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by Paul Cook - Las Cruces, New Mexico – USA

Part One - Part Two

The same week you real sailors were out sailing the Texas 200, I towed my little puddle duck racer off to Vallecito Lake in Colorado.  Last year we took our family vacation at Sail Oklahoma (Lake Eufaula).

That was a great adventure and a lot of fun, but my wife wanted to go somewhere different this year, and we had to take our vacation sooner than would work for Sail Oklahoma.  So, we came to Vallecito Lake.  A friend of mine pointed out that I sailed in the reservoir, not the lake.  I guess there is a little bitty lake somewhere in Colorado called Vallecito Lake, but it’s the big reservoir (relatively speaking) that I sailed in. 
Vallecito Reservoir is not a giant lake like Eufaula.  According to the website, Vallecito Reservoir has approximately twelve miles of shoreline and a surface area of 2720 acres.  The reservoir was completed in 1941 and sits at an elevation of around 7600 feet.   While it’s not giant, it certainly seemed big enough to sail small boats on without getting bored.

More lake information here:

And a map here:

We really noticed the elevation when we first got there. I was breathing a little harder whenever we unloaded and loaded the boat.  After the first couple of days I didn’t notice so much.  The temperatures while we were there ranged from the low 40s in the mornings to the 70s in the afternoon.  That was much nicer than the 107 degree temperature on the afternoon we came home to New Mexico.

Before we left on our journey, I took time to make sure my boat was ready for the trip.  I repaired a crack in the hull that I had patched with Gorilla tape on a previous sail. I finally mounted some oarlocks that I ordered from Duckworks a long while back.

But not before reviewing a good article on rowing by John Welsford.

I was thinking about building a small bench to use for rowing so that I could get the right height to make rowing easier, but then I found a child’s step stool at Target that turned out to be the perfect size. 
I’m sure it will fall apart the first time it gets wet, but then I can just use it as a pattern to build a new one. For sixteen bucks I figured it was worth it.  One of the days we were there I took down the sailing rig and just rowed the boat around a while.  It was very relaxing and I had no idea the puddle duck would row so well.  We used the oars several times to launch the boat for sailing. The wind was blowing so hard a couple of days that I couldn’t get the boards down before we were back on the beach. With the oars, I could get out far enough to get the boards down and take off with the sail.  If I had worked harder perhaps I could have sailed out of the cove without using the oars.

We arrived on a Sunday afternoon and stopped by the marina to check things out.  The wind was blowing hard.  The flags at the marina were snapping straight out from the poles.  We decided to eat a late lunch at a place by the marina.  They had a temporary garage tent shelter setup as an extension to the restaurant for an outdoor bar area.  The tarp was being whipped so hard by the wind it appeared it was going to be ripped off of the poles.  At this point I was concerned that we might not get a lot of sailing time in.

I looked out across the lake and there were white caps all over it. The wind finally settled down later that evening and it didn’t blow that hard again the rest of the trip.

A Puddle Duck in Paradise, Part 1

Since we were from out of state and I wanted to make sure we followed all of the rules, we stopped by the inspection station at the marina to see if they needed to look at our boat before we launched. We had to pay eight dollars and some change for a five day permit to use the lake.  But the inspection guys are not the ones who sell those.  Permits can be purchased at the marina or from some of the little stores around the lake. The guys at the inspection station were nice, but looked at our boat kind of funny.  They told me that when they saw us pulling in they thought we were moving. We had a tarp tied over our suitcases in the bed of the pickup and old lawn furniture cushions padding the boat from the tie-down straps on the trailer.  Somebody at Sail Oklahoma last year wanted to know where we got our “custom duck cushions". My wife smartly replied that we took them from the neighbor’s porch. I’m so accustomed to using them for strapping down the boat, I never think about how odd they may look to someone else.

My sixteen dollar rowing seat from Target.
The boat on the trailer tied down with those "custom duck cushions".
The boat on the beach the first day when we unloaded and started getting the boat ready to go.
Trying to find all of my ropes.
I'm very careful to tie everything off now. I don't like watching things float away.
Here is another photo of us in front of the boat.
I just wanted to show that there are actually other sailboats there.
We finally made it out on the water. It seemed like it took us forever to get rigged on that first day.
One happy sailor. Actually there were two, but somebody had to take the picture.
Here is another view on the water.

We rented a cabin by the lake, but there are camping places, an RV park, lodges, other cabins, etc. around the lake area. We had beautiful views of the lake and a nice place to come back from sailing every day and relax.  It gave my wife a nice place to work on her quilt.  In our drives around the lake it appeared the wind generally blew from the end where the dam is toward the end by the marina. Our cabin was close to the end by the dam, where I wanted to sail. The wind seemed calmer there.  A narrow path ran down a steep incline from the cabin property to a small beach, but I didn’t think we would be physically able to carry the boat up and down that path. I really didn’t want to launch from the marina.  There was more boat traffic around there and I felt  it would take too long to tack my little duck all the way to the other end of the lake where I wanted to be sailing (translation, I was chicken).

Since I’m still a newbie when it comes to sailing, I normally go sailing when I know folks from the sailing club are going to be there, or in the case of Sail Oklahoma, I know a lot of other people are sailing their boats at the same time.  And I feel like help will be available if I need it. 
This was a big test for me to go somewhere I don’t know anyone with no guarantee of help if I get into trouble, other than my family.  Of course there were always a couple of fishing boats on the lake while we were there.  I’m sure they would have come to help if I had gotten into trouble, if they weren’t too focused on their fishing!  The water was a lot colder in the mornings than I remembered the water at Lake Eufaula being.  It seemed warmer by the afternoons and we noticed a group of teenagers swimming off of a floating dock close to the marina in the afternoons.

We eventually found a day use area with a nice little beach to launch from.  It was close by the cabin which made for a short drive.  There was no trailer launching from here, but with our puddle duck we just picked it up and carried it to the beach. I have a utility trailer rather than a boat trailer anyway.  I think Michael Storer’s Goat Island Skiff would work well for this situation.   The day use area was eight bucks a day, but it was worth it.   We had lots of tall pine trees right there with plenty of shade and a nice picnic table to sit down and eat our snacks.  My wife brought some cross stitching to work on while she wasn’t on the boat. 

The only thing I didn’t like about the arrangement was unloading and reloading the boat every day.  It would have been nicer to leave the boat all setup in one spot every day without having to re-rig everything.  We got a good workout and became very proficient at unloading, rigging, and reloading the boat.  Much of this arrangement was due to my lack of confidence in my sailing abilities. By the time we got to our last day there, I decided I would have been fine with sailing the boat to an area where we could have left it setup.  I think my sailing skills improved a bit while I was there. It’s a shame I didn’t feel more confident sooner though, because I could have gotten a lot of nice evening sails in.  We just didn’t have the energy to load and unload the boat twice in one day and my family did want to do other things besides sail.

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