Baseball Game Traffic
August 21, 2011

The Sunday afternoon sailing venture began downtown in the midst of the filming of a Batman movie. I've now arrived at the marina around 3:30pm. The forecast was calling for my favorite winds: roughly westerly or north westerlies at around 9mph. But first there was a 60% chance of a thunderstorm. I thought I'd rig the sailboat and hope any storm would blow through. By the time the mast was up and the boat rigged, the storm clouds were sending me an unequivocal message. Rain coming, somewhere for someone.


The winds had also picked up. They were blowing hard and I could see whitecaps on the water.


By 4pm, the storm came. I took shelter in the marina. It poured.


it poured

The weather radar, so conveniently viewed on an iPhone, assured me that this storm cell would pass quickly. It did; and by 4:10 I was pushing my little sailboat out into the Ohio River.

Alas, the 9 mph winds were just a happy number in some meteorologist's computation. The actual weather for the time of my sail (4:10pm-7:15pm) was much milder. The weather records show winds in the 3-6 mph range varying over West, North West and even a little South West. Much of this did not make it to the river surface. The first two hours were quieter, with some periods of almost no wind. They picked up suddenly around 6:15 pm and gave me a more energetic final hour.

In all this, the river currents were too low to consider for the Allegheny and Ohio Rivers on which I would sail.

The gps tracks plot my voyage up the Ohio and Allegheny Rivers, starting as usual in the top left hand corner at the Newport marina.

click for larger

click for larger

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There's always a lot to see and negotiate on these little voyages. This time, it was the baseball game.

Once I'd set out for the Point, progress was slow under very light winds. It look 35 minutes on a straight run to get to the Point. I had plenty of time to watch the water and the sky. I could see the storm clouds receding past the city skyline and blue sky taking their place.


The winds seemed to die once I reached the point. I moved only a few hundred yards in 10 or 15 minutes. It was pleasant just to sit, stretched across the deck, watching the glassy mounts of water and the other boats.


The winds picked up a little at the Fort Duquesne Bridge.

Ft Duq Bridge

Once I'd cleared the bridge, looking back downstream, I could see the the biggest river boat of the Gateway Clipper fleet, the Majestic. It was sailing upstream too.


The winds weren't strong, so I was not moving fast. That means I wanted to keep well clear of big, fast moving things like riverboats. It was comforting to note that I was on the northern side of the river and the channel in which these boats navigate is on the southern side. "Good," I thought to myself, "I'll stay on this side; and you will stay on that side!"

Then I realized it was not to be. As the immense wall of the riverboat overtook me, it was too close for a course that would head upstream.


It was that baseball game! She was going to cut right in front of my bows and dock at the ballpark to pick up passengers after the game. I quickly turned my sailboat and watched the riverboat steam right across my former course.


I waited while the Majestic docked. Then I turned back to the middle of the river to sail around her.


As I rounded her stern, I could see the turbulent wake she was kicking up to keep her pressed to the dock. I knew not to get too close to it.


The wind held, but weakly, and I kept sailing as efficiently as I could. This was a section of the river where I get becalmed routinely. I didn't want that to happen now when I needed to escape.

Once I was clear of the Majestic, I could look over to the ballpark. It is a magnificent sight from the river.


I could look straight in and see the scoreboard. Indeed I could track the whole game if I decided to heave to in this spot. The game was in the ninth and final innings.

The sounds of the game were everywhere: the music, the roar of the crowd and there was a busker on the 6th Street Bridge playing what I think was a saxophone. Somehow the distance the sound traveled over the water made it sound like a bagpipe.


No doubt people high in the bleachers were getting a fabulous view of the game, the river and the cityscape behind me.


My course kept me moving slowly upstream. I sailed as far as the Convention Center, where I turned and began the slow tack back. Here's the view looking back up the river.


The air is calm and the water glassy. That usually means no wind. But somehow, just above the water, there was just enough air moving to keep the boat in motion. I like this sort of sailing. The boat glides over the water without any sense of a force pressing it to move. You hear every ripple and drip on the water. There's a sense of magic in the motion and a profound feeling of calm.

calm water

It did not last. I looked downstream under the bridges to the ballpark. The tapestry of people that had covered the seats was now threadbare. The game was over and I could see people spilling out onto the river foreshores as they headed home.


