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

Monday, April 30, 2007

Money, philosophy, and sailing

It was a rough weekend

I have recently encountered two quotes that I think are worth thinking about.

At the end of the term, when I was participating in the panel grading of the English 100 essays, I ran across this priceless bit of wisdom: “Being financially rich means being able to pay one’s taxes and buy a boat at the same time without going broke.” Given that I had just paid in taxes about half again what I had paid for the last boat I bought, and that it was a financial strain to pay those taxes, I thought that was a great line.

The other quote was from a fortune cookie. More on that later.

Friday, I went down to the lake early, because Pat had to go up to Eldorado, near Santa Fe, for a meeting of the New Mexico Sailing club, and Tadpole was in school, but Zorro was coming to the lake to work on his boat and go sailing. I also needed to do some work on my boat. So I met Zorro at the lake, and because the wind was good, we did a lot more sailing than working on the boats.

Pat and Tadpole arrived somewhere between midnight and 1 a.m., and we all had some conversation with Zorro, but we got to bed fairly soon thereafter.

This weekend was the fourth and final weekend of the spring series regattas for the Rio Grande Sailing Club, and also the Club Championships. Saturday, the winds were stiff. The steady winds were 15 to 20 mph, and the gusts were higher – we later found out that the committee boat had measured a 38 mph gust at about the time of the start of the first race. The lake level is up, and so there is a long enough fetch to allow the wind to build up some chop, not ocean sized, but three feet or more.

We knew we didn’t have Cornhusker – she had had additional bad news, and she won’t be sailing any time in the near future. Because of the stiff winds, I wanted an additional crew member, and I recruited SanFran, who has experience as crew in rough conditions on big boats and small, as well as teaching kids sailing on Lasers and the like.

The racing Saturday was physically taxing. By the time the racing was over, I think every part of my body had an ache, a strain, or a bruise. We had never run the Etchells in these conditions before, so even though we didn’t exactly do well in the races, I count it as a victory that we at least survived, especially since there were several boats that either didn’t start or didn’t finish the races. SanFran thoroughly enjoyed himself, and he said that the conditions were very much like those of his home waters, except the temperature was warmer. We broke our boom vang, but SanFran managed to jerry-rig a dock line from the boom to the spinnaker twing blocks and spinnaker sheet cleats (when the wind got fierce, we quit using the spinnaker anyway) to hold the boom down when we went downwind.

Sunday was a different story. There was almost no wind, and instead of fighting the elements, I was fighting my crew. Tadpole was on jib trim, and instead of trimming the sail properly, he was criticizing my helming. Downwind, on spinnaker, I first had SanFran trimming the chute, but his big-boat experience had mostly been in other areas of the boat, and he was rusty. So I put Tadpole in charge of the spinnaker. It was a disaster. He wouldn’t listen to me – he was in teenager mode rather than crew mode, so it was more important to him to contradict Mom than to make the boat go fast and win races, whether he was trimming the jib or the spinnaker.

In addition to the wind being variable from faint to nothing, there was also rain. I was sitting there, soaked to the skin and freezing cold in spite of my foul-weather gear, shivering, teeth chattering, in a boat that was going nowhere, dead last in the fleet, with my most knowledgeable and skilled crew member in out-and-out rebellion, flat broke from all the money we’ve spent on boats, and I was wondering, “Why the hell am I doing this?” I was composing “boat for sale” ads in my head, trying to figure out how to get some sucker to buy this miserable money drain.

Back at the dock, Zorro was jubilant over having squeaked out a narrow victory over Applegal for the spring series Etchells fleet championship. I tried to be happy for him, but I couldn’t – after this weekend’s dismal performance, I was just going to give up. What had I ever been thinking, that I could ever sail well – I’m just a dumpy, middle-aged community-college English teacher, no sort of athlete. Sure, Zorro was middle-aged when he took up sailing, but he was an Olympic athlete to start with. What business do I have even thinking I might be able to compete in such a high-powered boat as an Etchells?

When Zorro’s crew finished putting his boat away, I left Pat and Tadpole to put the boat away – I didn’t need to supervise that any more, since I was getting rid of it, and besides, any conversation with Tadpole would have ended up in serious bodily harm to him – and I went to join Zorro and Dino for food. I needed to tell Zorro that I was quitting. I started to begin to tell him, but I didn’t really get far. He cut me off. I don’t remember the exact words, but it was a lot about how I’m a fast learner, and I’ve come so hugely far in the past year, and I shouldn’t expect to become a world champion overnight, but to look at how I’m competitive with some really good sailors who have been at it for decades – and from now on, Tadpole is banned from my boat and can sail with someone else.

So I’m not selling Black Magic, and I’m still sailing, and we’re figuring out ways to scrape together the money to keep repairing all of those things that go wrong on a boat this old that has suffered so much deferred maintenance.

