, the wind died. Then it did a major shift to the northwest. Then it got stronger. Then it shifted back to the south. Then it got even stronger. We were sailing in whitecaps, little at first, then getting bigger. Meanwhile, just behind us, from Rattlesnake Island northward, the lake was glassy smooth.

We were screaming close-hauled down the channel past Horse Island toward the Elephant. Wind shifts knocked the boat around, making it difficult to hold a steady course. We took the jib down, but we were still getting blown about, and tacking our way to the marina was hairy. We ended up going past the marina to the area between it and the Dam Site, where we dropped the main. Even without any sails, we still had enough momentum to get back to the marina, and we still had enough way on when we got to the slip that docking was a bit rough. But we only put a minor dent in the dock and dislodged one rubber cap from a corner of a pier, and there was no damage to people or boat. We called Wendy again, and we found that in the past 20 minutes, the winds had ranged from 6 to 41.

There’s a saying about wind on New Mexico lakes: In general, you have either way too little wind, or way too much. Of course, that means, on average, it’s perfect.

We got our late lunch/early supper at a Mexican restaurant near the doublewide, where the cook definitely believes there is no such thing as too much garlic. Since I agree with that philosophy, I enjoyed the meal immensely. Then we packed up and headed back to Albuquerque.

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Saturday, February 24, 2007

Poetry Corner: Danny Boy

Let’s hoist a pint in memory of those no longer among us

Ironically, this song, which gets lots of play on St. Patrick’s day, is based on a Northern Irish tune, and its lyrics were written by an Englishman, Frederick Weatherly.

I’m playing it tonight in honor of Tres, whose red-gold fur and green eyes seemed especially Irish. And he also was fey – what modern Americans would call either intuitive (if they’re scientifically minded) or psychic (if they believe in such powers). You can find the lyrics and also listen to the song (with some variations in the exact wording of the lyrics, but then, that’s what folk music is about) at Brobdingnagian Bards.

Danny Boy

words Frederick Weatherly and music traditional

Oh Danny boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling
From glen to glen, and down the mountain side
The summer's gone, and all the flowers are dying
'tis you, 'tis you must go and I must bide.

But come you back when summer's in the meadow
Or when the valley's hushed and white with snow
'tis I'll be there in sunshine or in shadow
Oh Danny boy, oh Danny boy, I love you so.

And if you come, when all the flowers are dying
And I am dead, as dead I well may be
You'll come and find the place where I am lying
And kneel and say an "Ave" there for me.

And I shall hear, tho' soft you tread above me
And all my dreams will warm and sweeter be
If you'll not fail to tell me that you love me
I simply sleep in peace until you come to me.

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In memoriam

Tres was a good cat

Tres had been going downhill rapidly for the past week. He had lost a lot of weight, and we took him to the vet’s office on Tuesday to get weighed; he was down to just over 5 pounds, down from more than 7 pounds the last time he had been in. He had been having more digestive problems. The vet’s office was booked up for this week, so we made an appointment for next Tuesday.

He won’t be needing that appointment. Last night, he collapsed, hardly able to walk. He went to sleep curled up in Tadpole’s arms, and this morning, he was gone.

We’ll miss him, how he was always the empathetic cat who knew what people are feeling and was on hand to offer up a purr and a snuggle. He was not always the smartest cat around, and we often laughed at his antics. When he first came to our household, he was an adolescent cat, gawky and a bit klutzy, but he outgrew that into a cat who created his own circus stunts. And he was the sweetest, most loyal cat we have ever known; we called him our puppy-cat.

Vaya con dios.

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Monday, February 19, 2007

The Rio Grande Marina Challenge Cup and other stuff

It was a busy weekend …

Friday afternoon, as soon as Tadpole got out of school, we headed south to T or C. Tadpole and I worked some on cleaning the doublewide, while Pat got some groceries, and then we left Tadpole with the task of getting the furnace and water heater going while Pat and I went to the parking lot above the boat ramp to rig the MacGregor, Syzygy, to be committee boat for the Rio Grande Cup Saturday.

We got the boat rigged and ready to launch as darkness fell and returned to the trailer to find that Tadpole had figured out why the furnace and water heater weren’t working – there was no propane. Dino had arranged for one of the local propane companies to fill the tank, but that task had not been done. So we couldn’t cook, we didn’t have central heat, and we didn’t have hot water. Oh, well. We could eat out, and we had a couple of electric space heaters to keep warm with, and if someone is so obsessed that he needs a shower every single day no matter what, he can make do with a cold one.

Saturday morning was the crew meeting for the Rio Grande Cup regatta. This is not one of the usual regattas – there were matched pairs of boats, and one boat in each pair was on a team representing one of two marinas, Rock Canyon and Dam Site; the marina whose team wins the most matchups gets to keep the cup until the next time. The plan was for one pair each of Etchells, J/24s, J/22s, and an “open” class consisting of a Freedom 21 and a Victory 21. As it turned out, the J/22s didn’t show up.

