The Fountain
July 23, 2013


This week in July is between trips. It is my only chance to sail this month. Otherwise, I'll be out of town. I've been waiting for good conditions. Finally they came. The river currents have dropped enough for practical sailing. Here are the flows I found this morning on the rivers:


I pay most attention to this one, the flow on the Ohio. The stretch of the river at the Newport Marina is on the Ohio and often has the most erratic wind. If I cannot beat the current here, I cannot get out of the gate and sail. In the morning the flow was dipping below 20,000 cubic feet per second. I estimate that to be about 0.44 mph. If there's even light wind blowing upstream, that can be beaten.

I worry less about the Mon and Allegheny. If they have high flows that I cannot beat, at least I've had a nice sail up the Ohio to the Point. Here are those other flows.


Allegheny flow


Mon Flow

Yough (which feeds into the Mon):

Yough flow

More importantly, the winds looked promising:

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They are calling for 10-12 mph winds from the East and perhaps even with a little northerly component. That should be enough to get steady winds on the Ohio blowing against the current towards the point. The problem is always the high ridge on Southwestern bank of the Ohio. It blocks any wind with a Southwestern component.

The bicycle ride over to the marina was pleasant. I measured 5 mph winds on the 7th Street Bridge and 2-3 mph winds on the Northern bank of the Allegheny. That was less than forecast, but it is enough for leisurely sailing.

I always marvel at the view as I cross the bridges. Here's one:

PNC Park

Of course the Park is a great sight. But what I'm really looking at is the flag that reveals the wind.

When I started sailing on the rivers four years ago, the big fountain at the Point was closed for renovation. I regretted that very much. It isn't just the aesthetics. That big water spout is a guide to the wind at the Point. So, today is my first day since 2007 with the fountain to guide me. I kept a close eye on it as I cycled along the river to the marina.



It is showing Westerly winds that blow from the right of both photos.

On arriving at the marina, I began to ritual of rigging the boat. The hard part is "stepping the mast"--that is, raising it vertically and locking it in place. The boat sits on ramp, so I have to push it uphill to get it into place. With some effort, I can just manage. I'm getting lazy, so I've started to recruit anyone I can find to help. Their job is simple. They just grab the mast when I have it nearly up and hold it, so it doesn't fall back. It doesn't need much strength. It just needs a pair of hands in the right place.

mast down

It's a weekday, so the marina is quiet and there's no one around. I walk up to the trail along the river. It's a favorite of cyclists, so I expect it will be easy to recruit help. Two women come cycling by. I wave them down and explain briefly. What happened next is a sad commentary on modern life.

"Where's the boat?" one asked hesitantly. "Right there," I said pointing to it.

boat from trail

With that excuse gone, the real reason for hesitating was revealed. "In the these times, you have to be careful," she said--or something like it. "Of course I'm sure you are fine, but..." I told her I fully understood; and I do. A few minutes later, a man was walking by. His sense of the hidden menace of strangers belongs in an earlier era, fortunately.

mast up

I put into the water just after noon (12:03 to be precise). I made fairly slow progress towards the West End Bridge. But then the wind died and I was stalled for about 20 minutes just before it. What I did not know was that the Westerly winds forecast had come as the Southwesterly winds that are blocked by the ridge on the Southwestern shore. They stayed that way all through the afternoon's sail. Here's the report:

actual winds
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Here's a second record.

In the end, it took an hour to reach the Point. I stopped there--hot and tired--and took a break. It was lunchtime. I was hungry and thirsty for the trail mix and water in my boat's locker. I spent about 20 minutes trying to get a nice panoramic photo of the Point with the fountain, but none worked out.

The wind was now freshening. A Southwesterly wind blows steadily up the Allegheny. So I had no trouble sailing up as far as the Convention Center at 10th Street. It was great sailing. The gps tracks below shows that I reached the high end of my Hobie Bravo's speed range: over 8 mph. At that speed, on this little boat, you are roaring across the water, with a huge foaming wake rising behind.

It took about 30 minutes to sail up to the Convention Center and a little more to sail back. I picked up the best winds at the Point. Shortly after I decided to head back to the marina, a barge appeared. I keep well away from them. So I sailed over to the Northern shore and furled the sail, drifting slowly as I watched the barge pass.



The last part of the sail back along the Ohio was difficult. Southwesterly winds are quite erratic. There were short periods of quite strong wind and then periods of dead calm. It was messy sailing. After 40 minutes (including the time lost waiting for the barge to pass, I was back at the marina (around 3:10pm).

Here are the gps tracks:

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Here are some photos taken on the way.

sail and West End Bridge

Approaching the fountain:

fountain under West End Bridge

fountain under West End Bridge

In this last photo, you can see from the glassy water that I am becalmed.


Finally at the Point:

at the point

Approaching the Convention Center:

Convention Center

There's nothing quite like watching a train cross the river from a little boat.

train on bridge

Here I have picked up some of the best wind of the sail as I approach the Point. According to the gps track, I was going at around 8 mph when I took the next photo. It was quite a juggle and not something I'm eager to try often.

approaching fountain

Then things got a little calmer. You can still see in the photo below that the wind is quite strong by the lean of the boat. The port (left) hull is lower in the water than the right (starboard) hull. This catamaran is very stable, so it takes a lot of wind force for the boat to heel that much. That same wind is blowing the fountain over.

approaching Point

John D. Norton


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