First Sail
June 13, 2011

As reported earlier, in May and early June, I'd been watching the fast currents on the rivers and found them too great for sailing. Now finally in this second week of June, after it seemed as if the currents would never relent, they had dropped enough to permit sailing. All that was needed was favorable wind. That came finally on June 13. As the graphs of the earlier post showed, the flows had fallen to quite tolerable levels that I knew would present no obstacles to sailing:

7,700 cubit feet per second on the Allegheny; 13,800 on the Ohio; and a mere 3,350 on the Mon.

The forecast called for pleasant temperatures in the low 70s for the afternoon and wind around 10 mph from the West.

weather forecast
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These were the conditions I'd been waiting for. A westerly wind blows against the current and gives me the greatest flexibility in sailing. 10 mph is just the right amount of wind. There will be enough to get where I want to go, but not so much that the sailing is anything other than leisurely.

On my bicycle ride over to the marina, my wind gauge confirmed conditions something like these. On the Allegheny shore and the Del Monte pier, I measured slightly lesser winds of 5-7 mph. Things were even calmer at the Newport Marina: winds fluctuated over the wider range of 2-8 mph. Watching debris drift slowly by, I could see that the current had indeed fallen on the river.

Set up took a little longer than usual. The boat has been in storage for the winter and the kind folk at the Newport Marina had brought the boat on its trailer to the water's edge. I now needed to haul it off its trailer onto the launch ramp. It had collected a winter of dust and dirt, all of which needed attention.

on trailer

Under these perfect conditions, I expected a perfect day of sailing. And that is just what happened. I set off around 1pm on a gentle run with the wind behind me, passing the point at 1:20pm and arriving at the new dock at the Convention Center at 1:40pm. There I docked for a quick lunch. I set off downstream at 1:50pm. The progress was slower since I now had to tack into the the wind. I stopped briefly at the dock between the 6th and 7th streets. Then I rounded the point; sailed a little way up the Mon; turned at 2:50pm and tacked home, arriving back at the Newport Marina at 3:45pm. The gps plots below tell the story in more detail:

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The last track shows the speeds by color coding. The run from the Newport Marina (the straight line track starting in the upper left) was slower, with speeds around 3-4 mph. I'd reefed the sail for this leg since the sail has no boom and thus tends to flap about on a run. That also slowed me down. The return tacks--the zig-zag paths--were faster with speed in the 3-6 mph range, with a maximum of about 8 mph (pretty much the top speed of the boat).

These winds blew roughly from the north west. The forecast called for them to vary from WNW to NNW. The tracks also show that these winds are perfect for sailing on all three rivers. The winds blow along the Ohio and then split at the point to run along both rivers, funneled along the river course by the banks and buildings on the shore. That is revealed by the nice symmetry of the tacking along both the Allegheny and Mon Rivers. They blow roughly from the north west on the Mon and the south west on the Allegheny.

As I sailed back past the southern shore of the point on the final leg home, I missed a tack as the winds freshened and ended up pinned to the point by winds blowing, it seemed, from the south west. (I could still move and freed myself pretty quickly just by moving forward.)


Having the wind coming from this unexpected direction indicated that the funneling of the winds to the south westerlies of the Allegheny was already in effect on the first few feet of the Mon River.

The last half hour or so of the trip home was hard work. I could see large dark clouds massing and they brought stronger winds. Here and there little white caps were forming on the waves. They start to form at 15 mph wind. That is just a little more wind than I like. As I've explained in other reports, I don't get much more performance from the boat, but I have to work harder to control the sail. The winds seemed strongest when I arrived at the Newport Marina. On the dock, I could measure winds gusting up to 12-13 mph. Since the spot is a little sheltered, that affirmed the 15 mph likely to be on the clearer water. These winds were brief. By the time I'd stowed my gear, about 30 minutes later, it had all passed.

What was new on this trip was a camera. It is waterproof and shockproof, so I could keep it out while I sailed. I thought that would make things pretty easy. But sometimes the wind changes suddenly and you need both hands, immediately. Several times I found myself just dropping the camera to attend to the main sheet and rudder. It would land with a hollow clunk on the deck and I'd remind myself that the advertisement touted its ability to absorb shock. Here's one photo taken on the way down:


Here are a few of the photos documenting the voyage:

Heading off towards the West End Bridge. The sail is reefed by rolling it around the mast:
West End Bridge

Passing the Science Center submarine. The flag shows the wind is coming from behind me:

Approaching the Fort Duquesne Bridge:
Fto Duq Bridge

Passing under the Fort Duquesne Bridge. This is one of the really lovely experiences of sailing the rivers--to have these huge spans glide overhead.

Approaching the Seventh Street Bridge:

The flags on the top of the Convention Center show the wind is blowing exactly upstream.

Docked at the Convention Center:

Heading back downstream, into the wind. The rising, foaming wake astern tells me I'm moving quickly. This photo was grabbed hastily when I'd arrived just downstream of the Seventh Street Bridge. The gps speed plot above shows that this was one of places at which I hit top speed of the day, 8 mph.

Leaving the ballpark and the three bridges on the Allegheny behind:

While I was rounding the point, I was also jockeying with some large river traffic. This is the Empress riverboat that had been docked on the northern shore of the point. As I passed, it set off and was fast approaching from behind me.

That might seem alarming, but the static image doesn't tell you what I can see from my deck: that the Empress is cutting across my stern and will not run me down. If I flip between two sequential images, you can get a sense of dynamics of the moment:
flipped animation
In any case, I have plenty of wind and could easily maneuver out of the way; and I have sufficient confidence in the Captain of the Empress to imagine that the boat would not be aimed at the tiny target I represent on the water.

At the same time, I had been watching this huge barge from afar. It is not easy to discern from a distance just what course these barges are taking. I watched closely until I realized that it was turning up the Mon. So I could close in on it, knowing it would be gone by the time I arrived.

Another fast leg, with the rising wake:

About to pass under the Fort Pitt Bridge:

After passing under the Fort Pitt Bridge, I have a clear view of Station Square and the Smithfield Street Bridge.

Here's where I turned for home: the Mon Wharf, where the old steamboats used to dock, one next to another. It is now converted into something of a riverfront park.

Home! I've pulled the boat out of the water and onto its launching ramp.

John D. Norton


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