After the crew meeting, Zorro, Tadpole and I headed for the marina to rig Black Magic for the regatta. At the marina, we met Twinkletoes, and Zorro decided, in order to make the competition more equitable, to donate Tadpole to the other Etchells, since its crew is inexperienced in this particular boat. So the plan was that Tadpole would help us rig the boat, and then when we got out the race course, he would join Sutherland, Teddy Bear and Dixie on White Lightin’.

The weather predictions for Saturday had been widely varying – one service forecast winds of 10-15 mph with gusts of 20 or more, but most of the others were predicting somewhere in the range of 5 to 10. As it turns out, the wind didn’t even get up to 5. It was a total stinker of a drifter. Pat on the committee boat called for an upwind-downwind-upwind course; at the start, all six boats were reasonably close, and for much of the first leg, four boats kept together: White Lightnin’, representing Dam Site Marina; Black Magic, representing Rock Canyon Marina; the Victory 21 Chi, with Mother Superior at the helm and Dumbledore as crew, representing Rock Canyon; and the J/24 Sueñadora, also representing Rock Canyon. The other two boats representing Dam Site, the Freedom 21 Wind Rush and the J/24 Kachina, quickly fell behind.

The wind shifted as we approached the supposedly windward mark, such that we were on a broad reach. When we rounded the mark, we were close-hauled. When we were about two-thirds of the way back to where the committee boat was, the wind shifted again, and we were able to fly the spinnaker. At this point, White Lightnin’ and Chi were a bit behind us. We drew out a nice lead on the way to the leeward mark. The wind began to shift forward, such that we were on a beam reach and sometimes a close reach, making it a challenge to keep the chute flying. Given this wind shift, when we got to the leeward mark, we gybed around it while keeping the spinnaker up, to see if we could keep it flying on the final leg of the course. But the wind hadn’t shifted quite enough, and we couldn’t keep the chute up, so we had to take it down.

Black Magic finished first, with White Lightnin’ more than 12 minutes behind, and Chi about 12 minutes behind that. Sueñadora finished some time later; two hours later, Wind Rush and Kachina were still stalled out around the windward mark and quit the race.

Just as the Etchells got to the finish line, the wind picked up a bit, so Zorro and Pat decided to run a second race on a short upwind-downwind course for the Etchells while waiting for the other boats to finish. Unfortunately, the wind died almost immediately afterward. Black Magic and White Lightnin’ were left drifting for an hour and a half until Pat finally decided to call off the race – where the committee boat was, the wind never died, so he didn’t know that we were becalmed. (He also had been totally unaware of the weird wind shifts during the first race.)

Pat then gave the Etchells a tow back toward the marinas. The wind finally came up along the way, so Zorro had Tadpole come back from White Lightnin’, and then we let go the tow rope and sailed back to the marina as the sun set. That last 20 minutes of the day was definitely the best part of it; the winds were nice, and I had good crew, with Zorro, Twinkletoes, and Tadpole. We came in to the dock as darkness was falling; we left the boat rigged in case there would be good weather for sailing Sunday.

The post-regatta dinner was an extremely casual affair, at a local taco place that has earned very high marks with the sailing club for being glad to have us around. Normally, the place doesn’t open until 11 in the morning, but the folks that run it were willing to unlock the doors at 10 for our crew meeting – they said they wouldn’t have food, but they could have coffee “and such.” Much to the delight of a couple of our skippers, “and such” included beer – it’s not just a breakfast drink any more. Then, they made arrangements to stay open later in the evening than usual for our post-regatta dinner; their philosophy was that as long as we were there and buying food and drinks, they were glad to have us.

After the dinner, we persuaded Zorro to come by the doublewide before he headed home to El Paso. He was beginning to come down with a cold, so we parked him in an easy chair next to one of the electric space heaters. Dulce and Tres were glad to see him, especially Tres, who usually doesn’t like outsiders, especially tall ones. But in this case, Tres thought Zorro was OK for a bit of lap time.

Sunday dawned overcast and calm. We worked for a while on cleaning up the doublewide, and then the electricity quit in one half of the house – the half that includes the living room and the master bedroom. None of the circuit breakers were tripped, so as far as we can tell, the problem is probably in the connection between the two halves of the house. We tried to call Dino, but we also discovered that the doublewide is in a cell-phone dead zone. So we went to breakfast at a local cafe, where the cell phone worked better, and we left a message on Dino’s voice-mail.

Next, we went to de-rig Syzygy and return her to the storage lot, and then we went to Black Magic. There wasn’t enough wind to think of sailing, so we did some boat maintenance projects and worked on inventorying the sails. Late in the day, we went back to the doublewide, picked up the cats, and headed north. In Socorro, we dropped off Tadpole at New Mexico Tech to spend the night in a dorm with the older brother of one of the members of his Boy Scout troop, in order to attend the open house that Tech was holding Monday.

