Labor Day Weekend
September 5, 2015

The Labor Day weekend has come and, with it, summer is nearing its end. There will be few opportunities for sailing left this season. This Labor Day weekend might be the last.

The weather forecast showed little hope of good winds for Sunday and Monday. The only hope was Saturday. The National Weather Service was calling for South Easterly winds of around 8mph in the middle of the day.

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These are not the best winds. They will blow down the Mon and Ohio Rivers, mostly avoiding the obstructing ridges on the Southern banks. But they blow with the current, which is worst combination, as explained here. Winds blowing against the current are the best.

However, this late in the summer, the river currents are so low that they have little effect on my sailing. The Ohio was running at a mere 3,850 cubic feet per second.

It was now or never. So late Saturday morning I set out with my bicycle, laden with sailing gear, for the short ride from downtown to the Newport Marina, a mile and bit downstream of the Point.

It is a busy Labor Day weekend on the rivers. There are boats docked many layers deep along the bank and lots of people out walking. The big attraction is the LST ("Landing Ship, Tank") of World War II vintage now moored at the Point.

It had attracted quite a crowd. I was most interested in the flag it flew. It was showing a quite promising wind blowing from the South East.

There were lots of other activities. Some musical event was planned for Heinz Field. As I rode past, there was a marching band, entertaining a crowd.

The conditions seemed to hold by the time I'd reached the marina. I could see gentle winds blowing down the Ohio, revealed by the moving ripples in the water. My wind gauge measured about 4 mph, which is plenty for sailing.

It was hot, however. That same gauge measured 88F and I didn't expect it to get any cooler as the day wore on.

Soon the boat was rigged and I was setting off. I put into the water at 11:53am and sailed as far at the LST at the Fort Duqesnes Bridge. I turned there for home at 12:53 and arrived back at the Newport Marina at 1:37 pm.

My expectation is that forecasts of South Easterly winds are unreliable. Anything with an Easterly component seems to be short-lived and that makes forecasting difficult. So it was today. During the course of the sail, the winds held the South Easterly direction for a while; then turned to the South and dropped; and then, as I sailed back, blew from the South West. That is the worst case for me. South Westerly winds are obstructed by the ridge on the Southern banks of the Mon and Ohio Rivers.

Here is the report of conditions from the National Weather service:

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In the end, the sailing was mixed. There were periods of good winds. There were periods of calm. There were periods of quite erratic winds that seemed to change direction from minute to minute. The gps track covers it well :

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In sum, it was a pleasant sail. It was leisurely and I could take the time to soak up the fun and excitement of the LTS visit and all the activity that came with it. I took lots of photos.

On this sail, I saw many barges. There seems to be no limit to barge traffic around the Point during holiday weekends, when the barges must share the rivers with lots of recreational boaters.

As I was about to set off, the first three barges powered past.

I had barely settled into the river when along came the second. I saw it in the distance and immediately sailed out of the main channel. Barges move quickly and I move out of their way as soon as I see them. Here it is, seen over my bows.

My destination was the "Landing Ship, Tank." It was a long slow sail to arrive at it. Here I am approaching it.


There are lots of boats in the water.

Here is the third barge of the sail. It is turning up the Allegheny and will sail through the boats collected there. I cannot image the stress felt by the captain navigating through this tangle.

Here I am while the barge passes, as seen by the CMU Breathe cam. The resolution is poor, but you can still see me in the upper right hand corner.

Now I am turning for home.

A glimpse into Heinz Field. The sound of the music event has been echoing across the river almost throughout the sail. It was not music that was improved by the distance.

During the sail back, the winds dropped and I found myself pulled along gently by small breezes blowing lazily from the stern. With such light winds, not much happens on deck. So I can lie back, stretch out and watch the scenery.

Downtown is receding in my wake.

The Carnegie Science Center submarine is approaching.

There's more barge activity. Here's a boat rearranging the barges on the opposite bank.

It's just a few more minutes of lazy sailing and I will be back at the Newport marina.

John D. Norton


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