Elephant Butte Poker Run

The El Butte Sailors had a poker run at Elephant Butte lake on February 18th. I debated a while before deciding to participate since it's a little cold this time of year. I put my puddle duck (#240) on the trailer the night before, but waited until morning to tie it down. When I went outside that morning there was ice on my hull and fog filled the air. At that point I was thinking that maybe I was being foolish to think I would be sailing that day. But I get so few opportunities to sail I decided to go for it.

When my wife looked at the pile of stuff I had gathered in the living room to take with me, she shook her head and said that it sure seemed to take a lot of stuff for me to go sailing. And I guess it does, but you need the extra life jacket. You never know when you might pick up a passenger when you go sailing. In addition to the extra life jacket, I had a flotation cushion, a paddle, two bailers (on one of my previous sails I wound up with no bailer and was really hurting for one), my bag of ropes and tie-downs, a tarp, a tool bag, some foam pool noodles that I use to keep the tie-downs from chafing the paint on my puddle duck, a rain poncho, an empty laundry detergent bottle for a mast float, a big candle that I take when it's cold in case I wind up in the water and need to get warm when I get back to shore, a dry bag with a big beach towel in it, an ice-chest with water, snacks, and sandwiches, my rudder assembly, and my leeboard. I already had my first aid kit out in the truck so it wasn't even in the pile.

Now you would think with all of that, I had everything and was good to go. After all, I already had the boat on the trailer and the mast, boom and sail tied down in the back of the truck. A little past halfway to the lake and still about 30 miles away, I had a realization. I left the backing block for my leeboard in the closet at the house. Don't you hate it when that happens! I was considering turning around and going back when I remembered my friend Jim has a place at the lake and I thought he was coming. So I called and after inquiring about some scrap lumber and a few tools, I was able to just continue on to the lake. Nothing beats having great friends when you find yourself in a bind.

What started off as a really cold morning turned into one of the best days of sailing I've had. Of course you have to understand I can still count the number of times I've been sailing on two hands. But still, it was a really great day. After taking a few crude measurements and sawing a board I was able to mount my leeboard on the boat. I usually take the leeboard off when I'm storing the boat outside (upside down on sawhorses) in the back yard.

For some reason it seems like whenever I pack everything up and take my boat to the lake, I'm always in a hurry. When I get there and start setting up my boat, everyone seems to be in a hurry to get on the water, myself included. Because of this, I have yet to take a picture of my boat with it all rigged to sail and ready to go. Instead I always throw the camera in the boat, jump in, and go. It's not until the day after I've gone sailing that I realize yet again, I didn't take a picture of my boat with the sail all up and ready to go. Someday . The other thing that always happens as a result of this, is that I leave my sandwiches in the cooler and forget to take them on the boat with me. At least I remembered my water bottles. But almost every time I go sailing, we launch in the morning and don't get off the water until about two thirty or three in the afternoon. In the mean time, I get really hungry and my stomach grumbles and grumbles. Water just doesn't take care of that.

It was a good thing I had a paddle that day. We launched from Hot Springs Landing and when we got into the water, there was no wind. Or at least it seemed like there was no wind. We were moving, but very, very slowly. The bigger boats all seemed to be getting out of the cove faster than I was. My friend told me to go ahead and paddle as he was about to exit the cove into the main part of the lake. I think he was convinced that it was going to take me forever to get out of the cove otherwise. And I'm not entirely I sure I didn't agree with him. Once I got into the main part of the lake we had a little breeze. It did die down a couple of more times, but for the most part we had a little wind to push our boats for the rest of the day.

So I spent the majority of my day trying to follow along behind a 17 foot trimaran. I guess that's all relative since after we got out into the main part of the lake my friend turned around several different times to come back and check on me, and then zipped off again. I use the term zipped loosely as it was extremely light wind, but I would call it zipping compared to what I was doing in the Puddle Duck. On one of the occasions when the wind felt like it had died completely, I paddled near a big sailboat with it's sails down. A gentleman on the boat was sitting back reading and watching my progress. As I drew near, he commented that he liked my buoyancy and wanted to know if I was getting royalties from Procter and Gamble. Since I hadn't eaten anything for a while, my brain was a little slow at catching on to his meaning. Okay, maybe my brain is a little slow sometimes anyway, but that's my story and I'm sticking to it. I finally figured out he was talking about my improvised mast float. After that conversation, he pointed and told me to try tacking that way. When I looked where he was pointing I could just make out some tiny ripples on the surface of the water. As soon as I turned my boat in that direction, it started moving again. It must be magic! I felt a little silly for not having seen that while I was paddling, but then I'm still pretty new to all of this.

In part of the video that I posted to Youtube of this event, you can see a line of sailboats off in the distance headed perpendicular to the direction I was going. They were all part of another sailing club that was having a regatta that day. They were traveling upwind and as I watched them, and it seemed like they were moving even slower than I was. I'm sure that's not the case, it just seemed that way because they were so far away. Later I noticed that they had moved far off to a different part of the lake. I figured if I had followed after them it would have taken me two days to get back at the rate I was moving.

You may have noticed I've made a lot of comments about how slow I was moving, but please don't get me wrong. I was moving, the day couldn't have been anymore beautiful, and I loved every second I was on the water. It was so peaceful hearing the water gurgling under the hull, and silence on the lake for the most part. Occasionally the sound of motor boats would break the silence, but it wasn't bad. If I had a week to spend doing just that, I couldn't imagine anything better. My little Puddle Duck is not the prettiest or best made, and it's certainly not the lightest or fastest, but I have to say that I wouldn't trade it for the world. It has taken me on short trips down the Rio Grande and some crazy adventures on two different lakes. It's easy to load up and go, easy to get on and off the water, and it takes me where I want to go, all for a very small amount of money up front. What more could you want?

I have gone fast in my Puddle Duck before, not fast enough to catch a 17 foot trimaran, but faster than I wanted to go at the time. The very first time I ever sailed my duck a big windstorm came up. Fortunately a seasoned sailor was riding in the boat with me telling me what to do or I'm sure I would have capsized. Before we made it back to the beach my friend had taken over the tiller and I was hanging on to the sheet with both hands. We were flying across the water and the bow was submarining through the waves. It beat any roller coaster ride I ever took. But my sailing this day was the exact opposite of that. It was very peaceful and calm.

As the day wound down to an end and I came back into the cove from where we launched, the wind died down yet again. So I ended the day as I began, paddling the last little bit back to shore. I could have sailed it, but my friends were ready to get loaded up and go eat supper. So they called out to me to just paddle the rest of the way in. After all, none of us had eaten since breakfast, and we were all hungry. We loaded everything up, went to my friend's house, ate grilled salmon for supper, passed out the prizes for the poker run, laughed and shared boat stories about past adventures. A perfect end to a great day of sailing.

Paul Cook