Monday, Pat had to work, but I didn’t, so I took it easy. Monday night, Tadpole came home from the open house at Tech, where he had a wonderful time. He got a close look at some exciting research that was going on, such as the world’s current biggest reflecting telescope, which is, by decree of Congress, to find every single object 1 km or greater in diameter, in the Kuiper Belt, the Asteroid Belt, or anywhere else in the Solar System, in case it might collide with Earth. He also saw presentations about extremely low-cost photovoltaic cells, explosive welding, and a bunch of other stuff. And he was also impressed with the technology in the dorm room he stayed in – its occupants are uber-geeks who have managed to daisy-chain four intact game consoles, plus one that was damaged by falling out of a window, plus a major sound system, plus three computers (at least one custom-built), plus two televisions, into a massive gaming-entertainment complex. Funny thing was, when I heard about the system, the first thing I thought of was how to get it to connect to Tillerman’s favorite electronic diversion, Tacticat. The kinetic controller of the Wii seems custom-designed to take tiller movements, and it can probably also do something akin to evaluating body movements – in some of the simulations that it already does, it can detect the differences between the body movements of a fencer and the arm and wrist movements.

Anyhow, Tadpole was already considering Tech as a place to go to college, and now, he’s even more excited about it. Of course, I don’t want him to limit his prospects, so I do want him also to look at places further afield such as Rice or MIT (hey, Tillerman, can you have Litoralis give Tad some advice?). But if he does go to Tech, he’s even closer to Elephant Butte Lake than we are, so I haven’t lost a valuable crew member yet.

P.S. I was just making sure the links I put in above were working, and I see that Tillerman is in 10th place in the Tacticat standings, and Litoralis is 2nd. Way to go, guys.

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Friday, February 16, 2007

Programming note

Additional links are added for your enjoyment

You may note a couple of new items over on the left under “Links.” Nanseeking, who was my mentor when I first hired on at the community college where I work, had the idea of fostering community among us instructors by sharing blogs. Thus, I have placed her blog, Nanseeking Nonsequiturs, in the list.

Through her blog, I have discovered that of another of my colleagues, and I have been surprised by how much alike we are, in dream-inspired creative writing, which I, as she has, have been ignoring way too much, and even such strange coincidences as a teenage son who has become intrigued with exotic sorts of tea. She devalues herself when she says nobody will be reading what she says. Check out Tijeras Snow.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Getting good starts

The sailors aren’t the only ones who want to nail the beginning of a race

One of the most visible activities of the race committee is running the starts of the races. It’s more complicated than it looks, and it’s also something that absolutely must be done right. The fleet is depending on the committee, first, to set a good starting line and a straight course, and then to run the starting countdown precisely.

For most races, the ideal course is straight upwind-downwind. Such a course requires tacking and gybing, and thus it is more of a test of the racers’ sailing skills. Triangular courses that involve reaching legs are still sometimes used, but in general, reaching doesn’t involve much in the way of tactical maneuvers, and the reaching legs tend to turn into boat parades.

The trick in setting the course, then, is getting it aligned with the wind. Using movable inflatable buoys is the most precise way to do this, but it also requires additional committee people and boats to move the buoys around. Clubs with fewer resources may have a set of fixed buoys in a circle at 45-degree intervals, so a course can be set that is at least more or less upwind-downwind. Or a club might have to make do with existing channel markers, with the result that, for some wind directions, a good course isn’t even really possible.

If the committee is successful in setting a true course and line, the result is a course on which neither tack will be favored, and a line on which neither end will be favored. This prevents the whole fleet from bunching up at one end of the line and reduces problems with boats fouling each other or ending up over the line early.

Of course, in real life, nothing is ever ideal, especially if you’re someplace where the wind often shifts, sometimes by a huge arc. If the wind is oscillating, such that it will be coming back, the course should be set to the center of the oscillations so that on average, it will be straight. If the wind shift is persistent and is greater than 20 degrees or so for an upwind leg, or 10 degrees for a downwind leg, the committee should realign the course. Even if this means delaying the race, it’s better to have a fair race.

The starting sequence of the race is signaled with flags. Sound signals are also used, but the flag signals are the ones that count. A misfiring starting gun or a malfunctioning horn is not reason to call off the starting sequence; racers should be looking to flags for the final authority.

The committee on the signal boat should keep the Answering Pennant (AP) ready to hand. Things can and do go wrong during a starting sequence, and it’s better to signal postponement with AP, make everything right, and run the starting sequence over again. If somebody goofs with the starting flags, the committee can fly AP (with two sound signals) and restart the sequence. If there’s a sudden big wind shift, the committee should fly AP and reset the line and the windward mark. If there’s a big mob of boats that’s going to be over the line early, especially if the committee is running one or more of the flags that adds extra penalties to being on the course side, the committee can prevent disaster by flying AP and running another start.

