Balmaha has been sold and I hope Kevin and Nicola will love her as much as we did. Please say hi to them if you see them on the cut.
And lastly from me – a happy Christmas to everyone.
Balmaha has been sold and I hope Kevin and Nicola will love her as much as we did. Please say hi to them if you see them on the cut.
And lastly from me – a happy Christmas to everyone.
Balmaha is now for sale. If you are interested please have a look at her details on ABNB using this link
Last August, after our great adventure from Sharpness to Bath and back via the Severn, Mo was diagnosed with bladder cancer. We stayed in Gloucester over winter while he had treatment at the excellent Gloucester and Cheltenham hospitals but unfortunately it was an aggressive and invasive cancer and on 19th September 2015 he died.
So this is definitely the end of this blog as we know it although it will stay open so that you can look back on our 10 brilliant years on Balmaha.
Many thanks to all of you who have commented about him on other blogs over the last week. It means a lot to me and the family.If anyone would like details about his thanksgiving service please contact me.
So this is goodbye…………………………..
Prolonged flooding in early Spring 2014 put paid to our cruising plans for the Thames and the Kennet & Avon so an alternative had to found. Switching to the Gloucester & Sharpness Canal could give us an equally pleasant river passage between Stourport and Gloucester, with unrestricted summer moorings between Gloucester and Sharpness, but minus the frustrations of the shallow, overgrown nature of the K&A in the height of summer.
Starting from the Pontcysylte Aqueduct on the Llangollen Canal our end of winter cruise to Stourport was trouble-free. From here we let the river take us south into GRP cruiser country. Short stops at Worcester and Upton for coffee, ice creams and people watching helped split the river journey into two days before reaching our destination at Gloucester.
She might only be 16 miles long but we found many friends hiding on the ‘Sharpy’, as some call the G&S Canal. Hardly a mile went past without a friendly wave and an invitation, it’s almost as if we haven’t been away.
Having established ourselves in the pecking order at Sims and Rea Bridge moorings we soon got back into the routine of short hops to the shops and services and meeting visitors near boaters’ car parks.
But after a few cruises down to the end and back, it began to dawn on us that there was more on offer than sunshine and barbeques. “Let’s pop down to Bristol” someone said, and so began the research that set our course for the Severn Estuary.
It took some time gathering the relevant information before we felt confident we knew what to do and how to do it. Other boating blogs proved useful but no substitute for making contact with all parties involved and creating a cruise check-list.
I’ll refer to the contacts and checklist later, meanwhile here’s how we did it.
Rising at 6am on the 12th of June 2014 on a very pleasant sunny morning we pulled ropes aboard and made our way to the swing bridge, our entrance to Sharpness dock.
At 7am sharp (the appointed time) the lower bridge swung open for us and we made our way to the lock, just minutes away beyond the docks, with its home trade ships handling scrap iron and grain.
Tying to the left lock wall we waited as wb Bull Rush pulled up alongside and our pilots came aboard. Tim for us and Bill for them, both boats going to Portishead Marina.
Perfect weather, said Tim, sunshine forecast all day and a gentle breeze, force 2 to 3.
At around 7.30am, just before high water, the lock gently emptied and we were lowered to sea level. The lock gates opened and a series of nods between pilots saw Bull Rush peel away from our side. Tim, our pilot, glued himself to the tiller and we sped off alongside the south pier to join Bull Rush in the heaving salty brown waters of the Severn.
Engine revs up around 2000 soon put us beyond pier-head and into the tide through a sweeping left turn.
Hugging the coast for a while, in the deep water channel, it wasnt long before our speed increased and the tide turned and pulled us towards America. Morning mist lay across the river, obscuring the horizon so our eyes followed the coastline to the left.
We passed the time by trying to identify the landmarks we knew or thought we knew when we stomped this part of the countryside in our early twenties. We saw the Windbound pub, or what used to serve as a pub before it went out of business, thanks to the introduction of the breathalyser.
Crossing from the southern coast at Oldbury to the Chepstow side we made for a white marker on a hillside. Closer examination revealed a white painted rock amongst the trees, in what looked like someone’s back garden.
We admired the Severn Bridge as the mist cleared enough to see this majestic structure, the box girder bridge.
A new concept in the sixties, she was built by raising prefabricated sections and welding them in-situ, one at a time.
As kids we cycled here to watch the bridge take shape and spot the ferryman below carrying people across the river while he was still able to make a living. My little Brownie box camera recorded build progress.
But soon after the bridge we ran into troubled waters. This is where the River Wye discharges into the Severn. It looked a bit like boiling water and my thoughts turned to the possibility of running aground in the shallows but Tim put me right on that, it was a clash of currents and not an indication of depth. We didn’t deviate but continued at a pace towards the second Severn Bridge.
Had I been doing this without a pilot then I might have steered further south to avoid what looked like shallow water. If you want peace of mind then it pays to have someone with you who knows what’s going on.
At the second Severn Bridge we encountered more boiling water but this time the effect on the boat was more noticeable through its tilting and turning motion.
Tim upped the revs to keep us straight and we raced through, but it was too much for poor Balmaha and the overheat alarm sounded.
