When Eve and I moved downtown a few years ago, I started running the delightful trails about the the point, along the three rivers of Pittsburgh, the Allegheny, the Monongahela and the Ohio. On those first runs, a thought took root in my head. These rivers are just spectacular. Why don't we sail on them? I mean real sailing, with sails, mast and the wind.

The essential plan was simple. We just need somewhere nearby to keep a small sailboat. When the conditions are good, it would be a gentle stroll to the launch point, a few moments to rig the boat and then we're sailing.

So I started talking to people about the idea. My son was first to pick up on it. But he wanted a BIG boat. So we ended up buying a 17 foot Hobie Getaway in the summer of 2007. It can carry six people comfortably if the winds are light. In heavier winds, it will hurl four people over waves and sometimes crash them through the waves. We began sailing first in the gentle waters of Moraine State Park, but soon migrated to the fiercer expanses of Lake Erie (but only Presque Isle Bay).


The thought of sailing on the rivers stuck. So I managed to convince my son to bring the boat to the Birmingham Bridge public boat launch on a windy day in September 2007. This, alas, is the only public boat ramp in Pittsburgh. It's not been laid out with any real thought for sailboats. There are overhanging branches and wires and they need to be negotiated carefully. It is a fairly long sail to the point, as well. However the launch does work. We did launch the boat and enjoyed a quite terrific day on the water. Here's a GPS track made on my son's GPS device. Click here for a bigger versions.

gps track

I was hooked. I was transformed into one of those tiresome people who will use any excuse to unload their latest idea on whichever ear was too polite to walk away. I talked to everyone I could. I used my runs along the rivers to map out possible places that a few like-minded sailors could keep their boats. That resulted in a little internet-proposal for possible sites for a sailing facility.

It turns out that there are already people interested in sailing events, such as at the regatta. They are lovely displays. The day is set aside months ahead. The sailboats are trailered in from afar. The river is closed to all traffic for a few hours. For that short time, the sailboats sail up and down under the watchful eye of boat labeled "safety." Or at least they will sail up and down if these few hours happen to be ones with wind.

This looked like fun. But I was interested in something more spontaneous. Let's wait until the conditions are right. That's the moment we'll be off to the river to sail. There's no need to plan this months ahead and involve all sorts of public agencies, only to get rained out.

There were other people who were intrigued by the idea, but no one seemed really interested in doing anything more than listening. So I decided that the best thing I could do was to add one sailboat to the river. If others see me sail, perhaps they will add their boats.

A big boat like the Getaway takes a long time to rig and launch. The idea of a smaller boat that would be easy to push into the water just would not go away. I kept looking at the Hobie Bravo. There's only a mainsail. There's no jib to fiddle with. So it is easy for one sailor to work. Most interesting, it has a roller furled mast. That means that a sailor pulling up to the dock need only pull a cord to make the sail disappear.

In the fall 2008, I bit the bullet. I placed my order with Paul Egbert of Wind and Water Boatworks in Butler. I took delivery of the Bravo in May 2009 and trailered it down to Pittsburgh.


By then I'd found that the Newport Marina, a few hundred yards downstream of the West End Bridge, was willing to host a little sailboat like mine. It was not something they knew. But they were willing to help someone with an odd obsession. All I needed, I told them, was a grassy flat at the water's edge. I'd keep the boat there and push it into the water to sail it. They had just the spot, although I'd need to share it with their dog, Casey. Now she has very definite ideas about the purpose of this grassy flat. So each visit to my boat begins with a little hunt, stick in hand, through the grass.

It's not a bad location. I estimate that it is about 1.25 miles to the tip of the point. Since it is downstream of the point, the current, if there is one, will carry me home. I'd prefer something closer. 1.25 miles is just a few moments for a power boat to cover. It is typically an hour's sail for a sailboat. It seemed like a good compromise between the location I'd like right at the Point and the ones I could have. I did not then know that this stretch of river was prove more challenging than it looked.

Here's a map.

John D. Norton

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