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After Pam’s unfortunate fracturing of her right radius put her on the injured reserve list, I was damned if I was going to let the lack of crew keep me from sailing my little boat, so I set out for Roosevelt Lake about mid-morning all alone.

The usual problems occured during the transit, such as going really slowly up long hills, and the occasional bolt loosening and dropping off the trailer’s fender. This would lay the fender onto the tire, and if I didn’t catch the problem quickly, could chew through the tire. I should replace the tires soon anyway. I’m procrastinating the inevitable, and I do carry a spare on the trailer.

So just as I’m pulling off to the side of the road to check the trailer, along comes a guy on a 4-wheeler from a property across the road. He says he heard me coming, so that may mean my fender’s fallen onto the tire again. Sure enough, that was the case. The gentleman says “I’ve got a 5/16ths bolt, nut and a couple of washers for you, if you like.” I had a spare stainless bolt and nylock nut inside the boat’s tool locker, but just _one_ spare. Well, of course I like. He hops back onto his 4-wheeler and 4-wheels it across the road to one of his many sheds on the property. When bolted up, I asked him if he could take anything for his trouble, and he declined, except to ask “You need an anchor?” I already have two anchors, but they’re both Danforth types, and I know I need to diversify my anchoring abilities, so I say “Maybe, what kind do you have?” “It’s a small mushroom anchor”. These mushroom types aren’t all that effective as a stand-alone, but can play an excellent role as a kellet that you’d send down the anchor line to keep the angle of pull on the anchor line, or catenary, as low as possible. He asked $5.00 for it, and it was a done deal. He couldn’t have been more helpful, and I couldn’t have been more grateful. The feller’s name is Jim, and he lives on a few acres along the Dripping Springs wash.

When I finally get to the lake, I notice my usual ramp is blocked by some huge boulders, and the lake seems a lot lower than I remembered from a few months ago. A few questions for the locals later, I stumble onto a huge ramp I’d been unaware of. The time was getting onto 3 PM, and I’ve still got to step the mast and rig the boat, another couple of hours (yes, I’m slow). The mast-stepping process utilizes a gin pole, a hand winch, the spinnaker halyard and a rope. Still no “baby stays” that help keep the mast in line while you’re raising it.

So, after I’ve got the mast slid back to it’s position on the mast plate and the gin pole set up, I amble over to a group of campers along the lake and ask if one of them would be so kind as to help me raise the mast. “Sure”, came the reply. I used beer as an incentive, but they weren’t beer drinkers, so I offered gin and tonic. Still no takers, so my alcohol stocks were still full, and I had someone to crank the winch while I tried to keep the shrouds and backstay from entangling with the lifelines and pushpit. Actually, I had all the campers checking out the gin pole’s simple construction and operation. Nice folks.

When I began rigging the boat, I’d noticed that the prevailing breeze was coming E to W, which, when I launched, would blow the boat right towards the dock alongside the ramp. Perfect.
But either I took too long to rig, the wind-gods looked down on me with disfavor, or something along the lines of bad luck, but the wind had done a 180 on me during set-up. I had always had Pam to act as an anchor while I dealt with the vehicle and trailer, so I was in need of another soul to help tie off the boat at launch. Strike up smalltalk with another fisherman/camper and he’s willing to hold the line for me. Are you sensing a common thread here with regards to the people I met during this trip?

So I float away from the dock, thanking everyone for all their help, and turn my attention to the little outboard motor on the transom, the 4 stroke, 4 horsepower Nissan. The last time out, we’d experienced some hesitation from her, and when I looked her over in early summer, I found the plastic throttle linkage had been jerry-rigged with safety wire by the PO, because it had broken clear across it’s pivot point.
No such luck getting one small part from Nissan, you gotta buy the whole damn carburetor. I thought that the motor trouble was now past tense. Or so I thought (ominous music up).
She did fire up after a few manly pulls and some fiddling with the choke, and I set off for the marina to claim my slip.

It now seems that the fickle winds were blowing about 90 degrees to my port when lining up for my first solo docking attempt. Shields (fenders) up, number one. I’ve been reading up on techniques for singlehanded docking, and had settled on the “long dockline wrapped around a midship cleat, with the eye in one hand, the bitter end in the other, and the tiller in your third”, with the motor running in neutral, ready to back off if doom impends. Seems those fenders could use more strategic placement, and I had to scrape a little black dock bumper off my boat’s hull afterwards. I left the white marks from my boat on the dock to remind me about all this later.

Day 2-
Breakfast is Pam’s leftover enchiladas she had made the week before, with coffee. Very filling (burp).
Struck up a conversation with a sailor who was preparing to do a little day-sailing, and asked him about anchoring conditions around the lake. He said “It depends. Sand and silt at the creek mouths, rocks and tree snags just about everywhere else”, so it looks like I’ll still be adding some type of plow or grapnel to my anchor collection in the future. That, and a lot more anchor line beyond the 80 feet that came with the boat.