We ate at a Chinese restaurant, and the fortune cookie I got at the end of the meal said, “Broke is a temporary condition. Poor is a lifetime state of mind.”

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Thursday, April 26, 2007

Poetry Corner: John R. Cash

Who? I hear you ask

Monday and Tuesday, Tadpole had a retreat together with his school orchestra and the orchestras from four other schools, in order to prepare for a big concert Wednesday evening at the National Hispanic Cultural Center.

The retreat was a success, and the resulting concert was fantastic. The students played in various subgroups, including the Honors Orchestra, students who have distinguished themselves by playing in the All-State Orchestra, or the Albuquerque Youth Symphony, or other special accomplishments – since Tadpole was in All-State, he was in the Honors Orchestra. The finale of the concert was all 119 student musicians on stage together, playing Sir Paul McCartney’s Liverpool Suite. The whole evening was made even more special by having as a guest conductor a music professor from Weber State University who said he had found his experiences with these young musicians to be especially rewarding.

The typical attire for students at such a concert, when they come from backgrounds where their families don’t always have much money for clothes, is fairly simple. Usually it’s black pants or skirt, with a white shirt or blouse. Shoes should also be black.

Last year, somehow, there was some sort of communications glitch, and Tadpole ended up wearing not just black shoes and pants but also a black shirt. That did make him stand out a bit, since everybody else was wearing a white shirt or blouse. This year, he continued to wear black, and so did several of the other students in the orchestra – apparently all-black was an officially permitted option this time around.

After the concert, I asked Tadpole whether he was wearing black because he is a New Zealand fan or a Johnny Cash fan, and he said, “A little of both.” Well, since my boat is named for the New Zealand America’s Cup yacht, he has to favor New Zealand. But I suspect he’s more in tune with the Man In Black, who explained his attire as a response to the social injustice he observed. Thanks to Maninblack.net for the lyrics.

Why I Wear Black
Johnny Cash

Well, you wonder why I always dress in black,
Why you never see bright colors on my back,
And why does my appearance seem to have a somber tone.
Well, there's a reason for the things that I have on.

I wear the black for the poor and the beaten down,
Livin' in the hopeless, hungry side of town,
I wear it for the prisoner who has long paid for his crime,
But is there because he's a victim of the times.

I wear the black for those who never read,
Or listened to the words that Jesus said,
About the road to happiness through love and charity,
Why, you'd think He's talking straight to you and me.

Well, we're doin' mighty fine, I do suppose,
In our streak of lightnin' cars and fancy clothes,
But just so we're reminded of the ones who are held back,
Up front there ought 'a be a Man In Black.

I wear it for the sick and lonely old,
For the reckless ones whose bad trip left them cold,
I wear the black in mournin' for the lives that could have been,
Each week we lose a hundred fine young men.

And, I wear it for the thousands who have died,
Believen' that the Lord was on their side,
I wear it for another hundred thousand who have died,
Believen' that we all were on their side.

Well, there's things that never will be right I know,
And things need changin' everywhere you go,
But 'til we start to make a move to make a few things right,
You'll never see me wear a suit of white.

Ah, I'd love to wear a rainbow every day,
And tell the world that everything's OK,
But I'll try to carry off a little darkness on my back,
'Till things are brighter, I'm the Man In Black.

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Monday, April 23, 2007

Back at last

It’s really been far too long

This weekend, for the first time in four months, we got up north to Five O’Clock Somewhere. It was good to see that the place was still standing, although the last time we left it, we thought we’d be back in a couple of weeks, so we hadn’t turned off the water heater. So we used up propane to keep 40 gallons of water hot in the dead of winter. Actually, we probably used more propane to keep the house from freezing – we did remember to turn down the thermostat as far as it goes, but we couldn’t turn the heat off completely, or the pipes would have frozen.

Tadpole had a Boy Scout campout, but Pat and I packed up Dulce and headed north Friday afternoon. Friday evening my brother Jerry (of Muddled Ramblings fame) arrived. We built a fire in the fireplace and just generally vegetated.

Saturday, Pat went to the marina to join other members of the New Mexico Sailing Club in a work party to prepare the marina for the season. Damage caused by winter freezing and shallow water needed to be repaired, and the understructure, which had been unbolted to prevent damage in the event the marina grounded, needed to be reconnected. They didn’t complete all of the needed work, but they got a lot done before weather moved in – in this case, a light snowfall accompanied by stiff winds, so the flakes were often horizontal.

Meanwhile, Jerry worked on various stuff on his laptop and built a few of the rock stacks for which he is famous, and I mostly vegetated, except when I got energetic enough to load ingredients into the bread machine to make a loaf of cheddar-onion bread.