Back into calmer waters we reduced revs, ran off hot water (for 5 minutes) and were soon back to 1800 to 2000rpm with no complaint from the engine. Calorifier temperature (probe situated half way up the tank) dropped from 69 to 50 degrees in 5 minutes and the cooling effect went all the way back to the engine.
I put the overheating down to warm river water and a high anti-freeze mixture in the engine cooling system. Pushing the engine at 2,200 rpm up the Trent from Keadby to Cromwell in winter gave us no problems so it has to be something to do with the combination of river temperature and a 30% antifreeze mix.
Regarding the water turbulence, had there been no pilot or no warning of this effect on the surface water I would have considered shallow water again and panicked a little. But there is no way to get away from it, the whole channel below the bridge was heaving and boiling so one just has to endure it.
Tim’s explanation for the rough water was it is due to the interaction between fast flowing tidal water squeezing between rocks and flowing over a scalloped sea bed. There’s plenty of water beneath us but the water tumbles and turns as it rushes over the rough sea bed and produces whirlpools on the surface. Some, so the story goes, have slowed down at this part of the journey and finished up pointing the wrong way, such is the power of the sea.
Just a thought – we were sailing on Spring tides and this effect might be less noticeable on Neaps.
We made Portishead Quays Marina two and a half hours after leaving Sharpness, in time for the second locking.
I am grateful to EwnHaCul’s Severn cruise blog (May 14th 2014) for the coastal photo shots that helped identify the lock entrance at Portishead Marina. The red arrow is pointing to the lock but it’s not at all clear while still some way off, even with good visibility.
Following the pier wall one can eventually make out the lock gates and the three vertical lights on your portside. It’s just a matter of waiting for the lock to empty, discharge its outgoing boats and for the lights to change sequence from three reds to green/white/green.
The gates themselves lie in shadow with the sun behind but once they open you can see the mooring pontoons on either wall and the rest is straightforward.
While the lock filled we paid and parted company with Tim. We were grateful to Tim for an excellent sea cruise, with lots of advice and interesting pointers along the way. Pilots like to steer, whether thats ships or boats but Ive heard that they will relinquish the helm for a while on small boats where concentration isnt so intense. Personally I was grateful to sit it out, ask questions, take photographs and distract him with small talk and, for once, get both hands on the bacon butties.
A quick trot up the steps to admin’ in the control room overlooking the lock and, £21 lighter, we entered the marina and tied to the end of ‘C’ pontoon.
A five hour wait for tides gave us plenty of time to explore the chandlery (very small) and Portishead’s stone pier, next to which work was underway for a new lifeboat station.
At 4pm wb Bull Rush, a small angling boat and ourselves dropped back through the lock onto a rising tide, without pilot this time.
A brief call to Bristol Vessel Traffic Services (Bristol VTS) on VHF ch.12 got us acknowledged as being in transit from Portishead Marina to Bristol Docks and there followed a report from them on sea state, wind and shipping movements.
Apart from missing a couple of tugs outside Portbury Docks and a ship coming up behind us from seawards there was nothing to worry about before reaching the north wall of the River Avon.
The book says make for the north wall to the Avon, getting close-in before turning upstream (to the right). This is good advice because at low water we could see that the mud banks rose steeply from the centre channel, which runs close to the wall, so that cutting corners could cause some embarrassment.
Until we were sure which pier or wall lay between Avonmouth Docks and the River Avon it was best to head for the right hand wind generator and wait for the gloom to clear which it does once abreast of Portbury Docks. The square brick building with a flat roof (Bristol VTS offices) makes a good target for the right hand turn into the Avon.
Half a mile upstream of the River Avon’s north wall is where some boaters anchor to wait the tide as an alternative to laying over in Portishead Marina.
I can see the point of this as it is sheltered, the water is well behaved and the centre channel is deep, even at low water Spring Tides. Had the journey been on a Neap tide I might have considered this or the alternative anchorage outside Pill Creek, a bit further upstream, after the M5 bridge over the River Avon.
There is no point doing this for time’s sake because the journey to Bristol Docks is a short one on a rising tide and the lock gates won’t open any sooner for the early bird. We managed the Portishead to Bristol journey at little more than tick-over, such is the rate of incoming tide on what is a relatively short journey.
Passing under the M5 motorway at low tide the River Avon is wide and benign. The tide is just discernable by the passage of flotsam on the outside of bends.
The cruise up the Avon to Bristol was a pleasure. Pill Creek on the right hand side, the base for Bristol pilots in years gone by, has silted up over the years and the old slip and ferry landing point are harder to distinguish now.
The creek at Seamills, on the left, comes next though there’s little to be seen from the river.
This is the exit for the River Trym, the same as in Westbury-on-Trym, one of the nicer places to live within Bristol’s boundary.
As you pass Black Rock on the left, a sloping geological rock formation that has little in the way of greenery covering it, you can just see the west tower of the suspension bridge above the trees in the distance. It’s here that one calls Bristol City Docks on VHF ch.14 or by ‘phone and announces one’s passage passing Black Rock, bound Bristol Docks.
The reply is coded by a Bristol accent and informs you which wall to approach once within the lock. This will depend on who else is using the lock that day but my experience is you will tie to the right hand side next to the lock operator’s kiosk.