The standard starting sequence is five minutes. Five minutes before the start is the warning; the class flag is flown, with one sound. Four minutes before the start is the preparatory signal; the preparatory flag is flown, with one sound. The standard preparatory flag is P; it should not be a plain blue flag, which has other meanings. When flag P is used, boats on the course side of the line (OCS) simply need to dip back completely behind the line to start. Instead of P, the committee may fly other flags indicating additional rules. When I is flown, boats that are OCS at the start must go around the end of the line and cross from the back. When Z is flown, boats that are in the triangle formed by the first mark and the ends of the starting line during the last minute before the start are assessed a 20% scoring penalty. I and Z may be flown together. The last type of preparatory flag is the black flag; when it is flown, boats in the triangle during the last minute before the start are disqualified.

One minute before the start, the preparatory flag is lowered, with a long sound signal. This alerts the boats that flag Z or black flag restrictions are in effect.

At the start, the class flag is lowered, with one sound signal, and the timer starts timing the race – this is an especially important task for mixed fleets, where handicaps will be applied to boats’ finishing times to produce the corrected results. If any boats are OCS at the start, flag X is raised, with one sound signal; it remains up until all boats have returned to the pre-start side of the line (or gone around the end of the line if flag I was flown at the preparatory signal), or until four minutes after the start, whichever comes first. The committee does not need to hail the OCS boats; it is expected that the crews of OCS boats know who they are and will take the appropriate action. Some committees will hail the OCS boats, but that is merely a courtesy and can cause trouble if racers come to expect that courtesy – a boat that was OCS but doesn’t return to the line before sailing the course may protest that she didn’t hear the hail.

If there are boats OCS that the race committee can’t identify, it isn’t fair to run the race with some boats having an unfair advantage over others. Then it’s time to issue a general recall. The First Substitute flag is flown, with two sounds. All boats return to the starting area. The First Substitute flag is lowered, with one sound, and one minute later, the warning signal is made for the new start.

In an aggressive fleet that often has many OCS boats, the committee may use I, Z, and/or the black flags to increase the penalties for being OCS, thus making boats more careful about the starting line. The black flag is a penalty of last resort, but in some especially aggressive fleets, the committee uses it from the beginning. In other fleets, the committee may rarely even have to resort to the lesser restrictions.

Now the race is underway, and the committee can take a breath, but not too long of one. It’s time to mind the course.

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Monday, February 12, 2007

What a race committee does

It takes coordination, and good volunteers are always needed

Sailboat racing can’t happen without a race committee to run the races, and the quality of the committee can make the difference between a really great day on the water and a completely horrendous experience. A good committee will make sure that the racing is fair, fun, and safe, while a poor committee may accomplish none of those objectives.

First, a committee must have certain resources to be successful:

· People. A committee can’t operate without volunteers; for each regatta, there will need to be people to run the signal boat and other boats, register participants, set courses, signal starts and finishes, time races, calculate scores, hear protests, arrange related social activities, and more. In a small club, finding people who are willing to help can be a challenge, and one person may find him- or herself doing many tasks. This can result in both burnout and ineffectiveness. It is good to find volunteers and treat them well, so they will keep coming back.

· Boats. Some clubs are fortunate enough to own a few boats that can be used for signal boats, mark boats, safety boats, and other on-the-water support. Other clubs have to rely on borrowed boats. At the very least, there has to be at least one boat for a signal boat, and ideally there is at least one other boat on the course for support functions. As with volunteers, borrowed boats are a precious resource to be treated carefully.

· Equipment. A committee should have a good kit of equipment used to run races: buoys, signal flags, sound-signaling devices, safety equipment, VHF radios, rule books, and more. This equipment must be kept in good condition, and it should be kept in a location where the volunteers for a regatta can easily get it. This can be a challenge for a small club that doesn’t own any facilities.

· Coordination/Communication: If committee members and race participants can’t communicate with each other, major problems arise. It is essential to have a clearly established system to make sure that vital information makes it to those who need to have it.

· Knowledge. At least one person serving on the committee should have a solid grounding in the Racing Rules of Sailing and the procedures for running races, both as practiced universally and the local club’s adaptations of those procedures. It is useful for other volunteers to have at least a basic understanding of the rules and procedures; on-the-water training is good for beginners. In addition, knowledge of local conditions and competitors will help a committee to plan races that are suitable, safe, and enjoyable for all.

Once the committee has the resources, it can work on making regattas successful. While perfection may not be possible, a well organized committee will work to prevent disasters and keep improving the experience for all involved.

· In advance: Work with the organizing authority (usually the local club) to write and publish the Notice of Race and Sailing Instructions. These documents are absolutely necessary even for informal “beer-can” races, and they must be in writing. The NOR is officially the responsibility of the club, and the SI is the race committee’s job, but since the two documents need to agree with each other, the club and the committee should work together. Racers count on these documents to spell out how races are to be run; a lack of guidelines can lead to serious misunderstandings and nasty bad feelings.

· Also in advance of the regatta: Coordinate with other groups that use the same water you do. Make sure you don’t schedule a big event at the same time as a big fishing tournament or jet-boat race meet.

