The Deluge
September 4, 2011

It was an interesting sail today. I learned once again to be wary of weather and wind forecasts. They can be wrong. I also learned that even the winds reported the next day can be a complete mismatch with what I found on the river. Finally, I had another experience of a sudden deluge of rain while sailing.


It is Labor Day weekend and I had to sail on at least one day. The Saturday was hot. Temperatures were in the 90s and there was lots of sun. Some people may like that sort of weather. I don't. The forecast for Monday was cooler with rain. Thatr left Sunday. For 10am-2pm, the weather and wind forecasts were calling for good enough winds of 6-8 or 10-12 mph SSW, depending on who you believe. After that there would be a storm.

They were right about the storm, but not the winds. From the time I first tried to put into the water at 11am, there was essentially no wind at all. There were long periods of calm and occasional puffs from everywhere, it seemed. It wasn't just the wind at the water. The reports on my iPhone of present conditions included dead air at 0 mph and even light winds from the East. A little after 1pm things picked up with what I estimate to be southwesterly breezes that carried me through to the storm at 3:45pm. After that there was near dead calm until a little northwesterly wind picked up very late.

The actual weather reported as observed fact the next day simply didn't match up with this at all. Their light rain of 4pm was a torrent and their 5pm northerly wind at 5pm was dead air.

The river currents were, once again, too low to consider. Ohio. Allegheny.Yough. Mon.

Just before 11am, the first of three barges made its way along the river. Yes--contrary to what you'd expect--there are barges on the river on the Sunday of the Labor Day weekend.


I put into the water at 11 am and made it a hundred yards or so on SW winds. Then the wind died. I managed to get back to the dock. There I clung to some boats for a while, watching the glassy water, waiting for the wind to come back.

glassy water

After about 30 minutes, it seemed like a vain hope. So I worked my way back to the lagoon into which I launch the boat. Then I waited.


It is easy to "give it 15 minutes"; and then perhaps another 15 minutes. I was in no hurry. Eve is busy at work today. The minutes of watching calm water and dear air grew until at last after 1pm there was enough wind from the SW to sail.

Just as I was about to put into the water at 1:20pm, another barge came by:


This one carried coal. I tacked into the wind blowing downstream until I could get near the West EndBridge. That is where the wind enters the river course. After that I was on a slow run that took me all the way up the Allegheny.

A few drops of rain fell--nothing to fuss about.


I passed the Ducky tours. I found that if I wave at them, they will reply with a resounding chorus of three quacks.

Ducky tours

Ducky tours

Here I am passing the ball park.

ball park

By the time I reach the Convention Center, I am looking back down the river at a storm cloud massing in the West.

storm cloud

I docked for a while at the Convention Center.


It took an hour to tack back to the fort Duquesne Bridge. Part of what slowed me was that I had to choose a course that would avoid the Gateway Clipper fleet. There wasn't much wind, so I was never sure if the little power I had would suddenly die and leave me right in the path of these river boats. I had to avoid the huge Majestic...


...and the smaller Duchess.


At 3:45pm, I had reached the Fort Duquesne Bridge just as the storm started. It was heralded by suddenly strengthening winds. I used them to sail up to the northern shore in a burst of speed. There was nowhere to tie off, so I franticly motioned to some people on short to come and grab my docking line, while I furled the sail.

The heavens opened and rain poured down. There may have been a peal of thunder. Or it may have been just the rumble of traffic over the bridge. The bridge gave us good enough shelter, although the wind was blowing rain onto us. (I didn't mind--it was quite warm--around 75-80F.)


I wasn't the only one sheltering.


A drain pipe on the bridge overhead was shooting a stream of rainwater down that landed just beside the boat.



Some kayakers also took refuge.


After a while the rain eased a little.



Looking to the West, I could see brighter sky. But the rain still came down.


Finally, after 45 minutes of standing on river's edge holding a docking line, at 4:30, the rain had subsided enough for me to want to venture forth. Since the day was warm, I wasn't so worried about getting wet. What worried me more was that the air had become dead calm.

How would I ever get home?

I set out and tried to paddle a little. It had an uncommonly large effect. A few paddle strokes sent me gliding through the calm water's surface. Inertia seemed to keep me going a long time. Then I realized it. The paddling wasn't powering me. There was just enough wind to do it. I couldn't see it on the water and I couldn't feel it. But we were moving. The gps receiver told me of motion around 1 mph. That fitted with the tiny wake and the small ripples my bows made in the water.


This was not the current, which was too low to move me at 1 mph.

Here's the view back to where I had taken refuge.

view back

It was a slow drift home. I passed the Labor Day weekend revelers on the shore.


And there was wonderful view of downtown over the glass water, unstirred by any wind.


I was back at the marina by 5:55pm. I had the boat out of the water and unrigged just in time for the next storm.

The gps tracks tell the fuller story of this slow voyage.

click for larger

click for larger

click for larger

John D. Norton


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