Heeding the Signs
June 22, 2103

Ohio flow Jun 21

It feels like the start of sailing season is coming slowly this year. But that is not quite so. The last few years, I haven't taken my first sail until the end of June. What has made the start seem slow is the exceptionally high flow on the rivers through the month. The chart above covers last week.

When the flow on the Ohio passes 20,000 cubic feet per second, I grow uncomfortable. At that point, there's a noticeable current, but it is one I can beat if the winds are steady. What the chart above shows is that the Ohio river flow peaked at 80,000 cubic feet per second earlier in the week. That's four times my limit. That is unusual for June. The yellow triangles show what has been more normal for the past 79 years.

The reason for the high flow seems to be a dam upstream on the Allegheny that is letting out a lot of water. I found this warning on the USGS website.

flow warning

It fits with the flows recorded on the Allegheny for the same period...

Allegheny flow

...well, somewhat. The corresponding peak is around 33,000 cubic feet per second. Where's the rest coming from? It turns out that the normally much lower flowing Mon is the culprit:

Mon flow

It peaked at nearly 40,000 cubic feet per second, which is higher than the Allegheny's peak. Put the two together and we have an Ohio river that's just too hard for sailing.

For completeness, the Yough also contributes a little water normally. This week is it was contributing even less than normal.

Yough flow

Today--Saturday June 22--did not look like a good day for sailing. It's going to be warm with temperatures in the 80sF. The winds are at a perfect speed of around 10mph, but they are blowing from the the South West. That means that they would be blocked by the ridge on the South Western bank of the Ohio river and give merely erratic winds on the waters of the Ohio.


The flow on the Ohio river was still up over my limit, somewhere in the low 20,000 cubic feet per second. (Here's the Allegheny and Mon Flows.)

So why am I heading off on my bicycle to put the Bravo into the water? On Friday, I'll be talking about sailing in the Brunoworks' Creative Community School. (You are invited! Details here.)


That had triggered a request for an interview from the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review newspaper. How nice! Today was the day. We'll meet at the marina and a photographer will take some photos.

The moment for me on the ride over was passing the fountain at the Point. In the four past years of my sailing the rivers, it has been out of commission. Now finally there it is!


The interest is not just aesthetic. A problem sailing the rivers is knowing just which direction the wind is blowing from. My hope is that this majestic spike of water will tell me. We'll see--it looks hard to read.

I arrived at the marina well ahead. The Bravo was still firmly tied down to its trailer for winter storage. There's quite some work moving it from its trailer onto the ramp and cleaning off all the dirt and debris that builds up over the winter. Then there's the work of stepping the mast, rigging the sail and attaching rudder. It was already quite hot by the time I'd arrived and, in the end, it was over an hour of sweaty labor to have the boat set up and ready.

Here is it, with the sail slightly reefed (=rolled up around the mast) so that a sudden puff of wind doesn't make trouble. Picture perfect, I thought!

boat rigged

Soon the photographer, Sidney, arrived. He took some photos while I played around with the rigging. He was photographing me, so why shouldn't I photograph him?


From his expression, I'm guessing that he didn't quite see the symmetry. But he was quite good natured about it and we chatted while we waited for the reporter, Rachel Weaver, to arrive.

There's a Kenny Chesney concert on later in the day. Traffic was terrible and she had real trouble getting through. The marina can be hard to find. (I did send a map!) So eventually Sidney went off to show her the way. She arrived, a little weary for the trip, but in good spirits. She asks me lots of questions and I am now wondering what she will write. "Madman tries to sail on rivers. Does not drown. No one knows why." Or perhaps she'll find something a little more flattering.

All this time, I'd been taking peeks at the water and watching the wind. The current was noticeable. Staring at debris in the water, I could see the current draw it by at a slow crawl.


The winds were as erratic as I'd expected. There were periods of dead calm; and then there'd be moments of a nice refreshing breeze. The temptation is to imagine that the brief moments of wind will last and put into the water.

The signs were not good. Those moments of calm, I was pretty sure, would not be enough to keep me comfortably ahead of the currrent that would be washing me back when the wind dropped. But then the water was inviting, the boat was all set up and ready to go and perhaps the wind would stay.

What decided the matter was one more sign. The Kenny Chesney conference brings out a crowd that likes to fill the river. Here's how it looked in the early afternoon, as I was cycling home.



The local advice was unequivocal. They have fun; and then they have too much fun and get themselves into trouble. This is one of the best days not to be out on the river. "I tell people that today is a good day to go camping."

That was the final sign. There were too many, all pointing away from the river: high current, erratic wind and partying. So I hauled the boat out of the water, took down the mast and stowed my gear.

On the ride home, as I picked my way through the crowds, I paused to photograph the water. I watched as the water police zoomed in and began to usher the crush of boats away from the landing dock of the riverboats. I'd never seen them have to do that before.

river police

So far, only I saw fun and a great crush of people and boats. No doubt things would get more energized later. I noticed that there's a definite uniform the Cheney fans like to wear.

Chesney fan

I hope it all works out for her.

John D. Norton


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