Rivers and Lakes
July 30, 2011

My sailing in the Pittsburgh region has been divided. We have a bigger Hobie Getaway that can take four or five people comfortably in gentler winds. We have sailed that on the lakes north of Pittsburgh: Lake Arthur at Moraine State Park and in Presque Isle Bay at Lake Erie. Sometimes we go with family and friends for a day's sailing and a picnic on the lakeshore; or a picnic and a bit of sailing, depending on where your priorities lie.

Then there is the smaller Hobie Bravo which I have sailed almost exclusively single-handed on the rivers.

Docked at the Point

It was comfortable keeping the two separate. Since I initially didn't know what to expect on the rivers, it seemed much better for me to go out alone and deal as best I could with whatever came my way.

The complication for this comfortable division is that I just like sailing more on the rivers. Lake sailing is fun, but once you are out in a lake, there's little to do beyond sailing up and down and trimming the sails to obsessive perfection. It's fun, but I'll admit I get a little bored and start to try my fellow sailors' patience with peculiar requests. "Let's sail in close to the big rock over there near the shore and have a better look."

On the rivers, things are a great deal more interesting. There are currents to think about; and there are winds that behave one way in one part of the river and another just a few hundred yard farther along; and there are other boats to navigate around; and bridges with pylons; and kayakers; and game day crowds. The river scenery is constantly changing. One moment I'm grazing past the Casino and a submarine; in another I'm at the Point; in another I'm passing under one of many bridges, finding a new set of skyscrapers towering over me.

Now, into my third summer sailing on the rivers, I am starting to get more confident. I never really know precisely what will happen on each sail. But the number and range of surprises is getting small. That is about as good as it gets for sailing. It is, I decided, time to share with a boat big enough for a fe of us to go out together in comfort.

Early in this afternoon, we arrived at the Newport marina with our big Hobie Getaway in tow. The plan had originally been that my friend Jim and I would do the sweat work of setting up the boat and getting it into the water and then Eve would join us. Our work party grew. My son came home early on leave and my son-in-law saw an interesting outing and a chance to be helpful. All four of us ended up standing around the boat on its trailer in the blazing sun.

Getting small sailboat, such a my little Bravo, into the water is a relatively easy job. I can erect the mast--officially known as "stepping the mast"--by myself without too much strain.

A small increase in size changes everything. the Bravo is a 12 foot boat; the Getaway is a 16'7" boat. Now stepping the mast is serious exercise for two of us; and having a third around is useful. One pushes the mast up, the second hauls on a rope and the third helps pin the forestay in place. There's lots of grunting and red faces and "can ... you ... pull ... that ... a ... little ... tighter..." Up it went. And then we lowered it down again because I tied off a line too high up. (Sorry!) And up it went again.

on the trailer

Boats and trouble go hand in hand. It was only when we'd nearly finished rigging the boat that we realized that a tiny pin was missing. It is only a tiny part of a big boat. But without it, we couldn't attach the mainsheet to the traveler. That is, we couldn't set up the rope (="sheet") that controls the mainsail. That means, we couldn't sail.


We all scrambled about and eventually improvised by taking a pin from somewhere and replacing something somewhere else with something else.

Then came the delicate operation of backing the boat on its trailer down the launch ramp into the water. I generally fare poorly at this task. But this time I did worse than ever. After a few failures, I was surrounded by helpers, waving for me to turn this way, "cut up close to ..." (whatever that meant) and more. What I really needed was no help at all, just peace, so I could just figure it out at my pace. It is, in the end, a simple problem of geometry and mechanics and I am, professionally, not bad at them. Jim, who has greater innate talent for backing trailers than me, took over and got it on the first or second try.

in the water

We were in the water and ready to sail.

John D. Norton


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