The 15 ½ mile Gloucester & Sharpness Canal was once the broadest and deepest Canal in the world and was a route for cargo ships and barges that used the Severn Estuary to Sharpness, Gloucester Docks and beyond to Tewkesbury and Stourport accessing Canal Transport to the Midlands. That is a simplistic way of describing the former use of the Canal but it is well worth finding out more information through an Internet search engine or your local Library!
After a few days in Gloucester woken by loud gulls, shrieking and fighting during the early morning hours at a nearby refuse centre, it was time to cruise to Sharpness. We decided to keep our canopies in situ for the trip. We had 15 ‘manned’ swing bridges to pass, if DB was normal Nb height then one bridge would not need swinging. A low bridge had to be raised before we could leave the Basin and we showed our direction and intent by casting off and tooting DB’s horn. Soon we were signalled by the flashing red traffic light and the bridge rose and we got the green light. Close by was a high bridge to pass under and then we moored for breakfast at the Sainsburys Superstore. Breakfast at Tiffanys it wasn’t but still it was breakfast.
The swing bridges are, in view, frequently and were operated effectively. The one bridge that Nb’s can pass under needed to be swung for us. We may have made it without it swinging, we got as close as DB’s nose going under but it wasn’t worth risking the canopies!
Initially we were going to head straight for Sharpness to cross the Severn Estuary / Bristol Channel to Portishead, with a Pilot. The boat engine needs to be in good condition, the fuel tank needs to be clean and the vents taped up safety is the concern and the age and condition of the boat are considered. Chris had pre-booked the Pilot but we needed to be flexible with the ‘crossing’ day as the weather would dictate whether it was safe for ‘flat bottom boat’ to cross or not. The weather forecast for Friday, our booked day, was not good overcast and windy. A wind greater than Force 3 was not a goer. The next possible ‘cruising’ day looked like the following Tuesday so we pencilled in the Pilot for that. We stopped for the night, early in the day, at Saul Junction where the Stroudwater Canal is slowly being restored to Lechlade and the R. Thames. I think not in my lifetime but a wonderful possibility for the 22nd Century!
Next day we cruised to the Visitor Moorings in view of the Sharpness High Level and the Sharpness Low Level Bridges where the Sharpness Docks and Sharpness Lock lie in the waters behind.
We had been going to do the ‘crossing’ with Nb EvaLouise , that morning, and they were moored at the Visitor Moorings. They told us the trip had been cancelled due to winds above Force3 but they were going the following morning at 0400hrs. It was on ‘his’ bucket list but wifey was not looking excited. We wished them good luck and I thanked them for going first adding “If you don’t make it, I won’t go.” Later, on Saturday, we heard their trip had been amazing with the estuary being like glass. That put it on my bucket list for me and made us reconsider the weather forecasts yet again. Sunday looked better than Tuesday and we made a snap decision to do it on Sunday providing the Pilot was able to accompany us.
It was a last minute decision but workable. Things got moving once Pilot Ricky contacted us and we had a couple of hours to move under the High Bridge in wait for the Low Bridge to swing open at 1630 for our entry. I just had time to finish painting DB’s portside gunwhale before we got mid canal and waited.
|Non slip gunwhale finished|
Not to mention time to catch up with news from a fellow boater on NB Oak, from Mercia Marina Days, you don’t just get sharks in the water eh Reg and Randy. Thoughts with you both and hope the nightmare becomes a dream again.
It was a novel feeling going into the Sharpness Docks onboard DB. DB would be ‘trapped’ until 0430hrs Sunday when the Lock Gates open, by C&RT, for our entrance and we would meet Pilot Ricky. It was quiet, moored in the Docks, and we cleared DB’s roof ready for the high seas! I walked to get a view of the Severn Estuary and marvel that we would become a dot in it, the next day. There was no breeze and that, I hoped, was a good sign.
I don’t think I had a deep sleep, that night. I knew that the sunrise wasn’t until 0530hrs and I was hopeful there would be enough light so we didn’t need to shine our own light. I know I was looking forward to getting on with the crossing.
I wondered if we were really going on the Bristol Channel. I was wide awake to watch the sky slowly lighten to give the day a magic feel.
The weather was ‘textbook’ and I smiled all the way to Portishead. Reactions from people about doing the crossing are “Ooh! You are brave.” “Aren’t you scared?” I think, with planning, there is no reason to feel scared and with a life jacket on there is security with that. Oh I can swim, I prefer to wear a bodysuit in a cold sea but I had no plan to swim that day!
