Wednesday, 10 August 2016


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!
Lift Bridge out of Gloucester Docks
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.

Swing Bridge

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.
Visitor Mooring, Sharpness
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.

Sharpness Docks

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. 

Sharpness Lock

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. 

Day dawning

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!
Pilot Ricky doing very well

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. 
Severn Bridge

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.
Spot the difference!

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.....
Keep going the mouth of the R. Avon is opening for us!!
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!
Clifton Bridge and Bristol is almost round the bend!

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.
There we are moored in the Foating Harbour Bristol
That was a happy ending to a memorable day.

Trip info when we arrived at the Portishead Lock

1 comment:

A brief history

This is a blog set up by Chris and Sarah so family and friends can catch up with their travels on the British waterways in the summer of 2011. In 2010, I went to England with the idea of getting a narrow boat built. I had specific requirements so I thought that a new build may be the way to go. I e mailed to numerous boat builders, a great percentage of whom ignored me. The problem of having a family name of Laycock is that hotmail and a few others think that I am a porn star. At an early age you learn not to put C Laycock on your school books. But I guess that my nephew Paul did worse. Anyway I spent a very pleasant few weeks driving around the beautiful English countryside visiting boatyards, marinas, boat builders and just a few pubs. I had narrowed it down to two builders and in the last week I was in Devizes Wiltshire when I came across "Avalon Mist" 54 feet of throbbing neglected narrow boat. The past owner had lost interest, hadn’t maintained her and to add insult to injury had been made redundant. After a very short negotiation I was able to buy her for a pretty fair price. On the day the sale took place I had to beg her to take her trainers and a few rather suspect items of clothing, in other words she left everything. Lock stock and barrel.

Soon after the purchase I flew to California to meet Sarah and have a short holiday. Once back in NZ I started to try and organize works. The first thing that I learnt was that the marina does not allow any contractor on site, only their chosen ones, the excuse given is a concern about insurance, the suspicion is, graft, pay back, baksheesh, call it what you like. It is possible to take the boat off the marina to have the work done, but not really practical.

The first job to be tackled was to “winterize” the boat, i.e. drain off all the water, check the anti freeze in the engine and central heating and fit an automatic bilge pump.

No real problem there except communication, the mechanic just didn’t answer e mails. Difficult to do business like that.

The nice marina lady had a quiet word with him, and things did improve, thanks Debs you have been a star through out . He later confided in me the reason for this was that he was dyslexic, apparently a malady [he] claims affects a lot of mechanics.[It turns out that he is a great mechanic and a nice guy to boot].

That goes pretty high on my list of lame excuses, the top one being a really nice Irish guy Pat, who I had employed as a carpenter years ago when I lived in London. He was always a bit late for work, when I finally collared him about it; he said he could never decide what to wear to work.

Nice one Pat.

I digress, the boat was winterized, which was just as well as it was a cold one and the whole marina froze over.

Next job was to have her taken out of the water, have the hull stripped back to bare metal and have a bit of over plating done. There were a couple of areas where there was pitting, and I though if she’s out of the water, may as well do the job right, so a small amount of over plating and then the hull was blacked, and the engine bay partially de-rusted and then back in the water.

Seems like a good job was done, I had the marine surveyor who had done the original survey, check out all the major works and give me written reports and photos, so all good except once again communications.

I then came across a great guy, the partner of the woman who runs the marina and a carpenter/narrow boat fitter outer .He replaced the stern deck and did a great job, also did a great job on de-greasing, de-rusting and painting the engine compartment. A job I should have done myself, but I just didn’t fancy it, not only that be was great with communications and chasing other people up

So that takes us up to present.

There needs to be a bit of electrical work, not much. The outside is badly in need of paint, Sarah and I can do that and a bit of a tidy up inside, and then she will be a really nice boat.