August 26, 2015

docked at Kayak Pittsburgh

It seems like I spent the whole of the rest of the afternoon yesterday second guessing my decision not to sail. I had the boat all set up and ready to go. Then I balked at the whitecaps I saw on the water. It just looked like too much wind; and I didn't want a repeat of the struggles I'd had on August 11.

Today, the next day, promised equally good conditions. The river currents were down so low as to be negligible. Here's the flow on the Ohio: a mere 3,920 cubic feet per second.

Ohio flow

The winds forecast for the afternoon were perfect: gentle breezes from the WNW and NW of around 7mph:

click for larger

But the effort of setting up the boat and then not sailing yesterday left me a little disaffected. I didn't want to think of sailing again. Would it be another day of wasted effort? Still, I kept track of the winds from my office. At 2pm, the wonderful CMU Breathe Cam gave me a clear view of the fountain at the Point.

Breathe Cam at 2pm

These were perfect winds, blowing roughly from the West or slightly north of it--just the way I like it. From my office window, I can see the flag on the Carnegie Museums in Pittsburgh. That too showed very nice winds.

So at 2:50pm, the decision was made. The die was cast. I headed off home and hurried through the next steps: the bus ride, changing, packing my sailing gear and the bicycle ride over. Soon I was at the Newport Marina. I'd measured perfect Westerly winds of about 5-10 mph at various points during the ride. Looking out over the water of the Ohio River, I could see in the ripples that the wind was both gentle and steady, blowing upstream towards the Point.

That was perfect! Yesterday, the wind was jumping about, sometimes blowing hard and kicking up whitecaps and sometimes dropping. That would have made for difficult, erratic sailing. Today's steady, gentle winds promised a pleasurable sail.

It was vindication. I'd made the right choice, I now thought, in deciding not to sail yesterday. Today would be much better for sailing.

That is just what happened!

I'd like to show you my usual GPS plot to review precisely how things went. Alas my otherwise reliable GPS receiver gave out on me. Dead batteries. I'm not sure what happened. I may not have turned it off properly yesterday. Here's the fragment that did get recorded.

So let me recount as best I can how the sailing went.

Here I have the mast up and I'm ready to push the boat into the water.

mast up

The boat was rigged and I was setting off from the dock at 4:19pm. There was a steady wind blowing towards the Point. It pushed me on a run at around 4mph for much of the way.

The actual winds were, by then, blowing from the West-South-West around 7-9 mph, as reported here:

actual winds
click for larger

My default principle had been that any Southwesterly component to the wind meant trouble. Those winds would be blocked by ridge on the Southern bank of the Ohio and Mon Rivers. However this was not the case today.

It was a pleasant sail, at times fast and at times leisurely, to the Point. Here I am setting out quickly. The marina is left behind in my rising wake.

setting out

Here I approach the West End Bridge and then see downtown after passing under it:

West End Bridge


Then the winds dropped a little. I found myself becalmed for short periods on glassy water:

glassy water

glassy water

And then the breezes picked up and I watched the water bubble up around the bows:

bow water

I made it to the Point in good time--20 minutes--by 4:38pm. I traversed to and fro in front of it. My purpose was to record myself on the CMU Breathe Cam. I did find myself on the cam later. However the image is too small to be impressive. Since they are separated by a minute, they do not give a good sense of the sailing. Here's a still from the cam:

It shows me sailing back at 4:42. I had good, steady winds blowing from the West. The boat was pushed to what felt like its top speed. With the GPS not recording, I cannot affirm that directly. I'm guessing I passed by at a steady 7-8 mph. I was hiking out over the water to balance the boat and watching the rudder slice through the green water, leaving a rising wake.

Here's the fountain at the Point as I approached. It shows a nice Westerly wind:


I then turned up the Allegheny and continued on a run, with a steady wind from my stern. Here are some kayakers I saw on the way:


Approaching the Fort Duquesne Bridge:

Ft Duquesne Bridge

From the Breathe Cam: passing under the Sixth Street Bridge.

I moored at 4:55pm at the dock next to Kayak Pittsburgh, between the Sixth and Seventh St. Bridges. I am always amazed that I can sail in such a beautiful waterway!

At about 5:03, I set off back to the Point. I had good steady winds blowing roughly from the West to tack into. The view from the Breathe Cam:

By 5:20pm, I'd passed the Point and was heading down the Ohio River.

When I was roughly at the Science Center, I saw a huge barge pressing up the Ohio towards me. This is no contest. I immediately turned out of the main channel, where I then happened to be sailing, and proceeded under steady winds towards the Casino. The river widens there and gives me plenty of space. I momentarily halted, pointing my bows into the wind, to give the barge time to pass. I wasn't comfortable waiting there, since the winds were slowly blowing me backwards and I was worried I'd end up in the weeds on the river bank. So I tried to keep moving slowly.

Here's the barge passing my bows:


It's hard to see just how big this monster is from this photo. This one, taken after it passed, gives a better sense of the size:


I sailed across the barge's wake and proceeded downstream.

That the winds had turned WSW was now having an effect. I was sailing into the lee--the wind shadow--of the ridge on the southern bank of the Ohio River. I had alternations of fast sailing and calm.

However I was becoming a little less calm. Looking downstream I could see big storm clouds massing in the West.

storm clouds

I was fairly sure that there was plenty of time to sail to the marina before any storm hit. However the alternations of calm and wind as I sailed downstream were bothersome.

The wind shadow of the ridge on the Sourthern bank persisted past the West End Bridge. I even had a little wind blowing roughly downstream from the Southern edge of the bridge, after I passed it. Then the winds returned to Westerlies blowing upstream. I tacked into them at good speed. Here I am about to arrive at the marina at 6:05pm:

approaching the marina

The sail is furled and I am ready to haul the boat out of the water.

The floating dock sometimes gets in the way, but sometimes it is useful. I haul the boat up onto it. Then it is an easy matter to pull the boat up onto the grassy bank.

All that remains is to take down the mast, stow my gear and cover the boat with a tarpaulin. All this, I am pleased to report, is much easier with the boat flat on the river bank. It was a lot more fuss the old way when the boat say on the now broken and unusable inclined ramp.

John D. Norton


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