· At the beginning of the regatta: Register participants. Make sure all participants pay any fees that are due. Make sure all participants have a copy of the SI and any related documents (course maps, etc.). Check weather forecasts and be prepared to make changes in plan should conditions be unsuitable; communicate those changes clearly to all involved.

· For the racing: Set the starting line, finish line, and any other marks that you need to set for the course. Run the starting sequence for races. Time starts and finishes. Keep track of boats on the course and be able to help those who have problems. Change courses and move marks as necessary to adapt to changing conditions. Remain in the racing area until all boats finish racing for the day and return to harbor; make sure all boats return safely.

· After the races: Retrieve all marker buoys. Inspect all equipment; clean what’s dirty, fix what’s broken (if possible), make note of what’s missing, and point out to the committee chair any broken or missing items that you couldn’t take care of. If the committee borrowed a boat or boats, make sure they are clean and in good condition before returning them.

· Scoring: Calculate corrected times for mixed fleet racing; determine finishing positions; calculate overall scores; post preliminary results. Arrange for a protest committee to hear protests; adjust scores to reflect protest committee rulings.

· At last: Attend the awards ceremony. Present awards. Eat, drink, be merry, and if all of the participants are happy, pat yourself on the back for a job well done.

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Head of the class

I think we did pretty well, for newbies

Saturday morning dawned … well, not bright, but certainly early, considering we had just traveled 1000 miles, arriving about 9 p.m. Friday night. We drove under chilly, overcast skies and intermittent mist to the Houston Yacht Club, where we met our instructors and fellow students, many of whom were taking this race management seminar to earn or re-certify credentials as regional or national race officers. This wasn’t a small, local sort of workshop; participants came from places like Louisiana, Florida, and Ohio.

We started the day with coffee and pastries served up by the yacht club. We then had some pretty intensive lessons, with a couple of breaks for lunch and snacks. We finished the day with an essay exam, which isn’t required for the club level certification that Pat and I came for, but we decided to take it anyway, just to see what it was like. It wasn’t too bad, and one of the questions – one many of our classmates found difficult – was especially easy for us: scoring a race. About the only thing different from what we’ve usually done was doing it on notebook paper rather than cocktail napkins. We don’t yet know how we did on the exam, but I think we both did all right.

After the exam, we got in touch with some cousins of Pat’s who live in the area, and we went to dinner at a seafood place near the boatyard where one of Pat’s cousins works. It was interesting to hear some of the tales of Pat’s family and various adventures that happened when he was younger. One other highlight of the evening was meeting the six cats who share a residence with one of Pat’s cousins and her husband and son.

Once back at the motel, Pat and I did some more studying, but we were exhausted enough that we didn’t last long. In particular, my digestive system rebelled, and I lost my dinner.

The second day of classes was much like the first, beginning with breakfast, then intensive lessons, lunch, and more lessons, culminating in an objective exam to test our knowledge. Since Pat and I were aiming for race management certification at the club level, we could have taken the basic exam. But we decided to go ahead and try the advanced exam, which many of the others in the class were taking to get certified or re-certified at the regional or national level.

To get a certification at the club level required a 75 on the advanced exam; for regional certification, 85; and for national, 90. My unofficial preliminary score was 89; Pat’s was 93. It looks like we will soon have everything but some practical time on the water as Principal Race Officers to get certified at the club level, and then once we get even more experience, we can get the regional certification. That will be a major accomplishment, as there aren’t all that many regional race officers nationwide.

Since I have to work Monday afternoon, we wanted to get as far as possible driving Sunday night, so we left as soon as we could. We headed through Houston – fortunately, there’s not so much rush-hour traffic on Sundays – and westward as night fell, with overcast and drizzle and fog. We stopped at a barbecue place in New Braunfels for supper along the way. As we continued westward, we worked on the Notice of Race and Sailing Instructions for an upcoming regatta, and we arrived in Fort Stockton about 2 a.m. We got a good rate on a fantastic (freshly remodeled) room at the “Superior Occidental”; it was a pity we were able to enjoy it for only a few hours, most of those asleep.

Monday was clear and windy, but not cold (pretty good for sailing, actually, if only there were a lake around), as we turned northward for the final leg of the journey back to Albuquerque and – sigh – work.

We have definitely learned a lot this weekend. Just as Tillerman does for his loyal readers when he comes back from this sort of learning experience, I plan to use this blog to share some of the wisdom I have picked up. In addition, Pat and I will be holding race committee training for sailors in New Mexico, to improve the quality of race management at Elephant Butte and revive the racing at Heron. And we’ll be working with Zorro to restore some semblance of formality to our Notices of Race and Sailing Instructions. I’m afraid the cocktail napkins will just have to go.