At pootling speed we made the lock at Bristol Docks in one and half hours. We were greeted with a warm welcome and the wonderful news that the Harbour Master’s office was closed for the night (no one to take our mooring fee after 5pm).
From the lock we chugged along the left wall to avoid sailing dinghies and alighted on the finger pontoons at Oporto Quay. This is where the little ferry boats buzz to and fro across the harbour with foot passengers. There is nothing to stop you mooring on the right hand side before SS Gt. Britain where the bank steps down from a path in front of houses. Mooring rings are plentiful but there are concrete ‘bumps’ on the edge that are difficult to fender-off so be prepared to grind against the ‘bumps’ every time a boat passes.
Incidentally, the alternative to paying the Harbour Master is to stop at Netham Lock at the far end of the Feeder Canal, just before the River Avon and settle up with the lock keeper there. Expect to pay around £30 to £35 per night for a 60 foot nb. Payment is by cheque or plastic.
We spent ten days messing about on the Avon, including a couple of days at Hanham pontoon moorings which have been upgraded since we were last here in 2009. School kids come down to the pontoon in the afternoons and sit, chat, dangle their feet in the water but there’s no trouble and by dusk all is quiet again.
Cruising through Bath, up as far as Dundas Aqueduct, gave us enough time to dump our engine anti-freeze and replenish with fresh water ready for the return journey.
Back in Bristol we paid Netham Lock for one night in the docks and did all the tourist sites around the floating harbour. We marvelled at all the young people who filled the pubs and bars in the evenings. The museum at M Shed was on our list of things to do because we grew up here and most of what we saw was common place to us when we were kids.
The Matthew was doing trips around the harbour and her steering by joystick rather than wheel was most interesting.
At 6.20am, just before Spring tides on a new moon, we locked out of Bristol and passed down the Avon to Portishead,. We motored at tick-over until we reached the Bristol Channel. A 90 degree swing to port as we passed Bristol VTS pier-head (south wall of Avonmouth Docks) was followed by a short hop across the mouth of Portbury Dock to Portishead Marina.
A few minutes hovering outside until the lights changed to green+white+green and we were locked in, raised to marina level and moored again on ‘C’ pontoon. All done by 8.30am.
Five hours later and another £21 lighter, Portishead Marina’s lock discharged us into the sea in the capable hands of Carl from Gloucester Pilots. There’s no need for me to bother with the VHF, Carl does the necessary with Bristol Vessel Traffic Services (VTS) on VHF ch.12.
We motored north until we had crossed the shipping lanes and then changed to a northeasterly direction towards the 2nd Severn Bridge.
Just outside Portishead Marina we encountered the City of Cardiff, a 2000 ton dredger, but once past her we met nothing on our way to Sharpness.
This was another sunny day, with slightly choppy seas and a breeze in our faces. We passed the boiling waters below the 2nd Severn Crossing and hardly anything jumped off the shelves onto the floor. A couple of photo-frames at most and those didn’t break.
With similar engine revs to our trip down river there wasnt a hint of overheating, in fact our calorifier temperature was 5 degrees cooler on the return journey so it does pay to dump the antifreeze and get the best cooling effect possible by using plain water.
Further north, where we began the switch from the Welsh coast back to the Oldbury side, my eye caught sight of what looked like a tsunami heading towards us. I asked Carl the meaning and he explained that the wall of breaking water was the effect of the tide hitting the sandbank and rising to form a breaking wash over it. This wall of water was actually receding from us, not coming towards us but we couldn’t tell that from the boat. Once again I was glad to have someone aboard who knew the weird effects of Spring tides in the river.
I had read somewhere that it was wise to prepare for the final turn into Sharpness but I hadn’t appreciated just how far ahead one should get ready, neither had I realized how strong a Spring tide could be at the pier-head.
My version of how Carl described the procedure is: put a lick of paint on the end of the pier as you pass it whilst pointing in the direction of the lock. Don’t make the mistake of finding yourself well out to sea and don’t leave the turn until after the pier has passed or you will be in trouble.
When I asked why we seemed to be rushing from Portishead to Sharpness rather than taking a leisurely cruise I was told that pilots like to get past the pier-head while the tide is still low because the flow through the pier structure is at its weakest. Leave it another hour and the flow increases through the pier’s legs and the cross current encountered on the last 1/4 mile becomes a battle. Loss of power here, for example through overheating, could lose the fight against the tide. Neap tides with slower flow might present less of a problem.
Less than three hours after leaving Portishead we were knocking on Sharpness’ door and by 6.30pm we had passed around the pierhead, through the outer harbour and were safely inside the gates and rising to dock level.
Would I do it again? Yes, of course, over and over again. Theres nothing like it for excitement and the pleasure of knowing that good preparation puts ones mind at rest.
Would I take a pilot? Yes, if I was feeling rich enough or if I was threatened with mutiny by you know who, otherwise I’d go without. There’s no mystery to it, a few quirks but all is fairly predictable and providing the boat is well prepared there’s nothing to get in the way of a really enjoyable cruise up or down the tidal River Severn.
For those who like more detail, heres what I discovered:
First – boat preparation, You must prepare your boat.
