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Allegheny River marinas repair winter damage; boats brought out of storage

Aspiration sets sail

After a winter in which his sailboat frozen in place by ice on the Allegheny River, Rob Zwergel is making good on his long-range retirement plan to sail the Caribbean.

For about a decade, Zwergel, 61, a contractor, lived on Aspiration, a 54-foot steel hull sailboat he built and moored at Manni's Lighthouse Landing in New Kensington.

In mid-April, he began a journey that ended about three weeks later with his arrival on the Gulf Coast at Mobile, Ala.

Zwergel's route from New Kensington to Mobile on the sailboat, powered by a single 85-horsepower diesel engine, followed the Son blogs about adventure

Allegheny, Ohio and Tennessee rivers, the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway, Tombigbee River and the Mobile River.

He was accompanied by his son, Zach, 23, who has been blogging about the adventure at

Aspiration is now out of the water undergoing maintenance in Pensacola, Fla.

The vessel sustained a large gouge to its paint, but no structural damage, when the dock at Manni's Lighthouse Landing was smashed by ice in January, Zwergel said.

Zwergel said he'll consider himself retired once the work is done.

“We're working really hard right now,” he said. “There's a lot of work to do on the boat.”

Zwergel said he firmed up his departure plans late last summer, when the rigging, mast and sails were put on.

“It's been a long process,” he said.

With no home port in mind, Zwergel said he plans to travel around the Caribbean for a few years, probably ending up in the Virgin Islands and beyond.

“I'm going to sort of look around,” he said. “If I like it, I'll stay a while.”

— Brian C. Rittmeyer

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Sunday, May 18, 2014, 12:06 a.m.

Allegheny River marinas damaged by ice this past winter are being repaired in preparation for the upcoming boating season.

At the Springdale Marina, pilings — the posts upon which docks are supported — were destroyed by ice and will have to be replaced. They were bent over and broken at the river bottom, marina owner Mark Mattone said.

“I was lucky enough to take the docks out of the water, which I do every year anyhow,” he said.

Installation of new pilings on Saturday was called off because of high water levels brought on by recent rain. They will try again next weekend, if the river level drops.

Replacing the pilings will cost $35,000 to $38,000, and is not covered by insurance, Mattone said.

Docks damaged by ice have been repaired or replaced at Logan's Ferry Marina in Plum and Manni's Lighthouse Landing in New Ken-sington.

Boats are being brought out of winter storage at Logan's Ferry Marina, owner Bill Cessna said.

Cessna has been rebuilding and repairing his damaged docks himself — at least, the parts that didn't float away. He'll have about 1,000 feet available, down from 1,400 last year.

“We're ready to go,” he said. “We will continue to build docks as we need them.”

The boating season in the Alle-Kiski Valley runs from about May 1 to Oct. 1. Boating activity increases around Memorial Day, which kicks off the summer season.

Allegheny County tops in state

There are more registered boats in Allegheny County than in any other county in the state.

In 2013, there were 23,580 registered vessels, according to the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission. Bucks County is a distant second, with about 14,500 in 2013.

Including Armstrong, Butler and Westmoreland counties, there were about 46,500 vessels registered in the four-county area in 2013.

Statewide, boat registrations have fallen steadily for the past 10 years, from about 354,000 in 2004 to about 330,000 in 2013, according to the commission.

Registration renewals this year are down slightly, which may be caused by the unusually cold spring, according to Eric Levis, a spokesman with the state Fish & Boat Commission.

“However, new boat registrations are up by 13 percent, which is great news,” Levis said. “And we typically see an increase in boat registrations, new and renewals, in the weeks immediately prior to Memorial Day and Independence Day.”

The Fish and Boat Commission is encouraging boaters to report their estimated fuel usage on their registration renewal cards. That information determines how much of the state taxes boaters pay on fuel goes back to the commission, which uses it to pay for programs and services for boaters.

Boaters who aren't sure what to enter are advised to leave the fields blank; inserting a zero results in no taxes going to the commission.

Like on the road, Cessna figures boaters have gotten used to the price of fuel.

Mattone said it may limit how much time boaters spend running up and down the river, but it won't stop them from going out. To save money, boaters may anchor not far from the marina, or limit water skiing time.

“For a lot of my people this is their vacation time. They don't mind spending a little bit of extra money,” he said.

Life jackets do save lives

The importance of wearing life jackets will be the focus of this year's National Safe Boating Week, which began Saturday and runs through Friday.

Of the 700 people who die on average each year in boating-related accidents nationwide, nearly 80 percent were not wearing life jackets. In 2013, 17 boaters died in Pennsylvania in recreational boating accidents; only two were wearing life jackets.

Although boat collisions are the most reportable type of boating accident in Pennsylvania, most deaths occur in accidents where someone falls overboard or is swamped in a small boat and drowns, said Ryan Walt, a boating and watercraft safety manager with the Fish and Boat Commission.

“Most of the people who drown were never intending to go in the water,” said Dan Jones, a spokesman with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Pittsburgh. “We encourage people, if you're on the water to wear your life jacket.”

Hopes for better weather

After a late start, Cessna said he's hoping for a better boating season than last year.

“We had a lot of rain,” he said. “It wasn't a good year. I'm hoping this year is a good one.”

According to the National Weather Service, rain fell on better than half the days from May through September last year. Rain was recorded on 81 of the 153 days, or about 53 percent.

Predictions are for this summer to be cooler than last year, with about the same amount of rain, meteorologist Rihaan Gangat said.

“I just hope we have a good year,” Mattone said. “Hopefully everybody up and down the river that got damaged gets back up and running and we can forget about this winter.”

Brian C. Rittmeyer is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4701or



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