Sunday, Jerry needed to find a broadband signal to make a hefty software upload, since the Internet connection at Five O’Clock Somewhere is a very slow dial-up, so he set off in search of a signal in Chama. Pat went to the marina to do some more work, and I got a bunch of reading done and made a loaf of whole-wheat bread. The original plan had been for Jerry to return to Five O’Clock Somewhere, but the place he found an Internet signal was the sort of bar that he enjoys very much, and he ended up spending several hours there. So Pat and Dulce and I headed back to Albuquerque.

We need to work out a few logistical issues: Jerry wants to leave his Miata in our garage when he goes back to Prague, and his airline tickets are for May 1, departing from San Diego. He needs to get to San Diego quickly in order to have time to get some business taken care of before he departs, and he needs to have a car to drive while he’s there. Meanwhile, I have to remain in New Mexico at least through Sunday, April 29, to race in the final spring series regatta.

So there are a couple of options: Jerry could drive to San Diego, take care of business, drive back to New Mexico, leave the car in our garage, and fly to San Diego. Or I could find some way to get transported to San Diego after the racing is done Sunday, meet up with Jerry, and drive the car back after he returns to Prague. There are some interesting options for getting to San Diego, too. I could return to Albuquerque and take a plane, train, or bus (one excellent benefit of NAFTA: Mexican first-class buses are far superior to American ones, and now they operate north of the border) on Monday. Or I find a plane, train, or bus that departs Sunday night from El Paso, closer to the lake, and get a ride to El Paso with someone who lives there.

Of course, there’s also the problem of coming up with money to use for such travels, so it’s more practical from Pat’s and my standpoint for Jerry to drive the car to Albuquerque. But still, it would be fun to go to San Diego, especially if I got a chance to go sailing while there.

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Friday, April 20, 2007

Term is done

Gone the sun …

Well, the term is finally over. Going into the last day of class, my nightmare English 099 class was really in trouble, with only three of them on track to get a passing grade. Fortunately for them, the first hour of class was in the computer lab, and, unlike all of the previous sessions in the lab, this bunch had their noses seriously to the grindstone. In the end, enough of them managed to pull their hind-ends out of the fire that I’m now giving failing grades to only half of them.

Actually, for me, the term isn’t quite over yet. I have completed grading the English 099 portfolios, computed the final grades, and entered the grades into the computer. But English 100 is the important gateway class; passing it means that students are now ready to do truly college-level work. Therefore, English 100 portfolios are graded by a panel of instructors: I bring my students’ portfolios to be graded by other instructors, and I grade those other instructors’ students’ portfolios, in order to assure that we are all grading at the same level and looking for the same accomplishments in our students’ work.

So I will be spending many hours Friday in a room with a bunch of other English 100 instructors, grading portfolios. Really, it’s not as bad as it sounds. I always gain a lot from the panel grading – exchanging ideas with other instructors, and a whole lot of general camaraderie. Panel grading is just about the only thing that I will get up early in the morning for and be glad about doing so.

OK, well, there’s one other reason I like panel grading. I always have really great students in my English 100 classes, and I like to be able to show off their accomplishments. The ones I had this year were even better than usual.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

A taxing experience

Why, oh, why does the government put us through this every year?


Well, I just finished doing Pat’s and my taxes for 2006. The process was complicated by the fact that the computer upon which we were running the tax-filing software crashed last night. We had completed and printed out Tadpole’s returns, but not ours. So I spent most of today with a pencil and calculator grinding through the numbers. There were two forms that we needed but the library where Pat picked up forms didn’t have, so we had to go to the big IRS office – fortunately, it’s not too far from where I work – to get those forms.

Matters were complicated further by Pat’s employer, who mysteriously placed $60 worth of dependent-care benefits that he didn’t know about on his W-2 form. Since we no longer even have an eligible dependent for the purposes of paying for care, that was an added bit of frustration. Finally, on one of the forms we had picked up at the IRS office was the information about how to treat that number – we add it in one place, and then we subtract it in another as a benefit that was forfeited or deferred.

Now, at least the numbers that I get on the tax forms, both state and federal, are the same as the computer had before it crashed. This is good news.

Oh, and there was yet another complication – I had hoped to find some way to revive the computer, but that was out of the question because the power was out. The power company said it would be restored sometime between 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., so it should be back by the time I get home. Meanwhile, I’ve been at the office all afternoon.

Anyhow, I’m now longing for some Maalox.

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Loyalty

It goes both ways

This weekend had a lot to do with the usual regatta stuff, and it also had some stuff to do with the repairs to the console of Black Magic. We did some repairs; they held at least temporarily. We raced, and we didn’t do so badly, in spite of some efforts by Zorro and Dino (most especially Dino) to compromise our sleep and other creature comforts. If I get time, maybe I can get into details, but right now, there are more important things to think about.