See the published check list at Gloucester Pilots (http://www.gloucesterpilots.co.uk/services/leisure/)
Roof – stuff on the boat roof must be tied down or be prepared to lose it. Worse case is a load shifts when the boat rolls and you finish up with a permanent list. I wouldnt carry a lot of coal up top, but on the floor inside might be an advantage.
Fuel one must check the fuel tank for muck and water. The pilot will ask you about this. Its easy enough to make a tank bottom sampler from the top of a pump soap dispenser attached to a 2m length of ¼ neoprene tube. Tape the tube to a stick and hold it on the bottom of the fuel tank as you pump the dispenser top. Any crud will be sucked up the pipe into daylight and into a jamjar.
Might seem a bit obvious but have you enough fuel for the journey?
Engine get it serviced with fresh filters (oil, air and fuel) and drain the water separator.
Carry spare drive belts and be prepared with tools to change one, though I doubt anything will happen in 3 hours to compromise the trip if anything other than the waterpump belt breaks on the journey.
Give your engine at least an hour at 2000rpm to ensure it is capable of achieving speed across open water and for that all important turn against the tide to enter Sharpness Lock if going up the Severn.
Consider replacing antifreeze with fresh water for summer trips. Tell the pilot when you book him if you have engine rev restrictions, he can make allowances.
Fresh water – take half a tank of fresh water so that the bow is higher whilst retaining enough to dump some over the side if overheating occurs.
Bow make sure the cratch disperses splashes over the side or else seal the front facing doors and vents and open the bow scuppers for drainage. The pilot will ask you about this.
Life vests ensure all crew and passengers have (and wear) life vests. Pilot will ask you about this.
VHF you dont need to carry one if you take a pilot with you all the way. Technically you could make all arrangements by mobile phone or in theory you could make the whole journey without calling anyone at all providing you have pre-arranged your lock-out (departure) and the lock-in (arrival) at the other end.
Portishead lock will open if you hang around outside at the quarter-past and quarter-to the hour locking-in times and Bristol might do the same if you arrive at their published locking-in times. Bristol VTS will see you on their radar and provided you keep to the correct channels for movements on their patch they probably wont bother you.
Ive heard skippers notify Swansea and Milford Haven Coastguard of their sailing intentions but most, including pilots, dont bother. If continuing to Cardiff or Swansea, intentionally or by accident, then you can initiate a call to the coastguard on VHF ch16 and switch to VHF ch67 for routine traffic (your report).
A VHF set is not essential but it is useful even though most calls can be made using a mobile phone. If you don’t have a licence there’s nothing stopping you listening to a cheap hand portable VHF set with scanning facility (for your choice of channels) in order to hear what everyone else is doing. If all goes wrong and you miss Portishead then it might be fun listening to Swansea and Milford Haven Coastguard talk about you as an unidentified vessel off Clevedon or Weston-Super-Mare drifting towards the Irish Sea.
Anchor make sure it has enough rope and chain for the anchor to lie flat on the sea bed. Should it be secured fore or aft? There doesnt seem to be a hard and fast rule on that. If its secured aft then youll slow down until you stop. If its secured fored youll spin round and be dragged backwards until the boat stops. If your rope is too short then you probably wont stop, the current is so strong youll continue but at a slower pace. Best not to think of it I say.
Ropes you need 15m fore and aft in Bristols lock to reach from the boat up to rings on chains and back to boat. If you have less than 15m and you enter the lock well before high tide then they will take the loose end and bowline it to the dangling chains and you will have to take in the slack at the boat end as the lock fills. Its not a problem and I wouldnt go to the expense of splashing out on a new 15m rope if I had a good quality 10m already fitted. However, leaving the lock on Neap tides, outbound onto the River Avon, might be a problem as youll start off with plenty of rope but run out of it as the lock empties. Not that it matters too much because the lock empties so gently and the worse that can happen is the boat wanders away from the lock wall. No need to stop engines in the lock, unless it’s so noisy no one can hear the voices on the wall above. We kept our engine running and no one complained.
Life ring – tied to a long thin rope and kept on the roof could be useful if someone falls overboard.
Ladder a rope ladder or rigid ladder, ready to deploy, is useful for getting back onboard if someone falls in. You cant walk to the river’s edge and climb out.
Getting onboard from deep water has always bothered me, even on canals. How do you pull someone onto the boat when they are weighed down with wet clothes? Better to have a rope ladder ready on the roof, secured at the top end and ready to un-roll to reach down to the boat’s baseplate level.
Food – bacon butties and tea/filter coffee seem to be acceptable currency these days with officers, crew and pilots.
Cruise arrangement (Sharpness – Bristol, Bristol to Sharpness)
Check weather forecasts as far ahead as possible. Look for weather trends giving winds of Force 3 and less (Wind Finder and XCWeather websites are helpful)
Spring tides give fastest journey, allows time for problems (overheating, alternator belt breakage, sea mist and fog) and ensures you meet destination locking times. Springs give higher tides and better clearance when accidentally cutting corners over rocky ground (Sharpness to Severn Bridges).
Neap tides have less rise and fall, slower journey (harder on the engine), better suited to planned anchorage between passage sections. Check the tide tables when planning the journey (see Portishead Marina’s handbook). Don’t forget to include the hour difference between British Summer Time (BST) and Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) when reading tide tables.
