(This ran in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune on 8/16/97)

SAILING IN THE MOUNTAINS

by Morgan Stinemetz

     Last weekend, at an altitude of about 6,000 feet above sea

level, I sailed from Colorado, into New Mexico and then back into

Colorado.

     My hosts were David and Janet Dickinson of Durango, CO. The

trip was helped along by an avid sailor in Pagosa Springs, Gregg

Jorgensen, who helped me make the connection.

     The Dickinsons and I sailed on Navajo Lake, near Arboles, a

26-mile-long body of water that came from damming up the San Juan

and Piedras Rivers, which flow south out of Colorado. The dam

itself is in New Mexico, but the water backs up a long way.

     The first thing I noticed was an absence of heat. When I

walked down the path to the cove where the Dickinsons moor their

1974 Aquarius 23, Cat's Paw, I was wearing a pile jacket, and I

never took it off. David Dickinson told me that it was, however, a

cooler-than-normal day. On any other weekend 10:30 in the morning

would indicate bath suit time.

     The water in the north end of the reservoir was turbid last

weekend, the color of coffee with a little too much cream in it.

Southwestern Colorado has had a unusually wet summer and the runoff

had more silt than usual in it. At the south end, Dickinson said,

the water is clear.

     Lake sailing is different from what we have around here. The

high hills which surround the reservoir cast prodigious wind

shadows. David Dickinson said that sailing along the east side of

the lake can give entirely different wind conditions than the west

side, which has lower topography. Luckily for us, the wind had a

northerly component in it the day we were out and the sailing was

easy as we tacked up wind on lazy tacks.

     Cat's Paw is outfitted with a knot meter and a VHF. The knot

meter showed we were doing five and a little more. We estimated the

winds at 8-12. The VHF crackled occasionally on channel 16 with

radio traffic from the state park people. Dickinson said that the

Coast Guard Auxiliary has a contingent at Navajo Lake, which first

struck me as unusual. Then it seemed just right. People need help

up in the mountains just as much as they do down here at sea level.

     I asked how deep the water was, when we were sailing about 10

yards off the shoreline. "Oh, about 50 feet where we are right

now," said Dickinson, "but down hear the dam it is about 200 feet

deep." There are, however, some shallow spots along the shoreline,

and Dickinson and some of the other 25 or so boats in what is

called the San Juan Sailing Club have found most of them, he said.

     As a sailor who has been aground a few times myself, I could

relate to that.

     However, one thing that the San Juan sailors have to contend

with, something we don't need to worry about, is anchoring

difficulties. When the San Juan and Piedras Rivers were backed up

to form the reservoir, a lot of real estate was flooded. And on

that real estate were about a zillion trees. Anchor in the wrong

place on Navajo Lake and you'll get fouled by pi¤ons and cedars you

can never see. Dickinson said that there had to be a ton of anchors

down there somewhere in that murky water, which is 70 degrees in

the summer.

     Like sailors everywhere, the San Juan Sailing Club races. They

use the Portsmouth handicapping system. Local knowledge is the name

of the game, because of all the variance in wind direction and

speed, depending on where you are.

     I noticed that sailboats tended to be on the small side, by

Gulf Coast standards. I saw Rangers and Catalinas, mostly. The

biggest was about 30 feet. One, a Santana, was tricked out with all

the bells and whistles for racing, and it sat at its mooring with

proper bow-down trim.

     Navajo Lake is a big reservoir, one that Dickinson said was

pretty much off the beaten path. "We count ourselves lucky. It's

undiscovered as of yet. Down around Albuquerque it is wall-to-

wall," he explained.

     Jet skis (aka personal watercraft) are as big a nuisance out

west as they are here, but Dickinson said he thinks that jet ski

rentals will be phased out by high insurance tariffs; it is just a

matter of time.

     We can usually see our bad weather coming from a long way off.

Dickinson and his fellow sailors have to keep one eye on the bow

and another looking over their shoulder. We get rain. They get

rain, hail and wind gusts that come out of nowhere and knock the

unwary on their ears.

     Still, sailing is sailing anywhere you can put navigable

water, a boat, willing people and sails together. Sometimes it is

nice to see how the other people do it, way up high, where the

season is short and the experience most likely twice as sweet.

     A tip of the cap from this flatlander to the people who sail

high in the Rockies and love it just as much.

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