Labor Day
September 2, 2013

chair by river

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This past summer has been trying for a river sailor. The currents all through August have spiked into levels well beyond their averages and beyond what I can beat in a sailboat, even with good winds.

When the Labor Day weekend approached, I began to feel a little desperate. Summer is ending and I've made it out twice onto the river to sail. This long weekend has to provide just a one day of sailing. Can the river gods hate river sailors that much? The current on the Mon had been anomalously high over the past week. It had peaked at 50,000 cubic feet per second, 25 times the median for this time of year.

By the Monday of Labor Day, the currents had fallen enough for sailing to be possible. They were dropping down towards the low of 20,000 cubic feet per second on the Ohio and that is my upper limit. Here are the flows:

Ohio flow

Allegheny flow

Mon flow

Yough flow

The forecast was calling for 13 mph winds from the West. That should translate into winds blowing upstream towards the Point at the stretch of river on the Ohio where I keep my boat. They would help me beat the current.

Here are links to the forecasts.
National weather forecast windfinder forecast

Early in the hot and sunny afternoon of Labor Day, I pedaled over to the marina. Riding along the North bank of the Allegheny, it was full of people and boats and happiness. It is Labor Day.

When I arrived at the marina, however, it was not good. I walked out onto the dock and hurled a chunk of driftwood into the water. It landed with a splash and all too quickly began moving downstream. Then I noticed all the debris the water. There was no need for my chunk of driftwood. The river en masse was moving downstream at a slow walking pace.


It would take strong winds to beat that. The 13 mph winds forecast could do it if it was blowing upstream. But it wasn't. I could feel rather little wind and could see that what little there was came from the Point. I held up my wind gauge and watched it move from just 1 or 2 mph up to occasional puffs of 6-8 mph.

Tacking into those winds would not give me enough to beat the current. No sailing now.

I decided to wait. These were South Westerly winds and perhaps the winds would turn to match the forecast Westerlies. Sandy in the Newport Marina offered me a chair to take down to the water's edge.

chair by river

The vigil began. Every now and again, I'd go out to the dock to measure the winds, sometimes just sitting and watching.


I noticed the wind dropping. That was good. It suggested change. Then I could see swirling patches on the water where the wind was blowing in different directions. Finally after an hour, there was enough steady wind blowing upstream that sailing was possible.

There had been some mention in the forecast of storms later. There were some ominous purple grey clouds in the Western sky. So, ever prudent, I checked the radar map on my cell phone.

All clear! Phew.

But then there was a button I could push that would project forward in time for a few hours. I pushed it and the projection came. That tiny little storm cell over Akron Ohio, it said, would blow towards us and grow into a huge storm full of red, the strongest color on the key. It would hit shortly after 4pm.

What should I do? It was already after 2pm. If a storm hits, I can sail for shore and get away from the boat's huge aluminum mast. I'd done it once or twice before. But what if I don't make it? What if there's nowhere nearby to beach?

Reluctantly I decided not to sail.

I rode home and went for a run, expecting to get drenched sometime during the run. But all I was drenched in was sweat. It was hot and humid and the sun beat down. The storm didn't come until much later in the evening.

I couldn't help being annoyed with myself for not sailing. Was it well-warranted prudence? Or an excess of caution?

I'd very soon set things right.

John D. Norton