August 3, 2019

For ten years, from 2009 to 2018, my summers were filled with little excursions on Pittsburgh's rivers. They all began the same way. When the conditions were right, I'd pack my sailing gear in a saddle bag on my bicycle and ride from my home downtown over to the Newport Marina, a little over a mile downstream of the Point. I'd rig my Hobie Bravo sailboat and put into the water. Then I'd set off for the Point and places beyond it, upstream on the Allegheny and Mon Rivers.

Alas, these excursions will be no more. The immediate cause of their demise is riverfront development. Pittsburgh has only a meager tradition in sailing on the rivers. The major hurdle to overcome was to find a place on the rivers to keep and launch my sailboat. Which marina understands what a sailboat needs and could be bothered to accommodate it? Here I had the great fortune of finding the kind folk at the Newport Marina. They were willing to host a small sailboat in a small plot of land in their marina. They have been my indulgent hosts ever since.

This summer, the inevitable happened. I had heard that Millcraft Development was planning a mammoth project somewhere nearby. The Esplanade is an ambitious project that will include a man made lagoon and a Ferris wheel. Most relevantly, it will sprawl along the Northern bank of the Ohio River as far as the present location of the Newport Marina. The project will look something like this:

The red circle is my rough guess for where the Newport Marina is now located.  This artist's impression has many boats docked at the new marina. Need I point out that there are no sailboats among them?

After over 50 years of operation, the Newport Marina was told that their lease would no longer be renewed. This year is their last season. Or at least it is their last season if the Esplanade goes ahead as planned. And we may well wonder how often projects of this magnitude do go ahead as planned.

In any case, I decided the end had come. It was time to move on.

One inducement is that we have just bought a small cottage on the lakefront at Edinoboro Lake. It will be our weekend and vacation get away. Edinboro Lake is small, but ideally suited for sailing a small sailboat like the Hobie Bravo.

The boat cannot be both in Pittsburgh and in Edinboro. So today, with help from my friend Jim, the Hobie Bravo was retrieved from the marina and taken on the 109 mile drive up to Edinboro. It was a messy job. The trailer tires were quite flat and the wiring to the trailer lights had been pulled out by floodwaters and debris. The boat itself was still buried under a winter's worth of dirt.

It was a sad farewell. In 2009, the launch site of the boat was bare and open. Here is how it looked then.

Over the years, the foliage has grown so dense that the boat can barely be seen from the same vantage point. Here's a photo taken from roughly the same place today:

The site is now prettier and shielded from the hot sun. However that has made it less practical. It has more bugs to bite me and the foliage overhead fouls the mast, once it is stepped into the vertical position.

The winters have not been kind. Over the last few winters, there has been significant flooding. The floods have carried debris down the river that has been caught in the small lagoon into which I launch the boat. The last winter brought some impressive tree trunks and dropped them right where I launch.

To launch now, I'd need to manhandle the boat over this tree trunk. At the start of the season, I'd convinced myself that I'd manage. I could get the boat over the trunk and then past the accumulation of debris. I'd somehow deal with the problem of the overhead foliage fouling the mast. Looking back at the photo of the site from 2009, I realize just how much harder it has become.

I'm sad to move on. I'll miss the experience of sailing round Pittsburgh's Point, under its bridges and past its magnificent skyline. Now I've had ten years of that magnificent experience. Perhaps that is enough. What new sailing adventures await me on Edinboro Lake? They will be fun, but its calm and protected waters offer none of the excitements of Pittsburgh's Rivers.

My hope is that this record of my sailing adventures will encourage others to put their sailboats into the waters of Pittsburgh's Point. This website provides all the key information needed. A successful sail at the Point requires a combination of the right winds and the right currents. This website tells you which they are and how to find them.

John D. Norton

Added May 6, 2020

I now have an unhappy addition to this report from last year. My exercise runs sometimes take me down the rivers past the Newport Marina. Last March, as I ran past, I was greatly saddened to see that fire had destroyed the dwelling attached to the marina. I knew nothing more of what happened until today when I searched the newpapers. They reported (e.g. Post Gazette) an early morning fire on March 11 2020 and that the man living there was taken to hospital with burns. Fortunately they were, as the article itself quoted, "serious, but non-life-threatening."

It turns out that man is Jason Fleming. He ran the marina and treated me with great indulgence and kindness. If you are interested in helping him, there is a gofundme drive at this link.

Here is a photo taken today (May 6):

fire aftermath

 Here is a story about Jason, written in happier times.

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