He also mentioned that the light breeze we were experiencing at that moment was going to become non-existant soon, in it’s usual fashion. Well, this being my first time singlehanding anything bigger than a Laser, that’s fine by me. I follow him out, he heads west (upwind), and I head east. After a few hours of sunburn, I’m approached by the Lake Patrol, maybe the USCG auxilliary, some type of authority, I don’t know, and they “ask” me to stay away from the eastern and central parts of the lake. The Air Force is going to be dropping some jumpers over there, and they worry about little guys like me. Okay, fine. I’ve got more jumps than all of those guys in the jump plane combined, but what does that mean, when “national security” is at stake? I head over to the dock near my truck to replace the other fender bolt that had come off with my last spare bolt and nut (Thank you, Jim!).

These aren’t your ordinary jump operations you find at your local dropzone. For some reason, they needed a big ol’ C130 and three Apache attack helicopters. The C130 did at least 8 passes over the area, maybe to clear the faraway DZ of gawkers. The Apaches flew all over the place, one landing on a hill just east of the suspension bridge to talk to some mucky-mucks on the ground, I suppose. Later they had some fun with their downwash on some jet-skiers. I stayed the hell away from that stuff. Someone earlier had mentioned that Prince Harry was training in one of those choppers, so I’m going with that story.

The wind did become a rarity, just as that sailor had predicted, so I figured now would be a good time to test out the spinnaker’s new control lines that I’d set up a few weeks before this trip. And just my luck, there was a breeze funneling it’s way up the Salt River canyon onto the lake, from the bridge straight across to the north side of the lake. About a mile plus of clear area with 5-8 kts of wind. Yes!

But first, I’ve gotta rig the spinnaker, a bit of a can of worms sometimes. Tie the halyard, raise the sock, dis-entangle the sheets, the tack downhaul, sock uphaul and downhaul lines, and properly route them all through fairleads to their respective places on the cabin top. It seems to take forever, but finally I raise the sock, only to be met with a twist or three near the top of the spinnaker. There is a swivel at the top of the sock, but it takes me a few minutes to get it swivelling. Finally, my Spanker is pulling me across the lake, fast enough for me to hear the “Macgregor hum”!

Douse the spin, fire up the motor, and head back south for another spinnaker run. Only now, the funnel of wind is taking on a different attitude, shifting much more from SE to SW and back again. It actually gave me a good opportunity to gybe the spin a couple of times, until the lazy sheet got tangled up with the anchor hanging on the pulpit. Okay, crap. Douse the sock, go forward, and start messing with the entanglement, while all the time, that lee shore is getting closer and closer…(Ominous music returns)
Well, the sheets that I’d pulled forward are soaking wet, so they’ll stay on deck while I drop the rest of the rig into the forward hatch.
Closer and closer…

Get it down the hatch, head back to the cockpit, and start the motor. The goddamned thing is not starting. I look over my shoulder at the rocks on the beach, and remember that I still have sails. Unfurling the genoa, I find I can’t make headway against this slight breeze. I can’t even turn the boat into this light wind. Too much lee helm, I was weathercocked.
Okay. Next try the mainsail, but it wants to get it on with the spreaders as I’m trying to raise it, and by the time I sucessfully get it deployed, I hear the sickening sound of an unintentional grounding. My first!

Think, Tom, think. Your swing keel is down, but not locked. You’ve got time to get that damned OB fired up, so get to it. Finally, she sputters to life. You lock the tiller in a good direction (away from shore), and give her half-throttle in reverse. Frantically jump over the companionway down to the keel crank, and have at it. 15 turns of the crank later, the boat budges begrudgingly off the shore, and back out to deeper water. Yes!

Well, that’s enough of that for now. I’m heading back to the slip to celebrate my good fortune. This evening’s crosswind has made getting into my slip even more daunting than last night’s effort. And this time I had an audience. Scraped off a little more black dock bumper from the hull than yesterday.

Day 3-
Zero wind, limp sails. I head over to the dock next to my ramp, and tie off. I know I’m gonna get wet during retrieval, so I dump my pockets and put on my sandals. Back the truck down the ramp, submerge the trailer and hook up the winch cable to the bow eye. A breeze comes up, just as I’m heading back to the winch, and it pushes the stern out way past the trailer. I shoulda used the “long dock line” technique to keep that from being a possibility, but NO!
I had to go and get COMPLETELY soaked horsing that stern back into line with the trailer, and subsequently soaking the driver’s side of my truck.
It’s 10:30 AM, I’m dripping wet, standing next to a “NO SWIMMING” sign someone put up on the dock. The irony wasn’t lost on me.

Two and a half hours later, after receiving help from those very same campers who’d helped me step the mast two days ago, I was on the road, beat but not beaten. I want to thank everyone who stepped up to the plate when I asked (or didn’t ask) for their help, advice and patience. Even with Pam’s injury taking her off of the crew list, I was able to get from Tucson to Roosevelt Lake, and back again, with nary a scratch.
Next? Maybe Lake Pleasant?

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One Comment

  1. Sounds very exciting! Thanks for sharing your sailing blog. I enjoyed hearing of your sail and all that it takes to single hand a MacGregor in the desert! Sail on!


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