It didn't take long for me to put the pieces together. These were the crowds that would board the Majestic, which was likely to put back into the water soon. Would that be just when I wanted to sail past?

The wind was holding as I neared the docked Majestic. I had little choice as to my course. I needed to tack wide of the turbulent wake of the Majestic, yet not get caught in the wind shadow of the Fort Duquesne Bridge.

Here's a speed coded gps track. The place where the Majestic docked is indicated by the mauve circle. My track going upstream is the straighter one. The wilder saw tooth is my return now.


The reddish orange sections of the track show where the winds dropped and left me creeping forward slowly, hoping to clear the Majestic before she decides to put into the water.

Here I've just made it past the Majestic and I'm looking back.


My tacking has to carry me closer to the northern shore. I cannot sail directly downstream, for that is straight into the wind. I am near the northern shore, just when I notice a second, smaller riverboat, the Countess, has come to dock at the same spot to collect passengers.

Fortunately I have turned and have enough wind to sail away from the northern shore. Here's the view over my stern. You can see from my wake that I am sailing away from where the Countess will sail to her dock.


Now all I need to do is sail under the Fort Duquesne Bridge and escape.


It is at this moment that I notice the puff of black smoke coming from one of the Majestic's chimneys. She is putting into the water! I'd been listening for the single horn blast that alerts boaters that she is launching, but I hadn't noticed it. It can sound like a car horn from the traffic on the bridge. Perhaps I'd suppressed it as background traffic noise.

The Majestic pulled out and began a rapid turn to point her bow downstream. Here she is in mid turn, her bows pointing directly at me.

Majestic turning

I have turned and am heading back to the northern shore. The wind is now picking up, so I can move freely. As the Majestic makes her way towards the Fort Duquesne Bridge, I turn back to sail under the bridge as well. There's room for both of us!

But as I approach the bridge, I realize that I am going too fast. Now, at last, I have too much wind! My zigzag tack will take me right into the side of the Majestic. I try to stall by pointing my bows into the wind to "luff" the sail, so it no longer works efficiently. Just a few moments are all it needs. The Majestic passes and I sail directly directly across the river towards downtown, passing just to her stern.

The excitement is over and I have good winds. The sun is getting lower on the horizon. You can see that in the photos above. I am in shadow and the Majestic is lit by a low sun. It is time to end this voyage.

I begin to tack back to the Newport Marina. The return has some faster sailing and some slower sailing, since the winds are mixed. But I am almost always moving. The glassy water of calm air is gone.

As I tack closer to the Casino, I can see a music performance on the amphitheater at the water's edge.


I can hear it too. The opposite shore is wall that reflects back the sound. I can hear the crash of the crescendo from the casino and then a second or two later its echo. I note with interest how the timing changes as I move across the width of the river.

It is not an entirely restful sailing. The rudder is turned by a rudder extension rod that couples to the tiller. The joint, I'd been noticing, seemed looser than normal. I now saw that the screw holding it together had backed itself almost all the way out.


rudder close up

If it disconnected, I'd be much restricted in my use of the rudder. I'd not be able to throw my weight back to balance the boat if a strong puff of wind came. I couldn't tighten the screw with my fingers. Apprehensively, I sailed on expecting at any moment that the joint would open. It had held this long. Why wouldn't it hold just a few minutes more?

A sudden, strong puff of wind sent me flying into the dock to end my sail at 7:15pm. I hauled the boat out of the water and unrigged it. Mike, at the dock, leant me his screwdriver and the rudder problem was solved with a few quick twists.

I'd arranged with Eve to meet her at the Casino for dinner at their outdoor restaurant that looks over the cycling trail. My daughter and son-in-law joined us. They could have all sailed with me, but I am learning that no one is quite as enthusiastic about a sail up and down the rivers as I am. We found that the concert in the amphitheater was a staff talent quest, which explained the varying mixtures of enthusiasm and talent in the performances.

Towards the end of dinner as the sun set, the next rainstorm blew in. Eve and I rode home in the dark in a light rain. It was surprisingly pleasant. The air was still warm from the day and my sailor's dress does not mind getting wet.

John D. Norton


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