Down the Severn Estuary
Sharpness, Tuesday 23rd June – Check final preparations for a cruise between Sharpness and Portishead:
1025: Cleddau and Tentatrice moved away from their comfortable G&S canal side moorings, past the beautifully restored Anstruther lifeboat (“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.
Pause. Cleddau and Tentatrice went into hover mode. 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; Cleddau moved into Sharpness Docks and the upcoming barge was escorted past. Onwards, into the vast lock, 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, 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, pushing against the stream in bumpy water, safely to the flat calm of the port bank. “3.5 mph,” reported the Captain.
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. 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.
1320: Captain’s report: 7.3 mph
1326: The Severn Bridge (opened 1966) was full ahead, the centre arch of the familiar graceful shape, glistening golden in the sunlight. What a marvel! The road deck from the Double H shapes 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.
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. But the road structure looked more substantial, a viaduct on the English and on the Welsh side and then the central span. 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. 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 and seaweed islands floated by.
Tentratrice made a short video of our progress.
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, spot the pepperpot lighthouses, remember the entry point for the Bristol Avon, make out Royal Portbury Docks, memorize the mud banks.
Tall colourful shapes loomed ahead, the modern apartments that surround Portishead Marina.
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.
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)