Lock keepers and pilots have their version of tide tables on which they base their gate opening times.
If intending to take a pilot between Sharpness and Portishead call the pilot office a week to ten days ahead, give destination and date preferences, answer their boat and crew related questions and note all their safety requirements. The pilot you speak to will enter your name on a list and will tell you when next to call them (nearer to departure day). Don’t assume that you have made any arrangement, this is your introduction call and they treat you as potential business at this stage. They seemed reluctant to talk money at first but it cost us £190 in 2014 (cash or cheque on cruise day).
Make sure they know you understand it’s your responsibility to book the Sharpness lower bridge swing. They will inform Pierhead of their intention to take a boat out at Sharpness but you also need to clear this with Pierhead when you request a bridge swing into the docks.
Bridge swinging will take place a minimum of 30 minutes before locking out but they prefer to have you in place earlier and will probably ask you to make passage an hour before. Bridge swings are not permitted during darkness.
Pierhead will decide when locking out happens. Narrowboats will make passage about 30 minutes before high water, however, cruisers can handle a wider range of tides and speeds so they can expect flexibility. Inbound ships can mess up outgoing lockings. Be prepared to exit even earlier if inbound ships are expected.
This is important: pilot bookings are subject to ‘bumping’. Commercial pilotage takes preference and despite reserving a pilot you have no security. A later ship booking can result in your pilot booking being postponed. When tide and weather windows are tight this can be a huge disappointment. You can prepare mentally by monitoring ship movements to and from Sharpness on the Ship-Finder and Marine-Traffic websites.
There is no Gloucester pilot office for you to visit, they (currently four pilots) work from home.
Portishead to Bristol and vice versa is easily achieved without a pilot. The journey takes about 1.5 hours. Pilots are territorial, don’t ask a Bristol pilot to take you to Sharpness.
Sharpness outgoing passage – Lower Bridge swing
Call CaRT (Sharpness Pierhead) to inform them that you have booked a pilot and request a lower bridge swing in time to make the locking out onto the Severn. They will give you a time to pass the lower swing bridge. Don’t be late or they will cancel the arrangement and you will lose your locking out slot and your pilot.
Make the booking a couple of days (or up to a week) ahead. They should also know your lock requirement from the pilot’s booking of the lock-out. If going without a pilot then book lock and bridge swing at the same time.
If departure is delayed by weather or pilot availability then keep CaRT aware by re-booking the bridge swing. Mess up the bridge swing arrangements and you will lose your tide.
CaRT will not swing the lower bridge during darkness so an early start onto the Severn may not be possible. Your CaRT Licence will be checked. No licence means you may be denied transit. A full licence entitles you to 16 lock transits per annum.
High water at Sharpness is 43 minutes after high water at Portishead (see Portishead Quays Marina brochure for Portishead tide info).
Portishead Quays Marina
If you are stopping over between tides or staying overnight then book your arrival and departure with the Marina office. It doesn’t hurt to book a couple of days ahead to make sure they have space for a narrowboat. Confirm again the day before arrival.
Book departure too, they will tell you if there are special arrangements or restrictions due to number of boats using the lock on the day of departure for Bristol or Sharpness.
Read the marina handbook (available online) but don’t trust your understanding of the first and last lock times at Portishead Marina, ask them to state these times when you book your locking-in at the marina. The lock opening window varies with Spring and Neap tides, for example high water +/- 3.5 hours. Because of the modern lock construction Portishead Marina’s lock can happily manage boats before and after high water but the seaward approach dries out at low tide so don’t miss the last locking.
When waiting to lock-in at Portishead (qtr past and qtr to the hour) one needs to keep an eye on the spreading sand banks. Give them a wide berth. There are sailing boats tied to buoys off the sea wall between Portishead and Portbury, they sit on the mud when the tide recedes, don’t assume they are afloat at low water and go to join them.
Portishead Quays Marina try to place narrowboats on the end of pontoons nearest the lock where they dont pose a threat to plastic (eg. pontoon B overlapping positions 9 and 10, pontoon C positions 11 and 12, pontoon F positions 9 and 10).
Here you remain in view of the traffic lights that indicate lock ready for departure.
Plenty of turning space exists at the end of the marina furthest from the lock so don’t be afraid to go past your allocated pontoon after leaving the lock, turn in the pond after passing all the pontoons and return to your allocated mooring.
Back tracking a bit, on arrival at Portishead Marina keep well clear of the lock until the lights change in your favour ( three vertical lights showing green+white+green). Expect outbound boats on every locking out and allow space for them to follow the pier side until they reach open water, whilst you keep away from the exposed mud banks on your port side. Inside the lock tie your boat very securely fore and aft to the port side floating pontoon and while the lock is filling you have time to climb the steps attached to the wall (beware the slippery lower steps and muddy handrail) and once out of the lock climb the outside staircase on the side of the lock control building to the offices immediately above the lock. The water filling the lock looks worse than it is, providing you tied firmly to the pontoon before climbing the steps to the office. The pontoon on the right side has no steps on the side wall so you can’t leave your boat while the lock is filling and do business at the office.
Portishead Quays Marina staff are very helpful and friendly they will take your fee (temporary layover or overnight stay) and give you a map of the pontoons with your mooring position marked. Make sure you have the security gate code or you wont be able to return to the boat after leaving the moorings for a walk.
The minimum charge we found for short term layover between tides was £21 but overnight will attract a price per metre rate (see page 34 in the online PortisheadQuays_Handbook.pdf booklet).
If you dont register your arrival while the lock fills then perhaps moor on the fuel berth immediately outside the lock on the left or opposite on the events pontoon on the right and then visit the office.
When planning to leave Portishead Marina, book your departure with the control room above the lock. They will give you a lock-out time but do not leave your mooring until the lock lights signal ‘Ready’ (see Handbook).
Once within the lock tie to the floating pontoons on either lock wall and experience a very gentle descent to sea level. Gates open without warning and boats leave according to which is clear to move off.
For Bristol follow Portishead pier (on your left) until clear of it then head towards the pier outside Portbury docks on the right (keep the wind turbines near Avonmouth in front of you) and keep away from the sandbanks along your right hand side. Once clear of Portishead pier call Bristol VTS on VHF ch.12 and when acknowledged announce your transit between Portishead and Bristol. They will warn you of shipping and tug movements but keep an eye out behind you for that unmistakable bow shaped shadow heading for your stern at 15knots.
Once past Portbury Docks pier head for the wall that juts out from the River Avon, you are safe from other vessels unless you meet another boat leaving the Avon for the marina or heading out to sea where the usual rules of the road apply. Don’t be fooled by ships on your port side appearing to turn across the tide as if to enter the Avon. They are probably turning against the tide ready for an approach to Avonmouth Dock which is the far side of the wall you are heading for. Don’t get confused, Avonmouth Docks south wall is the same thing as the River Avon’s north wall.
If heading for Sharpness then take the pier wall from Portishead Marina and once clear make a turn towards South Wales (due north) and head directly across the shipping channel. Once across the channel turn northeast and head for the Severn Bridges. You should have checked in with Bristol VTS to announce your intentions and receive news of ship traffic and weather conditions. Other than that you have nothing to do until you get close to Sharpness when you have to check in with Sharpness Pierhead on ch.13 if you don’t have a pilot onboard who does it for you.
Bristol City Docks
Make your own arrangements with Bristol Docks, whether inbound or outbound. They will give you lock opening times and expect you to keep them updated if plans change. Call a few days ahead to get their statement on when you should arrive. Lock openings are restricted to within about three hours before high water.
Don’t assume the rule applies that high tide at Bristol is 10 minutes later than at Portishead, Bristol have their own version of the tide tables.
Approaching Bristol Docks from Avonmouth/Portishead you should call “City Docks Radio” on VHF ch.14 (or telephone) to announce your passage as you pass Black Rock. This gives them time to prepare for your arrival.
How to locate Black Rock in R. Avon for calling City Docks Radio? it is on the port-side going upstream and is just within sight of the Clifton Suspension Bridge west tower.
On arrival you’ll find dock staff will provide help with taking your ropes and tying up to the lock side.
When locking-in is done you are expected to find a place to moor in the harbour or to continue through the city to the River Avon and on to Hanham Lock.
Stopping in the harbour (Bristol Docks) incurs a nightly charge. See the Harbour Master (office on the right after passing out of the lock and floating harbour) if you arrive before 5pm or pay the lock keeper at Netham lock the next day, if he is on site, as you pass out of the Feeder Canal onto the River Avon.
There are few moorings on the Avon between Bristol and Bath but we were never completely stuck for somewhere to stop overnight. Hanham’s pontoon mooring has improved on what we encountered in 2009. Be aware that on Spring tides the weir at Hanham is topped and flow reverses all the way up to Keynsham. It might affect the way you tie up to trees if that’s something that appeals. .The rise and fall is only a couple of feet but it is worth remembering that the flow isn’t always towards the sea.
You could do worse than check the website “Wanted – idiots guide to locking into Bristol Docks” on the Yachting and boating world forums website for an independent account of the journey into Bristol. Ewn Ha Cul’s blog is also helpful for the journey through Bristol.
Sharpness incoming passage – Lock and Lower Bridge swing
Call Pierhead by phone to book yourself inbound on your chosen tide and ask for their window for lock opening times. There is no point in arriving late unless you are happy sitting in the outer tidal basin until the next lock opening. High water at Sharpness is 43 minutes after high water at Portishead and the journey takes about 3 hours in a narrowboat, slightly longer on Neap Tides.
Pierhead will assume you are passing through the docks onto the Gloucester & Sharpness canal but make sure you have their agreement just in case they plan to delay your dock transit because of shipping movements within the docks (H&S one assumes). Departure may be delayed until the following day if your arrival happens after CaRT secured the bridge for the night. If the latter then expect to be placed on the wall immediately outside the lock’s inner gates until the morning.
CaRT are responsible for the lower swing bridge and the lock at Sharpness, they have passed control of dock operations to Sharpness Dock Ltd and although you have free passage through them you should not stop or moor anywhere within the docks.
Pilots travelling between Portishead and Sharpness will call Pierhead to arrange locking-in on arrival and will keep them updated on your boat’s progress towards Sharpness, but it is your responsibility to make an inbound booking for that tide.
Pilots have an arrangement with Portishead Marina to leave a car there while they take boats to and from Sharpness so don’t feel sorry for them or think they have a lot of walking to do after you drop them off.
Discuss your plans with your insurance company before making any arrangements.
Tell them cruise dates when known, this goes on your insurance record.
They may insist on you taking a pilot or be satisfied with two experienced boat operators onboard. They will expect any pilot to be registered, qualified and insured.
They will ask if you have life vests for all crew and passengers. They may ask if you have VHF. They may ask if you have charts. They may ask if you have an inshore flares pack (if they insist then these can be purchased from ‘salt water’ chandlers). They may ask for an extra premium to cover the increased risk. You might ask if they cover salvage costs.
They will insist that you comply with all instructions issued by relevant authorities (outgoing lock-keepers, etc). They are certain to insist that the journey happens with a maximum wind forecast of force 3 or 4.
Bristol Port Company “Vessel Traffic Services” 01179 822257 and VHF Ch12 (call Bristol VTS)
Give your transit intentions as you enter the area and get weather conditions and shipping movement information.
Bristol Docks 01179 273633 and VHF Ch14 (call City Docks Radio)
Book ahead inbound to Bristol Docks, give ETA and get lock-in time.
Give position at Black Rock when inbound from River Avon and get advice on lock status and listen to lock mooring instructions (whether tying to port or starboard side inside the lock). Book ahead if outbound to Portishead. You will leave the lock before high water.
For information on pilotage services (Bristol to Portishead and vice versa) contact Bristol Pilots Partnership, licensed River Avon Pilots, on 01179 823081.
Gloucester Pilots 07774 226143 (Sharpness to Portishead and vice versa)
Book pilot (7 to 10 days ahead). Pay £190 by cheque or cash while on the boat.
Portishead Marina 01275 841941 and VHF Ch80 (call Portishead Quays Marina).
Book ahead your lock-in for lay-over between tides or overnight stay and get lock opening times and lock mooring instructions. Download marina handbook and tide tables.
Sharpness Pierhead (CaRT) 01453 511968 and VHF Ch13.
Book ahead your intention to lock-in or lock-out onto R.Severn and get Sharpness lower bridge swing time.
Booking arrangements and contact details and prices were accurate in June/July 2014)
Where we are:-
May 31st Gloucester, Victoria Basin Marina
June 1st to 30th – Gloucester to Rugby
Destination = south of Leicester for long term mooring.
Sunday 7th April 2013
Why the Wash?
The idea came from Mike Barrie (nb.Anastasia) back in 2012. I asked about his cruising plans for the New Year and he mentioned heading east and having a go at the Wash.
Would you mind company, I asked, not at all, he said, and that was how easily it was decided. We were going to sea.
Photo courtesy of Paul Balmer Waterways Routes
My first job was to find a pilot.
Boat club journals and boaters blogs all pointed to Daryl Hill so after a little scouting around I tracked him down at Wisbech and made a booking for his first window after Easter (6th to 11th April 2013). Kings Lynn was my preferred destination but its nowhere near the easiest option when you consider the winding nature of the Great Ouse, the presence of sandbanks at Denver sluice and the shortage of stopping places if things go wrong. Not only that but mooring outside the Sluice wasnt an attractive option to a party of boats arriving outside opening times.
Taking the Wisbech route only adds a couple of days to the journey and has the advantage of floating pontoon moorings (chargeable) within a secure gated enclosure at the yacht harbour. And its good to know that the moorings are overlooked by the Harbour Masters Office.
Daryl Hill, our Wash Guide, as he prefers to be known, was happy to take up to three boats in one go but before we knew it the list of prospective Wash crossers had grown from two to six.
The winter of 2012 saw the list diminish as contenders reluctantly declined due to commitments and health problems.
This left Anastasia, Balmaha and No Problem in the party as Easter approached. Things didnt look too good for No Problem at one stage when the new engine gave Sue and Vic concerns but everything settled down and confidence was restored in the end. It was also touch and go on the weather because east winds had battered the coast for months without a break and we needed calm seas with a relatively gentle force 3 or less.
Youll be going nowhere, said lock keeper Mike, until the swell has decreased or youll be swamped at the stern as you turn from an easterly course towards the coast at Wisbech. He had a point, a two metre swell off the North Sea, all the way from Norway wasnt going to do any good when it came up behind a one metre high stern deck.
The final week approached and we were in daily contact with Daryl, getting advice and preparing ourselves for what might happen if the weather didnt slacken off.
Suddenly the forecast changed from vicious easterlies to gentle southerlies. Nail-biting came to an end and plan-Bs were jettisoned as we received the call to assemble at the Boston Grand Sluice entrance at 6:15am on Sunday 7th April.
Youll be back here by 2pm if the swell is considered too high for your safety, said Daryl. Nail biting and plan-Bs went back on the menu as we funnelled into the lock entrance and waited for lockie Sams OK to hit the salty water.
Bostons lock has three sets of gates and even with the inner pair opened they couldnt close the back set, hence our wait for the tide and river to level off before departing. Shes plenty wide enough for three narrowboats side by side but only 41 feet long.
Journey time is around 9 hours, possibly less on spring tides and maybe slightly more on neaps. One has to allow about two hours at anchor waiting for the incoming tide to take us up river at the end of the journey.
Around 7:15am the front gates opened and we slipped out one by one into The Haven, Mike with Daryl on Anastasia then Sue, Vic and Paul Balmer (of Waterways Routes fame) on No Problem and lastly ourselves with cousin Roger (nb.Megan). Going down river at canal speed we passed the stump in silence, only cameras clicking to warn anyone we had a convoy heading for the sea.
Thinking it might be a good time to eat before we hit the waves I requested Cooky dish up the bacon sarnies. Daryl let slip that he was a fan of the humble bs so we took pity on Mike, a vegetarian, and delivered packages to Anastasia by fishing net.
The pessimists predicted a two day wait for the swell to abate enough to allow a narrowboat out to sea so imagine our surprise when reaching Tab Tower to see a mill pond stretching as far as the eye could see.
We left the coastline behind us as the haze descended onto the horizon and we realised we were all alone. No narrowboats coming the other way, no pleasure craft from the marina, just us and the occasional fishing boat on what was becoming a beautiful sea cruise.
A third of the journey done we began a gentle right turn around Roger Sand and headed into the sun. A slight swell and small waves bumped the boats side for a while but nothing high enough to wet the gunwale. Wed had worse on the Thames and Trent.
Sue and Vics heads popped up and down from time to time as Paul B took turns at the tiller on No Problem. She certainly looked good cutting through the waves, a tribute to their recent engine change.
But whats that on the horizon in front of us? Would we have company on the way home?
Through the binoculars we could see a general cargo vessel of about 2000 tonnes, something V and I were familiar with when working the coastal trade on tankers.
This was the EEMS DART, fresh out of Bremerhaven, sitting at anchor and awaiting Mondays tide before entering the Nene, bound for unloading at Sutton Bridge.
Enough excitement for one day, we left deep water and headed southwest to tie up to a buoy on the edge of a firing range. No firing today and the seals are out on the sandbank, well they were until we arrived and they charged off into the sea. But lovely for us they came back to have a look at the intruders.
We couldnt have asked for a better day, although it was cool the sun was shining, the sea was so flat you could have played snooker and there was hardly enough breeze to blow out a candle.
A couple of hours passed with stories and tales of a nautical and aeronautical nature and then all too soon we were off to Wisbech via Sutton Bridge.
Crew had hardly put ropes ashore when familiar faces were spotted on the jetty Mike and Jo from Sarah-Kate with a champagne reception !!
Get that gate open and let them in .. break out the glasses and fill em up.
Big thank you to Mike and Jo for putting the final touches to a wonderful day.
Photo courtesy of Paul Balmer Waterways Routes
Well weve done it, adventure over, the Wash has been conquered. Where shall we go next year? Actually Mike (Anastasia) has an idea but it will take a bit of research before we are sure we shall manage it.
As we didnt find the Wash information readily available Ive included some notes that might help others in the future.
On the inbound tide we were made aware of tidal streams. Crab this way, then crab that way were the instructions on our approach to land. Tides rarely flow in straight lines when sandbanks are encountered especially in a bay like the Wash. Strong streams cut across intended tracks and local knowledge of the way tides behave is invaluable.
It is recommended that narrowboats have a full tank of diesel, almost empty water tank, and the only clutter on the roof being the stuff that you are prepared to lose over the side.
Life vests must be worn by all members of crew and all passengers.
For convoys a marine band VHF radio is essential to listen for pilots instructions. Those without an operators certificate will just have to listen and wave arms to acknowledge. Pilot takes his own VHF and flares (no, not 1960s trousers).
Walky-talkies can be a very useful addition for general natter between boats. That sort of thing might be Look at that football on your right. Thats not a football thats a seal.
Or, Watch out for that green buoy, if you dont change course it will hit you broadside in a minute.
An appreciation of buoy markings helps when deciding which side to pass if the tide catches you unawares. Apart from hazard buoys you’ll see red cans and green cones though not always as many and as regularly spaced as you might expect.
The anchor: bow or stern? No one insisted it was on the bow or on the stern. Between us we had a mix of both.
It goes without saying that the diesel tank needs to be purged of water and diesel-bug just before the crossing and it helps (as in our case) to check the fan belts for splits and cracks. We carried out an oil service the week before and checked the coolant level in the days leading up to the crossing. Oh, and one shouldn’t forget to tie a line to the life ring (as we nearly did).
Clear shelves and tables of loose objects just in case the wind picks up and its a good idea to use that ‘sticky matting’ stuff on the stern hatch for keeping binoculars and cameras from sliding overboard.
Speed: on a calm day the engine may not need to exceed 1500 rpm but one must expect to maintain cruising speed for five continuous hours on the outgoing tide and two hours on the final approach to land.
1800 rpm might be necessary if the weather deteriorates (and for dodging buoys) but no one seems to expect more than 6 mph through the water, at the very outside.
A GPS device with a coastal chart is useful because one is out of sight of m for some of the journey. