ShareThis Page

Sailboat enthusiast to share do's, don'ts of navigating Pittsburgh's rivers

| Tuesday, June 25, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
John Norton, a Downtown resident, unfurls the sail on his sailboat at the Newport Marina on the North Shore on Saturday June 22, 2013.
Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
John Norton, a Downtown resident, unfurls the sail on his sailboat at the Newport Marina on the North Shore.
Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
John Norton, a downtown resident, shows his wind gauge in front of his sailboat at the Newport Marina on the North Shore on Saturday June 22, 2013.

For sailor John Norton, there's nothing like the moment a breeze presses against the sails propelling his vessel forward and the boat begins to glide.

“It's a completely different experience,” says Norton, 60, of Downtown. “In a power boat, you point the boat in one direction, and off you go. In a kayak, you're using brute force.

“A sailboat is like a living being. You have to convince it to go where you want it to go.”

In an attempt to generate more enthusiasm for his hobby, Norton will talk about the do's and don'ts of navigating Pittsburgh's rivers at a Bruno Works Community Creative School event June 28.

Norton, director of the Center for Philosophy of Science at the University of Pittsburgh, started sailing 40 years ago with a friend in his native Sydney, Australia. He moved to Pittsburgh in 1983, but it was his move Downtown in 2005 that made him realize what an amazing amenity the rivers are.

“I'd go running up and down the river trails and think, ‘There's no reason you couldn't sail,' ” he says.

Norton decided to give it a try and soon discovered he had much to learn.

“I didn't know what I was doing,” he says, looking out over the Ohio and pointing to the ripples in the water. “I didn't know about reading the currents or how that motion we're seeing translates into an impediment to sailing.”

Now he can tell whether the day's right for sailing simply by reading the wind, pointing to its source and determining the effect it will have on the water.

He keeps his 12-foot Hobie Bravo sailboat at the Newport Marina, just a short ride down river from the Rivers Casino on the Ohio. His is the only sailboat there. It can accommodate one rider comfortably. “Two, if you're really good friends,” Norton says with a laugh.

Most days on the river, it's just Norton in his tiny sailboat, with bigger power boats and barges his only company. He gets out about 10 times a year, taking trips to the Point, then over to the Convention Center or the Smithfield Street Bridge.

But it's not always peace and quiet. Sailboats can capsize fairly easily — Norton has done that a few times — and barges can create a few challenges. Norton recommends always bringing a paddle along, just in case the wind dies. But with proper knowledge and awareness, those problems can typically be easily avoided, he says.

“I always say, ‘It's as safe as any other thing you can do.' ”

Norton keeps a blog about his experiences on the rivers, www.pitt.edu/~jdnorton/sail. In one entry, “Why We Sail,” he captures the instant the wind begins to propel his boat:

“It is a magical feeling. The breeze has filled our little boat with life. We are carried by a force we cannot see but feel in the slight list of the hull, the tension in the sheets that hold the sails and the gentle pull on the rudder as it tries to re-center.

“Now the real sailing begins.”

Rachel Weaver is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7948 or rweaver@tribweb.com.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.