No Wind
July 21, 2012

Fort Duquesne BRidge

When you sail, you learn to take things as they come. The weather forecast may have been calling for wind. But there just might be none on the river. So it was today. The photo shows the glassy water of my sail. It is characteristic of air that is dead calm. It was not supposed to be that way. Midmorning, the forecasters at were predicting very steady (i.e. no gusts), roughly Easterly winds of about 7 mph for the noon hours when I would sail. They would be lovely conditions for gentle sailing:

weather forecast windfinder

The forecast from was similar with Easterly winds in the 4-6 mph range.


I'd noticed a little wind on the bicycle ride over. There had been an encouraging 4 or 5 mph wind roughly from the East on the Northern shore of the Allegheny in front of PNC Park. But, by the time I arrived at the Newport Marina about a mile and bit downstream of the Point, I knew things might not go well.

I stood and the end of the dock and elsewhere with the wind gauge in hand, trying to convince myself that that the occasional readings were showing me enough wind for sailing.

wind gauge

My experience has been that dead calm never stays completely dead for very long. So why not head off into the river? The wind would come eventually, I told myself. There is always the river current, of course. If there is any substance to it, then sailing in these conditions would be disastrous. I'd likely sit becalmed for long enough to be washed downstream.

Fortunately, the flows were low. There was 12,100 cubic feet per second on the Ohio.

Ohio Flow

I'd estimated elsewhere that this volumetric flow corresponds to around 0.44 mph or about 0.68 feet per second. However there no was no visible trace of this motion on the river's surface (and I doubt I found as much out on the river when I was sailing). So perhaps these estimates of linear speed are too high.

Here are the Allegheny and Mon flows. They are also low.

It was, I decided, time to sail. The boat was rigged and off its ramp in the little lagoon at the marina. It seems to be a near assurance that each time I am about put into the water, a barge will lumber by. On cue, it chugged its way up Ohio, shooting out a white wake as I watched over the deck of the boat.


I put into the water at 11:15am. A pleasant, gentle breeze took me the first hundred yards or so upstream. Then it died. This was the way it would be for most of the sail. I would spend a long time sitting becalmed in glassy waters. Then a little wind would stir the water and I'd move a little farther on my voyage.

All in all, it was relaxing and pleasant. It was a far cry from other sails in which I battle fierce winds. It had been terribly hot the past week and that had discouraged me from sailing. Today was a cooler day sandwiched between hotter days. The temperatures varied in 70-75F and the sky was heavily overcast, so there was no sun to cook me. That meant that it was quite pleasant to sit on the deck, waiting for a little wind, looking at the scenery.

It took a full hour to reach alignment with the casino. At that point I made a little loop in my course. It is visible in the yellow section of the gps track below.


The complete tracks, color coded for distance and speed are here:

click for larger

click for larger

click for larger

By 12:35 pm, I had reached the Point. I kept sailing with the plan of turning at 1pm. That turn was delayed to 1:05 pm by river traffic. I'd reached PNC Park when I turned. It took about 15 minutes to return to the point at 1:20 pm and a little over an hour to return to the marina at 2:25 pm.

With winds this light and erratic, it can be hard to tell their direction. My best estimate is that they were mostly Northerly winds; there seemed to be nothing of the forecast Easterly winds. What complicates identifying them is that Northerly winds are deflected all the way along the river by big buildings on the Northern shores of the river. That leaves dead spots on the river and winds deflected briefly so that they seem to come from other directions.

When I returned to the part of the river in front of the casino, the little puffs of wind were steady enough for me to heave to and measure them. I found the better puffs were in the 4-5 mph range. Alas, they did not last and I ended spending a long time becalmed in the final stretch home.

The next day, I downloaded's log of actual conditions and found this:

weather actual

The conditions were indeed quite different from the forecast for the 11:00 pm - 3:00 pm period during which I sailed. They report sequentially: calm, NE 3mph, calm, NW 3mph, NNW 3 mph. In short, these are what I thought I'd seen on the river: a mix of calm and very little wind from a roughly Northerly direction.

Here is's report of the day:

actual weather

There seems to be a moral about weather forecasts in this experience. Easterly winds are rare in the summers in Pittsburgh. If they arise, it is part of a change in weather patterns. That makes it tough to forecast exactly when the brief window of Easterly winds will come. The forecasters clearly got it wrong today. This forecasting error had happened before when Easterly winds are forecast. Be wary, I now know, of a forecast of Easterly winds.


What is quite enjoyable in sailing at the Point is just how much is going on around me. I set out with a green river bank to look at. In it is a railroad track and, every now and again, an engine thunders past, straining to hall a long line of cars. I can feel my hull resonate to the thunder of the engine.


Once I'd passed the West End Bridge, I was becalmed for a long time in front of the barge station next to the Bridge on the Southern shore.

Barge station

I was becalmed there for so long that the combination of little puffs of wind and current eventually pressed me up against this bridge pier. I pushed myself free and a better puff of wind set me moving again towards the Point.

Bridge Pier

Here's the view ahead towards Heinz Field, taken with the camera almost touching the water. The photo looks underexposed. It isn't. The day was heavily overcast and the light really was that dark and that bluish gray color.

Heinz Field

Here I am looking over the glassy water towards the Point. The rough patch of water is what every becalmed sailor wants to see: a puff of wind approaching over the water.

Puff of wind

It was slow going, but I had lots of company. The kayakers were out.


Just Ducky Tours also had many boats in the water.

Ducky Boat

There was a lot of traffic on the river. Here's another barge coming up behind a Ducky boat.

barge coming

Finally I've reached the Fort Duquesne Bridge. There's no wind. You can see that in the glassiness of the water.

Fort Duquesne Bridge

This is farthest I will come today: PNC Park.

PNC Park

John D. Norton


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