Captain Eve
June 30, 2012


Today was not supposed to be a sailing day. The weather forecast yesterday was calling for temperatures in the 90s and winds over 15 mph. That is too hot and too fast for me. In the morning, Eve and I cycled up to La Gourmandine, a french bakery in Lawrenceville, for a sandwich, pastry and coffee. Our route took us along the river and I paused to gaze out over the water and feel the wind. It was not as hot as forecast and the winds looked pleasantly gentle. The sky was blue. The air was warm and the breezes were kind. "You should sail," Eve said.

After our visit to the bakery, at home, I checked the latest forecast and it was quite different from the earlier forecast. It now read:


The winds were roughly Southwesterly around 9 mph. The river currents were low still. Here's the flow on the Ohio River:

Ohio Flow

It was an easy 5,800 cubic feet per second. I'd not notice that at all on the river. Here are the Allegheny and Mon flows--also low.

These were conditions too good to pass up. It is also a weekend, so I expected there to be some other boats on the river to keep me company. They would keep the sailing interesting as I navigated around them. I packed my sailing bag and set out on my bike for the river.

I had expected other boats, but I was not prepared for what I found on my cycle ride from our loft downtown to the Newport marina. As I cycled along the North shore of the Allegheny and Ohio Rivers near the Point, I found myself in the middle of an enormous river party. Starting at PNC Park, the boats were stacked, often six and more deep, all the way down to Heinz Field. The activity had spilled out from the boats over the riverfront. I could barely make my way through.


It was clearly something to do with July 4, which is fast approaching. Perhaps this was the last day for this sort of party, for tomorrow, docking is prohibited until after July 4.

No socking sign

It was a slow ride, picking my way through the crowds and I eventually arrived at the Newport marina. There the winds were erratic, I found, varying from calm to 5 or 6 mph blowing upstream on the Ohio. By the time I had my boat in the water, shortly after 2pm, the dead calm had taken over. A puff of wind took me to the middle of the river and left me there in dead air.

At that moment, a distant horn sounded and I turned to see a rather large barge coming into view from downstream.

barge coming

I was pretty sure that I was out of the course the barge would follow in the main channel. (Checking the gps track afterwards affirmed that I was safe--see the tracks below.) But there were no special prizes for judging this one poorly. The air was dead calm, so I took out my paddle and found my way back to the marina. I tied up at a conveniently unoccupied berth and waited while the barge lumbered past. Then I waited for signs that wind had returned.


Sometime shortly after 2:30pm enough wind touched down at the water to get me moving. The wind was weak and erratic. That was what I expected with Southwesterly winds. They are obstructed by the high ridge on the Southwestern bank of the river. (They are visible as the backdrop to the barge in the photo above.) I was expected steadier winds on the Allegheny, my destination, for its rivercourse aligns with the winds.

West End Bridge

Once I passed under the West End Bridge, the winds strengthened as I expected and I was soon flying along with a good wind at my stern. Here's my satisfyingly busy wake.


These winds drove me into the tangle of boats, partying on the river.




By 3:05pm, I'd docked at the Convention Center, upstream of my favorite bridges at 6th, 7th and 9th Street. It was hot, so I put on more sunscreen and drank some water.


Eve had been complaining for a while that it was just too boring sitting on a sailboat. She'd decided the problem was that she wasn't doing anything. If she were actually sailing the boat, it might be different. So she resolved to sail the boat. In principle that should be no problem. She'd taken the family to the Annapolis Sailing School a few years ago, where we all were taught by real instructors.

She made the short walk down to the Convention Center from our loft and hopped on board.


The conditions were nearly perfect. We had Southwesterly winds blowing at around 4-6 mph straight up the river. We set off. Eve was intially disoriented. Having learned how to sail and remembering what you learned are two different things. Also, the Hobie Bravo is a small boat, which means that it responds sensitively to small changes in the rudder and the like. Finally, with a small boat you know that it doesn't take much to capsize. If there is a little too much wind and a hand that is a little too slow to release the mainsheet, then into the water you go.

A good puff of wind took us off into the river. It is as if a great, invisible hand has reached down from the sky and taken over. The visceral feeling as the boat shoots over the water is powerful. Eve gasped. She was discomforted and thrilled all at once. It is the complex feeling that makes sailing fun. I took out my camera and took a shot "blind" at that moment on the first leg out.


In the photo, we've just left the Convention Center dock, which is in the background. The white, foaming wake tells you how fast we are going! I'm holding the mainsheet--the rope that controls the sail--since Eve wanted to take one control at a time.

We sailed to and fro until Eve got a better sense of how the boat responds to the tiller. We then turned upstream and headed for the crush of pleasure boats on the river. By the time we'd passed under the three bridges at 6th, 7th and 9th Street, Eve seemed quite comfortable with the boat. Here she is peering ahead to pick a course past the boats anchored in the river.


We sailed down fairly close to the Point. The boats seemed to be docked everywhere, often stacked many deep.



Eve, by now was very comfortable as captain. To come this close to the Point, we needed to tack for perhaps 40 minutes into the wind. Our return to the Convention Center was a run, with the wind behind us. Eve was now taking a leisurely command, leaning back against the mainsheet as she held the sail out to stop it folding in on itself.


She looks happy and comfortable. She later assured me that she really did have fun. That was a relief. I've taken Eve on some quite memorable disasters sailing.

After I dropped her off at around 4:15pm, I began the leisurely sail back to the marina. I tacked my way once again through the thicket of pleasure boats anchored over the river. I find it to be a lot of fun to pick a course through the multiple obstacles of the anchored boats. It is much easier than it looks. There's actually a lot more space to maneuver between the boats that it seems from a distance. Nonetheless, I often need to plot a course that takes me just a foot or two from the bow or stern of an anchored boat.


Sometimes the occupants don't notice me. A sailboat is fairly quiet, especially so when moving slowly in lighter winds. When they do notice me, some greet me and others are not sure what to say. A sailboat seems so incongruous in his haven of powerboats. It is something like a jogger at a motorcycle rally.

A large riverboat had docked at Heinz Field.


I'd have to sail right past her stern. The moment I passed, she sounded her horn to warn of her plan to put into the river. Why now?! Why just now??!! At that moment the wind died and I wondered what would happen next. Just which course would she take? She slowly pulled into the river and I could see that she would pass safely to my stern.


Moments later, the wind picked up and I was sailing again under a steady breeze. By 5pm I'd come as far as the submarine at the Science Center. Proceeding farther put me into the sheltered lee of the ridge on the Southwestern bank of the Ohio River. The last part of the voyage home was hot and slow. I spent most of it becalmed in dead air. Every now and again, a gentle puff of wind would move me. Eventually there were enough puffs to get me back to the marina by about 5:35pm on a run that lasted from the West End Bridge to the marina.

Here are the gps plots that show where we sailed.

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John D. Norton


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