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Friday, February 09, 2007

Hitting the books – and the road

A journey of a thousand miles … isn’t necessarily your usual vacation


Pat and I have arrived in Houston (well, actually La Porte), in preparation for a race-management seminar offered at the Houston Yacht Club. Once we have completed the seminar and passed the test, we will be well on our way to being certified as club-level race managers – the only thing we will lack is a little bit more experience on the water. We already had done a lot of that before we got into racing ourselves, as we have served committee boat duty for many regattas; the key requirement now is that we serve as Principal Race Officers for a few.

Before the seminar begins Saturday morning, Pat and I have study guides to fill out, answering 186 questions about the rules and quoting chapter and verse from either the Racing Rules of Sailing or the International Sailing Federation rules to support our answers. Pat had already answered most of the questions on his study guide earlier in the week; I spent most of the drive to Houston (about 1000 miles) working on mine. Then, when we got to our lodging for the weekend, we compared answers. They were mostly the same, but there were a few where he and I had different interpretations of the language in the rules. And there were a few rules that Pat knew the answer for, but he couldn’t find the reference in the book, but I did. There was even one question that we managed to peg as relating to a rule that used to exist but has been deleted from the ISAF rules.

So let’s see … we drove 1000 miles in a gas-guzzling truck, and we’re going to spend two days in a classroom going over minutiae and possibly even esoterica. And then we’re going to drive another 1000 miles in the truck to get back home. As time permits, we will seek out barbecue and seafood and spend some time with relatives who live in this part of the world, but time won’t permit much. This probably doesn’t much fit most people’s definition of the word vacation.

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Thursday, February 08, 2007

When everything goes worng

Murphy was an optimist

This week has been one of those crazy ones when nothing seems to go right. At work, the computer in my cubicle, which had been acting increasingly flaky, finally crashed in spectacular fashion – and the techie who came for it was actually sort of pleased, since as long as the computer was working (even if not well), he was not authorized to order the replacement parts it needed, and now that it wasn’t working, he could take it away and actually fix it.

So I went to another cubicle, where there are a couple of computers for common use, and I plugged my flash memory into the newer of them, only to get a series of error messages. I tried the other USB slot; same series of messages. Oh no, I thought, did the previous computer fry my memory when it crashed?

No, it hadn’t … when I went to the other computer in the common cubicle, my flash memory worked just fine. Whew. But when I tried to use the scanner connected to that computer, I had additional problems. I pushed the scan button on the scanner, and nothing happened. I went through the scanner software on the computer and got a series of error messages. Then I looked more closely at the scanner and saw the problem – no power cord, and no cable connecting it to the computer or anything else. So much for that.

And then there’s the ongoing problem with the campus bookstore. I had thought we had overcome the shortage of the grammar textbook, but no, the bookstore hadn’t taken into account the late-start class that didn’t begin until the fourth week of the term. A few of the students in that class have been able to get the text, but most haven’t. After a round of phone calls Wednesday, things didn’t look good – the bookstore was going to be able to come up with “a few” more books, but probably not enough. At least for the time being, then, I’m going to be photocopying the relevant parts of the book for that class.

Well … I will be if the copier will let me. Tuesday, the copier was out of order for most of the day but was supposedly fixed late that afternoon. But Tuesday night I was trying to run copies, and the machine kept jamming, to the point that I gave up. Wednesday, I was finally able, very slowly, to make the copies I needed, with a catch: When set to staple the pages, it wouldn’t – it just left two little pinpricks in the corner of the page where the staple should have been. It wasn’t out of staples, or at least, the LCD screen on the front of the machine didn’t say it was out of staples. It just wasn’t stapling. So I had to staple all of those thick packets of textbook excerpts by hand. Ugh.

Then there are automotive woes. Pat and I are planning to attend a race-management seminar in Houston this coming weekend, and we were planning to drive the thrifty El Caballero rather than the gas-guzzling Babe. Then Tuesday night, Tadpole had his first car accident – very minor; he wasn’t hurt, but El Caballero’s front tire, wheel, and parts of the front suspension were damaged or destroyed. So that car’s now in the shop getting fixed. It should be ready in time, but even if so, we’ll be hitting the highway tonight with mismatched tires: three Michelins of varying mileage, and one less-premium tire that had been our spare (full-size rather than the silly little donut the car came with – for more on that story, see this previous blog post). Won’t we make a splash at the Houston Yacht Club, with an 11-year-old Cavalier with various dings and scratches and no two tires alike! But at least we’ll be getting 35 miles per gallon rather than 15. And hey, the car will look right at home in front of the doublewide in T or C when we go there.

Then there’s Tres … he’s rebelling against his diet, with less-than-pleasant results. He’s taken to dumpster-diving in the kitchen trash can and hauling out discarded food scraps. Especially when it’s chicken, that means more digestive problems and more messes to clean up. So now every night after supper, we have to take the trash outside to the bin to keep him out of it – and he still refuses to eat his diet food (which Dulce absolutely loves, of course, since it’s very fatty and she’s supposed to be cutting calories), unless he’s starving.

And at some point, I’m going to have to find time to study the race-management manual and go through the study questions before getting to the seminar. Maybe I can squeeze in some time this afternoon between bouts with flaky computers, balky copiers, and recalcitrant cats.

