Down the Severn Estuary

Sharpness, Tuesday 23rd June – Check final preparations for a cruise between Sharpness and Portishead:

Cupboards strapped closed   CS13-01

Charts in place    CS13-20

Handheld GPS available on top hatch CS13-42

VHF radio set up, tuned to Channel 13  CS13-41

Radar reflector mounted    CS13-05

Flag (hanging limp and still) positioned as wind direction indicator   CS13-02 Lifejackets on.

1025: Cleddau and Tentatrice moved away from their comfortable G&S canal side moorings, past the beautifully restored Anstruther lifeboat  CS13-03  (“This is the last bit. I’ve been painting for six days,” called a female voice, brandishing red paint covered bristles). Under the Sharpness High Level Bridge. CS13-04

Pause. Cleddau and Tentatrice went into hover mode.  CS13-06  The 1045 swinging of the Sharpness Low Level Bridge wasn’t happening… a phone call, a delay, a message about a barge coming up from the Severn with engine problems…

1100: The Sharpness Low Swing Bridge was swung open;  CS13-07   Cleddau moved into Sharpness  Docks and the upcoming  barge was escorted past. CS13-08   Onwards, into the vast lock,  CS13-09  the tidal Severn a glinting ribbon of water beyond.

“Use our rope,” instructed the lock keeper.  Tentatrice was directed alongside – and alongside her was roped a cruiser, White Lady, heading for Cardiff.

1125: Does Sharpness Lock have the muddiest lock sides ever? wondered Boatwif, as the gates were opened,  CS13-10   the rope was released and the boats proceeded into the tidal basin. Rick, the Severn pilot, was steering Tentatrice. “Follow me, I’ll be going fast around the breakwater…” Round the breakwater,  CS13-11   pushing against the stream in bumpy water, safely to the flat calm of the port bank.  CS13-12 “3.5 mph,” reported the Captain.

There are white markers on both banks, CS13-13   channel marker lights in midstream.  CS13-15

The tide was rising, the reactor buildings of the now decommissioned Berkeley Power Station grew closer.  CS13-14   Still there was no sign of the Severn Bridges.

1220: Ahead Tentatrice was speeding up, the pilot heading out towards midstream. Away from the shelter of the bank the wind was picking up. From behind came the Cardiff-bound cruiser – and Mariaburg.  CS13-17   How huge she seemed, how big her wake… Then there was Oldbury (another decommissioned Magnox power station) on the left bank.

1250: Tentatrice was steered into the deep channel, now nearer the right hand bank. Speed 6.5 mph.

1312: In days gone by formation flying was the thing, now thrills are gained from formation cruising… 0.74 miles still  from the Severn Bridge. Sea state 1, wave height – 8 inches. CS13-18

1320: Captain’s report: 7.3 mph

1326: The Severn Bridge (opened 1966) was full ahead, the centre arch of the familiar graceful shape, CS13-19    glistening golden in the sunlight.  What a marvel! The road deck from the Double H shapes  CS13-23  of the cable-bearing towers seems to gently stretch between them …

1345: Cleddau nosed under the Severn Bridge. Just beyond on the right bank side the River Wye empties into the Severn; the water became choppier, churning now.

CS13-24   CS13-25

  Was it time yet for a patriotic verse of Mae hen wlad fy nhadau yn annwyl i mi…?

1352: The boats headed onwards downstream, the new bridge, the Second Severn Crossing (opened 1996) now ahead. Head on the Severn Crossing appeared as a collage of shapes, a piece of neat artwork where taut fine wires form graceful right angle triangles. CS13-26     But the road structure looked more substantial, a viaduct on the English and on the Welsh side and then the central span.  CS13-27   Traffic noise from above floated down to the boats on the water 120 feet below.

The estuary is wider here, the swell greater, waves thumping against the hull. Wales seemed a long way away. Under both bridges – where next…? The pilot on Tentatrice was veering left, heading south east.   CS13-30  Speed: 7.3 mph and there were three and a half miles to go to the safety of Portishead. The waves, sometimes two feet in height, were silver tipped from the sunlight CS13-28   and seaweed islands floated by.  CS13-33

Tentratrice made a short video of our progress.

Far to the west were the outline hills of South Wales, CS13-29 while behind the bridges were elegant shapes over the water.  CS13-31

Wednesday was to present more navigational challenges so before safe arrival at Portishead there was work to be done: study the shoreline, notice the fuel tanks,  identify Avonmouth Docks, CS13-32   spot the pepperpot lighthouses, remember the entry point for the Bristol Avon, make out Royal Portbury Docks, memorize the mud banks.  CS13-38

Tall colourful shapes loomed ahead, the modern apartments that surround Portishead Marina.


1515:Wind buffeting over and five minutes early the boats hovered, waiting for the lock to open.CS13-35

Then the boats cruised in, CS13-36    tying onto the floating pontoon. Water surged in from the marina, spray and foam forming white cushioning around the boats.  CS13-37

There were double celebrations at the Italian lock side restaurant on Tuesday night, a wedding anniversary for the Tentatrices – and jubilation at a safe Severn passage for the two boat crews.

As dusk fell two tugs eased an enormous Japanese car transporter out of Portbury Docks. The tugs were dwarfed. Would a narrow boat even be seen from one of these vessels? CS13-40

It had been lifeboat training night at Portishead  CS13-39   on Tuesday – and the very next day  Cleddau and a lifeboat would be very close companions…

Acknowledgements: the Cleddau and Tentatrice crews are enormously grateful to Patrick and Angela Marks (of nb Chouette) for their advice and encouragement and to the author of nb Balmaha for detailed information on a Sharpness- Bristol passage.

Stats since last post:  23 miles, 2 locks

Monkton Moments* to date: 6

(Monkton Moment*- a reference to / recognition of Cleddau’s Pembrokeshire connections)

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