It was so calm going over the Estuary. Our Pilot Ricky (£200) was informative, trustworthy, friendly and steered most of the way explaining why he was steering the course he was steering.
|Sunrise as we begin crossing.|
We left Sharpness as the tide was still coming in so we stayed close to the bank then as the tide was going out we moved towards the other side and then central.
|Second Severn Bridge|
|R. Wye Bridge|
I suppose there are channels involved. I didn’t want to get too blonde in my comments! Pilot Ricky enjoyed being at the wheel under cover of the wheelhouse, a warmer place than being exposed to the weather steering with a tiller.
The trip to Portishead took us 3 hours and we cruised in ideal conditions. Pilot Ricky pointed out and told us, more than once, where the mouth of the River Avon was. This was important as we would have no pilot after Portishead. It was important to trust that the smaller lighthouse marked the entrance to the River Avon. More about that, shortly.
|The shorter Lighthouse indicates R. Avon on starboard side!|
Portishead Quay Marina was an unknown to us. We knew that it cost an arm and a leg for an overnight mooring. The word “amazing” escaped my lips as we entered the poshest deep Lock I’ve ever been in.
|Cascade in Lock|
Through the Lock gates DB went alongside a floating pontoon which I walked on to tie DB’s Bow rope to its mooring pin. I walked back to our stern and stood on the pontoon as the water surged into the Lock. An impressive close-up white-water viewing experience without getting wet. Halfway up Pilot made his farewells walking up the metal stairs integral on the Lock wall. The Lock was 2/3rds full when Chris went to book us in to the Marina for few hours and book the Lock so we could continue our journey with the incoming tide. Job done and gates open we cruised the length of the Marina, past the multitude of expensive plastic boats and sail craft, before returning to our temp mooring. I think we were the only steel boat! Portihead Quay Marina definitely has a Mediterranean feel.
Chris said we were booked to go down the Lock at 1400 hrs. This gave us enough time to have breakfast at the outside Cabin Cafe Shack, very good breakfast, well priced, and proper coffee well made and presented. Time also to walk some of the coastal path on the perimeter of the village and look down at the mud flats showing the tide was definitely out! Back at DB, I decided to wash her roof down using the hosepipe that was lying in wait for me. May as well, I thought. Then I played my ‘Bari’ Uke cos I could, until the Lock gates opened.
I was a little nervous being without a pilot but I knew Cptn would keep in control. The Lock was easy and we were sharing it with 3 ‘plastics’ and a yacht. We let the ‘plastics’ go first, out of the Lock, and soon we were underway. We had been told by the Pilot, earlier, to watch out for fishing lines at the end of the ‘wall’ before the Channel. We forgot and I know someone was yelling and doing a dance at the top of the wall but I had no idea what had happened. Like we can see cat gut, just hope it didn’t get wrapped around our rudder.....
We were back on the Bristol Channel, the Severn Estuary ends at the 2nd Severn Bridge and avoiding drifting on to the nearby mudflats. Cptn tried to reassure me that if we got grounded on the mud it would be a fleeting moment as the incoming tide would lift us. Our uncertainty was about trusting the intel from Pilot Ricky and the river charts with certainty that the wall starboard of the small Lighthouse actually indicated the entrance to the R. Avon and was not the mudflat mound. Truthfully, it was concerning. I need to take more notice of a river mouth and realise that when it meets the sea that clear water mixed with mud looks muddy brown not river blue!
It was a relief to be on the R. Avon. The waters of the Bristol Channel had become choppy and the wind was getting stronger. The tidal part of the R. Avon would last to Hanham Lock taking boat traffic to the Floating Harbour in Bristol and, unbeknownst to us when we joined the R. Avon again for a short distance at Netham Lock. The tide was still coming in on the R. Avon and we needed to keep central on the river and avoid the sloping mud banks. I took over the steering and realised that the proximity of the banks moved from side to side and concentrating on the task was important. It wasn’t a worry and we would be fine. Not far from the Clifton Bridge and Chris used VHF to contact Hanham Lock. The Lockies warned us that 3 passenger boats would be heading in our direction as they exited the Lock.
Next we were up the Lock and soon out floating on the Floating Harbour. A friend, who we had arranged to meet, spotted us from land and called out to me. I think I heard him on his second yell! We left it to him to find us when we had moored. We found a pontoon mooring that had Nb EvaLouise (the one we were going to do the Bristol Channel with) in the line-up.
That was a happy ending to a memorable day.