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Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Big news for Fuego

Yeah, that’s MY kid brother …

Finally, at long last, the movie Believe in Me, which was filmed in New Mexico, and for which my kid brother Fuego was the second assistant director, has found a distributor. It’s scheduled for limited release in March and April, and if that is successful, it will have more widespread showing in late spring and summer.

For those of you who may have tuned in late, Believe in Me is a movie based on the true story of a 1960s Oklahoma girls’ basketball team and its reluctant coach. There are some Hollywood big names in the cast, and also a former UNM women’s basketball star in one of the leading roles. Since Tadpole’s school is one of the oldest in New Mexico and has architecture appropriate for the movie, it was chosen as one of the filming locations, and Tadpole himself has a part as an extra – in one of the early scenes in the movie, the coach is arguing with the principal, and Tadpole is dressed up as a geeky sort of kid with a big armload of books (they didn’t have backpacks in the 1960s) who crosses in the background.

Those of you who wish to learn more about the movie can go to the official Believe in Me movie website.

Meanwhile, the movie is going to be opening at first in only a very few cities, smaller places where family values and/or basketball are important: Bentonville/Rogers, Arkansas; Indianapolis, Indiana; Des Moines, Iowa; Kansas City, Missouri; Lexington, Kentucky; Albuquerque, Clovis/Portales, Other cities TBD, New Mexico (in April); Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill, North Carolina; Oklahoma City and Tulsa, Oklahoma; Knoxville, Tennessee; Austin and Lubbock, Texas. If you happen to be in one of those places, make an effort to see the movie. Fuego believes it is very much worth seeing. Plus, if the movie gets good box-office, its play will be expanded, and even more people will be able to see how good it is.

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Sunday, February 04, 2007

More time on the lake

And more exhaustion

Last Wednesday, we had a meeting at Tad’s school with a couple of his teachers and advisors for his “Individual Education Plan” session. We learned what his grades were for the fall term – three A-pluses and a B-minus. We all agreed that was a pretty good record; some reward is in order, but we haven’t figured out exactly what it should be. The plan at school is pretty much to keep with the current program of getting him into one gifted class a year, and Advanced Placement or enriched classes where possible. We’ll also be making sure the courses he takes are not merely aligned with high-school gradation requirements, but also college admission requirements. Since he’s interested in architecture and engineering, that will mean considerably more than the basic requirements for math and science.

Friday afternoon we didn’t get as early a start as we had hoped, so even though Tadpole had the day off school, we didn’t arrive in T or C until dark. We bought groceries and cooked dinner, and we talked on the phone with Zorro and Dino. Zorro was having car troubles, and so he was uncertain about when or whether he would get to the lake. Dino had found a tenant for the place in T or C where we were staying, but there was another place he had that we could move to.

In the early hours of Saturday morning, I was struck by one whopper of a migraine. I used to get them frequently; I once lost a job because of them (this was before the Americans with Disabilities Act). But now I don’t get them often at all, and I haven’t had one this severe in years. I got them under control through a combination of physical therapy and biofeedback, at least until the insurance company decided it wouldn’t cover biofeedback, a decision that put the clinic out of business since this was a one-company town, and that company’s insurance provider was essentially the only one in town. Even though the program was cut off, it helped immensely while it lasted, and I really thought I would never have a headache like that one ever again. About three in the morning, I was hit by yellow-white daggers through my eyeballs, and my head felt like it was being crushed by a trash compactor, and even though the blinds were shut, the moonlight that shone through them pounded the daggers deep into my brain behind my eye sockets. A cat walking across the foot of the bed was like standing next to the howitzers during the 1812 Overture, and the sound of Pat’s breathing – he was NOT snoring, this time – was like ten thousand beginning violin students all playing at once. I was in agony, and howling in pain. I was hundreds of miles away from where my biofeedback tapes were gathering dust, and the prescription medications had expired many years ago. Neck rubs! Ibuprofen! Will somebody please turn the moon off!

Over the next couple of hours the pain abated, but then the sun came up. I just plain couldn’t do anything but pull the bed covers over my head and just wait for the pain to subside. Worse, Pat and Tadpole were working to pack up all of our stuff and clean the apartment so we could move to the next place. As hard as they tried, they couldn’t accomplish those tasks without making noise or using cleaning supplies, the smells of which made my stomach turn.

By early afternoon, I was beginning to feel almost human again. I still had some achiness, most oddly, a throbbing from the lump on my skull from getting hit by the boom a year ago. And my stomach was still queasy, although some club soda helped. We talked on the phone more with Zorro, who was still dealing with car troubles, but who hoped to get to the lake either that night or Sunday morning.

We went to the lake, where we saw Sutherland, who has just bought an Etchells, White Lightnin’ and has been keeping it on a buoy at the south end of the lake while his trailer was getting some work done, and two of his crew, Dixie and Teddy Bear. They had been sailing, but the wind had been light, and then it died. So we didn’t do any sailing ourselves. Instead, we all had lunch together in the inaugural meeting of Etchells Fleet 31. Well, at least we did have people present representing three of the four New Mexico Etchells, and since we don’t have bylaws yet, a quorum can be whatever we want it to be.

Sunday morning, all that was left of the migraine was some pain in the old scar tissue and a general feeling of exhaustion. Zorro had phoned the night before to say that he had gotten his car at least temporarily fixed and that he hoped to be at the lake that morning by 10. Pat and I (we had left Tadpole packing and cleaning) got there about 10:15, and there was no sign of Zorro, although Sutherland and Dixie were setting sail in nearly non-existent winds to take his boat to the ramp where they were to meet Teddy Bear with the trailer. I was still hoping Zorro would show up, so I came up with a plan: Pat would drop me off to do some work on my boat, and if Zorro hadn’t showed up by the time they came past my slip, they would stop and pick me up.

In the extremely light wind, it took them 45 minutes to get there. I spent the time rigging Black Magic’s sails and getting her ready to go, with the idea that maybe Pat and Tadpole could get in some sailing with me later in the day, or if Zorro did show up, he could take my boat and get on the water right away, rather than having to spend time rigging his own boat. Then I got on board with Sutherland and Dixie and we began to sail, very slowly, northward.

After about a half hour, the wind came up nicely and we were finally going well. We saw a sail behind us, and we turned to meet Zorro, on Constellation. We probably didn’t need to turn around to meet him; he would have caught up to us quickly anyway. We sailed together a bit, and then we went to the courtesy dock by the boat ramp. At that point, Sutherland and his crew wanted to go to lunch, but Zorro wanted to keep sailing while there was wind, rather than risk being becalmed far from his slip at the southern end of the lake. I decided to join him. First, we went north to the race course area, and we confirmed that there is now plenty of water depth between Rattlesnake Island and Lions Beach. We briefly hailed Cap’n Groovy, whose boat has much shorter sails than an Etchells, who was motoring toward the marina. The air at the surface of the lake was dead calm, but at the top of our sail, there was enough to make the boat go. But even that was fading as we put up the spinnaker to drift southward back to the marina. The sun was behind the hills as we put our boats away.

Pat arrived at the marina just as Zorro and I were finishing up, and we drove to the boat ramp to find Sutherland and his crew still working on the boat. It had grown quite a lot of green stuff on the bottom while it was in the water, since it didn’t have any bottom paint. So they had put the boat on the trailer and taken it out of the water, scrubbed the bottom, and then rolled it back into the water to rinse off – without making sure the boat was secured to the trailer. When we got there, Sutherland and his crew were getting a tow from a pontoon boat to get White Lightnin’ on the trailer for the second time that day.

After helping Sutherland and his crew with their second retrieval, Zorro headed home to El Paso and his cats, and Pat and I went to meet Tadpole and our cats at the doublewide that will now be our pied-à-terre in T or C. It’s going to need a lot of cleaning before it’s habitable, and Dulce was delighted to find out that the place has mice. Once it is cleaned up, however, it will be nice, with two big bay windows in front for cats to snooze in on sunny days, of which T or C has a lot.

Since I had opted for sailing rather than lunch, I was famished, so we grabbed a quick supper before heading home to Albuquerque, where I can see if I can find my old biofeedback tapes and related stuff. I don’t know whether I still even have a working tape player. At least the sailing was therapeutic; after something like six hours on the water, I have no pain other than a little ache in the scar. Of course, I’m also exhausted; even light-air sailing can be wearying, and the whole weekend left me short on sleep.

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Thursday, February 01, 2007

Wanted: A Good Home

Ships’ cats

This cat has been seeking a good home; she has recently been hanging out in far northeast Albuquerque. The wife likes the cat, but the husband doesn’t, so if this cat is to find a permanent home, it has to be somewhere else.

Based on her physical characteristics, this cat is probably a Maine Coon Cat, or at least has a lot of Maine Coon in her lineage. She’s big, really big, somewhere in the 15 to 20 pound range, even though she’s a starving stray. She has the really thick, soft fur of a Maine Coon, with the water-repellent outer layer. And she also has the sweet but assertive personality of a Maine Coon – very loving and affectionate, and able to turn on the charm to get her way.

She’s also a strikingly good-looking cat, dark tabby with white markings. She’s had a recent injury, possibly from a run-in with a dog or a coyote, so the side of her face needs to heal. And she’s a bit grubby from life on the street. But even so, she’s still a pretty kitty.

In the old days of sailing ships, she would have been the perfect ship’s cat. Her size and two-layer fur would have helped her to cope with cold and wet conditions at sea, as she did her duty to keep the ship free from rats and other vermin. And her sweet, outgoing personality would have been suited to life on board a crowded vessel.

If you have a ship, and you need a ship’s cat, here’s the perfect one. Even if you don’t have a ship, if you want a beautiful and very friendly companion, this girl wants a home.

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