Saturday morning before the racing, we got a phone call from Cornhusker. She had received some bad news the day before, and she was emotionally distressed. She wasn’t sure that she was up to coming on board to race with us, and she was considering sailing on one of the B fleet boats where she wouldn’t have to deal with as much stress.

I assured her that we still wanted her on Black Magic. The weather prediction was for light conditions, but if the wind came up, she could just become a passenger and Tadpole could take over all of the duties on foredeck.

Cornhusker did decide to sail with us, and that was a good thing. We had only one race, in extremely light air. We didn’t do well in the racing, although we did discover that Black Magic does really well downwind in light air – we lost ground to other boats upwind, but downwind, we swept past several boats, and we caught up to others. Part of that credit has to go to Cornhusker, who did a fantastic job on the foredeck getting that spinnaker up and down and jibing it when needed.

At the end of the day, Cornhusker thanked us for talking her into coming out with us. “Yesterday, I thought life was over,” she said. “But now I think it might go on.”

I owe a lot to Cornhusker. There have been times when I have been discouraged and I have wanted to quit. Pat tries to encourage me with really silly pie-in-the-sky ideas of what I might accomplish, like regional championships: big fuckin’ bullshit deal. Cornhusker has always been the realistic optimist – what I can do now, this weekend, what I do well, what I’m going to be doing better soon (but in a more realistic time frame than Pat’s).

Sunday, Cornhusker didn’t feel up to sailing with us. We got Cap’n Groovy on crew since the weather prediction was for the wind to get pretty stiff, which it did eventually. Cornhusker did take some pictures, however, as we set sail.

For all that Cornhusker has done for me, the very least I can do is to show support for her. Yes, the crew is supposed to be devoted to the captain, but also, the captain is devoted to the crew. In terms of loyalty, Cornhusker is the very best crew there is. I owe her the same sort of loyalty back.

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Thursday, April 12, 2007

Why I teach night classes

A sense of entitlement and a short attention span don’t add up to academic success.

I am not a morning person. I have attempted, sometimes with professional medical help, to adjust my internal clock to run in the same time zone as everybody else locally, but the best I’ve ever done is about a month.

Therefore, I have always worked on a weird schedule. For example, I worked for a couple of years at a major metropolitan newspaper. I was on the sports desk, and that was perfect; the shift was 4 p.m. to midnight, in order to get all of the sports scores into the following morning’s paper. It was great, and it was loads of fun because I had fantastic coworkers and a great boss, but it didn’t pay much.

So when I started teaching at the community college, I sought a similar schedule. In advance of each term, I am required to fill out an online form for the people who make up the schedules. For morning classes, I select “Not Available”; for afternoon classes, I select “Not Preference”; and for evening/night classes, I select “Available.” Since I have been teaching at this particular college for several years, I have enough seniority that, mostly, I get exactly what I want, night classes only. But once in a while, I also get an afternoon class.

While my preference for night classes started as an adaptation to my miscalibrated circadian clock, I have found an even more compelling reason to prefer the late shift: mature, motivated students. Most of these students are enrolled in night classes because they have to work during the day. They are often older, what are called “non-traditional students,” who have jobs, spouses, children to take care of, and other demands on their time that make taking college courses difficult.

But they also make some of the best students. Some of them didn’t graduate from high school, and others may have graduated without learning anything. Or they may be from another country, and they need to learn English in order to be successful here. Some have served in the military and need to learn skills to succeed in the civilian world. The big thing is that they all have been out in the real world, and they know they don’t want to work for minimum wage the rest of their lives. So they’re really, really motivated.

So, while my original preference for night classes was because I don’t do mornings, now it’s because I love getting these fantastically motivated students who really take their education seriously.

This term, I have an afternoon class, and it has been really tough. Many of the students are straight out of high school, and they have never really learned any sort of work ethic. They have had teachers who gave them credit for being smart enough to do the work, rather than actually doing the work. Or they have had teachers who gave them passing grades not because they had earned them, but rather because a failing grade would have knocked them off an athletic team.

I would say that teaching this class is a lot like teaching third grade, except that would be a major insult to third graders. These students can’t sit still for more than about 30 seconds at a time, and they’re very kinetic. I can give instructions multiple times, in multiple ways – verbal, writing on the chalkboard, giving a handout – and still, one student will ask a question about the assignment, and I will give a more detailed explanation, and when I’m done with that explanation, another student, who spent the time I was giving the explanation chatting with another student, will ask me the question I just answered.

I had a student who procrastinated on getting writing projects completed, who turned in a pile of plagiarized material in place of the six writing projects that were due by a Friday-afternoon deadline – and he tried to pretend that he had turned in the work on time, even though one of the items he plagiarized was from a newspaper in North Carolina that was published the day after the deadline.

I had students who, in the class session in the computer lab, the instant my attention was elsewhere, quit doing what they were supposed to be doing and instead ran streaming music videos. This is a heavy-duty no-no, as both I and the computer lab supervisors have repeatedly told them. Streaming video eats up a huge lot of bandwidth, and the college just doesn’t have the resources to deal with it, so it’s strictly forbidden. Plus, my students were supposed to be editing their writing projects in preparation for putting them into their portfolios, so there was absolutely no compelling reason for them to be getting streaming videos. I had to be breathing down the backs of their necks just to keep them on-task.

At some point, either when I was trying to keep the video-istas on task, or taking the plagiarist out into the hall to explain to him, out of the earshot of others, that he was going to have to face consequences for what he did, two of the more kinetic students started hitting each other, seriously enough that someone decided to call campus security. I didn’t see the incident. These particular students do frequently swat each other playfully, but the person who made the report said that the young man hit the young woman “forcefully, several times.”

Meanwhile, there are four students in this class who are being short-changed. They’re working hard, and they’re doing everything they can to improve their writing skills. They deserve my help. It really hurts that I have to spend all of my time policing the other students instead of helping the ones who really care about what they’re doing.

There is a limit on what I can do personally. In the case of plagiarism, I am permitted to give a zero for the assignment, and if I feel stricter punishment is due, I can ask the Dean of Students to administer said stricter punishment. I am also required to report any academic dishonesty to the Dean of Students, so that office can keep records of repeat offenses. In the case of classroom misbehavior, I am permitted to request that a disruptive student leave the classroom, and if disruptive behavior continues, I can request that the Dean of Students impose further penalties. But I am not permitted to drop a student from the class for any reason other than non-attendance.

Meanwhile, I am very fed up with this class. The students seem to think that if they’ve paid their tuition and fees, they should be guaranteed the class credit that they’ve paid for. Apparently, nobody’s told them that money can’t buy everything.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Pickle Race 2007, part 3

The weekend ends on an anticlimax.


Sunday morning, I woke up feeling quite miserable. All those hours on jib trim, especially when the winds got stiff, had really taken their toll on my muscles. The muscles that get strained on jib trim are completely different from the muscles that get strained at the helm – I had aches in the front of my thighs, and in my buttocks, and in the biceps, and in some parts of the back that have never ached before. I had some thoughts of trying to get in touch with Car Guy, since he was interested in getting lessons on sailing, but I didn’t have his cell phone number, and if he’d had a merry might with Madam and Bif, he might not have been in all that great of shape either.

Zorro had told me the night before that he would come back up to the lake to help work on Black Magic if his knee was feeling better, but my guess was that it wouldn’t be feeling better. It was horribly swollen Saturday night.

So Pat and I took it easy for most of the day. Pat had a book or two that he got buried in, and I divided my time among sleep, reading the pile of newspapers that I’m trying to catch up on, and trying to make an Internet connection. The wireless connection that I’ve been piggybacking on at the doublewide has suddenly become much weaker, so I can’t reliably connect to it, and in addition it’s not always connected to the Internet any more – I haven’t been able even to check my email for two days. I suspect the owner of the connection has caught on to something and has taken protective measures.

Zorro called in the early afternoon to say that his knee was no better, and he had called a friend to drive him to a clinic to get it treated. He did say that he planned to get to the lake Wednesday to do the fiberglass work on Black Magic. This could work well – Pat can get to the lake Wednesday evening, help Zorro finish up the fiberglass work, and then go sailing with him. Friday, we can again get to the lake early, finish rebuilding the floor, and go sailing with Zorro.

Meanwhile, Tadpole, Zorro, and I have for months been telling Pat that we all need to have our own cell phones to keep in communication, and I think after this weekend Pat might be beginning to get the picture. If nothing else, good communication might have saved some truly excellent egg-salad sandwiches from unnecessary destruction.

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Sunday, April 08, 2007

We interrupt this program ...

Your regularly scheduled programming will return shortly ...

Since Pat and I have returned home this evening, Dulce has been very glad to see us. She has been soaking up attention, and she just did something she has never done before: She stepped on the computer keyboard.

Dulce has always been circumspect about the keyboard. Her method of getting attention is to come between the human and whatever the human was paying attention to, but for some reason, walking on the keyboard isn't part of her repertoire.

Tres, may he rest in peace, was the opposite. Not only did he have no problem with walking on the keyboard; he actually knew which keys to press to shut the computer down.

Now I wonder ... Is Dulce channeling Tres?

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Pickle Race 2007, part 2

The comedy of communication errors continues ...


As Zorro and I were headed up the channel toward the main body of the lake again, I decided to try to find out where Pat might be, so I called Dumbledore’s cell phone. “I was wondering where Pat might be.”

“Oh, he’s about fifty feet behind me, coming up to the courtesy dock at Rock Canyon.” (This is where the Rock Canyon Marina usually is, not its current location near the dam, where it has been temporarily relocated due to low lake levels. The result is that it is closer to the dam than the Damsite Marina, and now the northernmost marina on the lake is Marina del Sur.)

“Oh, so he got out on Syzygy?”

“Yup.”

As I later found out, Small Fry’s injury wasn’t serious, so after he got checked out in the emergency room, Pat took him and his mother out on Syzygy for the tail-end of the Pickle Race. He was having such a good time that he was urging Pat to “Go faster! I want to catch up to Grandpa!”

Twenty minutes later, the wind seemed to be dying, and Zorro was debating whether to turn back to the marina, when Pat phoned us from Dumbledore’s phone. I told him that we would eventually get up to Rock Canyon to pick him up for more sailing – he could sail with us back to the marina, and Zorro could drop him off at Marina del Sur to pick up the truck and trailer, and then he could drive that to Rock Canyon to retrieve Syzygy. While waiting for us, he could get some food at the cookout so he wouldn’t go hungry.

As Zorro and I got out into the main body of the lake, the wind picked up again strongly from the south. On the way north, we saw some friends of Zorro out sailing: Car Guy, who has just bought a nice boat and is learning to sail it, and also Zorro’s friend Madam and her boyfriend, Bif. We sailed around their boat a couple of times so they could get pictures. Then we put up the spinnaker for the remainder of the trip to Rock Canyon.

When we picked up Pat, we discovered that he had been waiting at the courtesy dock for us and hadn’t joined in the cookout, and he was totally taken by surprise when Zorro told him to hop on board. He had thought we were going to join in the cookout, but at this point the wind was about 15 mph, and the sailing was too good for Zorro to quit.

I had been on jib trim all day, aside from a short spell when I was at the helm while Zorro ran the spinnaker, but Zorro kept me on jib trim for the beat south – both because it helps me as helmsperson to understand the rest of the crew’s duties, and also because Zorro said I was good at it, better than Pat or Tadpole, and there were some things I did better even than Twinkletoes. But about halfway down the lake, the winds were getting stiffer, and the jib fine tunes weren’t working properly, and so, after six hours on jib trim, Zorro had Pat spell me. I welcomed the rest.

When we got to the marina, we put Zorro’s boat away, and then we took the Mercedes to Marina del Sur, to drop Pat off at the truck and trailer, and we told him we’d meet him at Dumbledore and Mother Superior’s place. That’s where Zorro and I went, but Pat went right on by to the boat ramp to haul out Syzygy. The New Mexico Tech sailing club had come by and eaten up all of the cookout leftovers, but there were plenty of hard-boiled eggs around, so Mother Superior made egg-salad sandwiches for us, and we took some down to Pat so he wouldn’t starve. Pat wanted to get the boat de-rigged and put away immediately, so Zorro and I gave him his sandwiches and told him to meet us at the super-deluxe spa/hotel where his friends were staying.

Zorro had hurt his knee the previous week, and the day’s sailing had been hard on it, so going up the stairs to Madam’s suite was slow going. We found Madam in a bad mood because she couldn’t get her usual bottle of champagne sent up to the suite – the spa has a beer and wine license, which means it can serve alcohol only when food is also being served, and the restaurant was closed for Easter weekend. After about an hour, Madam was finally ready to go out to eat, but there was no sign of Pat. Since Madam and her friends were going to one restaurant, and most of the sailing folks were going to a different one, Zorro and I drove to the doublewide to leave a note for Pat while Madam and Bif went on ahead.

While on the way to join Madam and friends, I phoned the Damsite Restaurant, where most of the sailors were going, to find out whether anyone there would know where Pat was. Sure enough, he was there, and he had already ordered food, which surprised me, since Mother Superior, Zorro, and I had taken such pains to be sure he got the sandwiches. It turns out that Pat thought the sandwiches had been sitting around for hours and so he thought they were unsafe to eat, so he threw them out.

Zorro’s knee was really giving him pain, so he wanted to get back to El Paso rather than spending the night carousing with Madam or with the sailors. So he dropped me off at the Damsite and headed off.

At the dinner, the story was confirmed that the B Brothers, who already own the Damsite and Marina del Sur, are buying Rock Canyon Marina from Rodeo Mom. Brother A came to speak to the sailors and assured us that he values us and wants to help the club by providing courtesy slips and buoys. The current Damsite Marina will be moved to Rock Canyon, so we’ll again have facilities adjacent to the race course, and the current Rock Canyon marina will be relocated to the Damsite’s more sheltered cove. Brother A also said he’d be willing to help with club activities, including sponsoring regattas, and he said he would welcome suggestions for other activities he could help with.

Mother Superior mentioned that the club had a strong interest in starting youth programs, and Brother A thought that would be an excellent idea; he has 10 kids, and Brother N has six, so they heartily support youth activities. One of the concerns expressed at the recent sailing club meeting was whether there would be enough kids around to make a youth program successful; the B Brothers have answered that question!

to be continued ...

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Pickle Race 2007

How many ways can miscommunication happen?

Friday afternoon, we headed down to the Butte with assorted supplies for working on Black Magic’s console and floor. A close inspection showed why the thousand-dollar job we had had done last year didn’t hold: Despite our being told that it was critical to have the job done professionally because the joint was so important, the folks at the shop doing the work apparently didn’t understand the stresses that the console is subjected to, both from lines such as the mainsheet and also from crew bracing their feet on it when the boat heels. So, while they had used plenty of glass matting on the inside of the hull of the boat, they didn’t run any matting up the sides of the console – all that was holding it in place was resin. Thus, when the boat was heeled in a mere 12 mph wind, the pressure of Pat and Photog bracing their feet was enough to snap it from its base.

We don’t have time to take the boat back to the shop to get the job redone, so the current plan is to re-glass the console base ourselves, and then reconstruct the floor supports around the console to give it extra reinforcement. We had started taking the floor apart Friday afternoon when Zorro showed up, and the wind was nice, so instead of working on our boat, we went sailing on his for the last couple of hours before sunset.

Saturday was the Pickle Race, which the Rio Grande Sailing Club regularly hosts on Easter Saturday for kids from the New Mexico Boys and Girls Ranches. These are kids, aged from elementary through late teens, whose home situations have led the state to remove them from their homes, and this is an opportunity for them to have an Easter celebration. As long-time foster parents, Dumbledore and Mother Superior are especially involved in this project. Since the Etchells isn’t exactly a good boat for small children, Zorro and I picked a couple of brawny ones for our crew – a 17-year-old defensive tackle and one of the counselors who was on the hefty side.

Before the race, there was a bit of excitement: Dumbledore’s grandson, who was about 4 or 5 years old, fell down the companionway and hit his nose. It looked like it might have been broken, so Pat got called to ambulance duty (with our MacGregor, Syzygy, in tow) to take the kid and his mother to the emergency room.

To make the event more fun for the younger kids, the Pickle Race is usually not a speed contest – it’s just a chance for them to get out on boats and have a good time. This year, the race involved going to each of the three marinas on the lake, and getting a playing card at each; then the poker hands would be completed on land at a cookout at Dumbledore and Mother Superior’s place. Conditions were light as we set out, so most of the other boats ran with motors. Still, even without one, Zorro’s boat is fast, and we were not far behind most of the rest of the boats as we approached Marina del Sur. The wind began to fill in, and we picked up speed.

There was a crowd of motorboats, houseboats, and other stuff at Marina del Sur, but we found a boat-length clear spot at the fuel dock, which we pulled up to. Tackle jumped to the dock, and by the time Zorro had the boat turned around, Tackle had the card and jumped back on board. All of the other boats were put-putting around with their motors, tying up, and hunting for the place to pick up their cards. We were on our way back to the south end of the lake to the Damsite Marina in seconds.

The wind was now blowing nicely, and Tackle and Counselor were impressed with the speed the Etchells could put on. We were quickly at the Damsite, where the store clerk stood at the fuel dock and held a card out for Tackle to grab as we glided past. Then it was back to Rock Canyon marina to put the boat back in its slip and wait for the rest of the kids to get back so they could get into their vans and drive up to the cookout.

Meanwhile, the wind was still nice, and Zorro wanted to get back out sailing. We wondered where Pat was, since he would have enjoyed sailing with us.

to be continued ...

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Sunday, April 01, 2007

Never enough weekend

We had so much to do, and so little time to do it in, and now there’s even more.

Friday night there was a meeting of the New Mexico Sailing Club in Eldorado, near Santa Fe, and it ran late, getting out at about 9:30. So, after making a brief stop in Albuquerque to pick up Dulce and swap vehicles – Zorro had told us he wanted to take his boat out of the water, which meant that we needed the truck, but in the interest of fuel economy, we took the little car to Santa Fe – we didn’t get to the doublewide until 1:30 a.m.

Saturday morning, after very little sleep, we got a call from Zorro that he was still in El Paso, waiting for somebody from the insurance company to get back to him – they were supposed to have given him a check to cover the fire damage to his garage/gym/sail loft Wednesday, but he never got it.

There was very little wind anyway, so we did a few bits of maintenance around the doublewide and eventually went to the boat. The light conditions were frustrating, and it took us two hours to get from the southern end of the lake to the southern edge of the race course area. Then the wind finally did come in, so it took only 20 minutes to get back to the marina, and as we were bringing the boat into the slip, the wind came up even more, so docking was challenging.

We called Dixie, who had told us she had been planning to sail her little day-sailer this weekend, and we found out that, because of technical difficulties with the trailer, she and her friend hadn’t been able to launch. Pat and I had been contemplating returning to Albuquerque that night, but we decided to stick around and take Dixie and her friend out on Black Magic Sunday. It would have been a major waste for the two of them to have come all the way to the lake and not sail.

Sunday morning, Dixie introduced us to her friend “Photog,” who was excited to get a chance to sail on an Etchells. He used to live in Corpus Christi, and he raced Hobie Cats and other little things there. He found all of the strings to pull fascinating.

We set sail under extremely light conditions – this time, it took three hours to get to the race course area. Once again, the wind came up as we were heading back, and who should be sailing up the lake but Zorro, with Blondie on the aft deck in a leopard-spot bikini – well, I guess since we had the motor hanging on the back of our boat, he was equalizing things by putting some extra weight on the back of his. We sailed around with him for a while, and then both boats headed back toward the marina.

The winds were getting stiffer, and it was good to have some crew weight out on the rail; we didn’t have to depower the sails so much. Then on the final approach to the marina, the console gave way. Yes, the one that we’d paid $1000 to have solildly fiberglassed in place, because it was critical to have the job done professionally to be sure the repair would be strong enough to stand up to the strains applied to it. And this wasn’t even in particularly strong winds, either, about 12 mph, gusting to 18 or so.

Zorro and Blondie kept sailing, unaware of our equipment troubles, and, in fact, returned up the channel to the main body of the lake before finally coming in to the marina. Meanwhile Dixie and Photog went home, and Pat and I went up to the boat ramp area and spoke with a couple of guys with a Santana 20 whom we’d seen out on the water. Then we stopped by the storage lot where we keep our MacGregor, Syzygy, to get a couple of things off the boat. We returned to the marina just as Zorro and Blondie were coming ashore. Zorro said that he and Dino would be coming up to the lake during the week, to use our trailer to work on his boat, and they could probably re-fiberglass the console base then.

Meanwhile, our score for the weekend: Sixty bucks worth of gas burned and much sleep lost driving with a yowling cat in the small hours of the morning, all in order to be able to help Zorro Saturday – and then he didn’t show up. One spinnaker halyard shackle pin lost overboard during a mostly tedious day on the water Saturday. A weekend’s sailing redeemed for Dixie and Photog Sunday. A thousand-dollar fiberglass job down the tubes. A list of things we had been planning to do this weekend but didn’t, redoing Zorro’s bottom paint and replacing our forestay being the two biggies.

Still, there is the saying: A lousy day on the water still beats the best day at the office. And who knows, maybe on some race day when Dixie is on Sutherland’s crew, we can get Photog on ours.

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A Tale of two Pomegranates

Well, actually two pomegranate trees, but you get the picture


When I was growing up, my family often visited my grandparents in El Paso. In that hot desert environment, a traditional yard, with big green lawns, was out of the question. Instead, most of the yard was desert plants, and there was a walled garden in front of the house. The walls could shelter plants from the harshest of the dry winds and provide some shade from the fierce sun. But even within the walled garden, the plants that could thrive were desert plants. At the center of the garden was a pomegranate tree.

A pomegranate is a challenging fruit. It has evolved to do well in a desert. If you break the fruit open, you will see that it has a thick peel to reduce the amount of moisture lost to dry desert winds. Within the peel, there is additional flesh to protect the seeds, encased in lovely strings of garnet-colored jewels of moisture, very sweet with extra sugar to provide a bird with energy to survive – but you have to work to pry each one out of the protective flesh. Each seed comes with its own little precious drop of moisture, a gift to entice a bird to eat it, but the structure of the pomegranate protects that moisture and sugar. A bird has to break open the fruit in order to gain its bounty. But once the bird does get the fruit, the pomegranate’s seed then is distributed in the bird’s droppings.

My grandparents’ pomegranate tree lived in luxury. It was in a sheltered garden, and there was always a competent gardener to take care of it. But at the doublewide Pat and I are currently renting in T or C, there’s a pomegranate tree that does justice to the plant’s desert heritage. It’s out front, right in the middle of where all of the tenants park their cars and trucks, growing out of hard-packed dirt with some gravel mixed in. It’s not protected from anything. This time of year, it doesn’t look like much, but it still has hanging from it dozens of dried-out fruit that it produced last year that were beyond what the birds could consume.

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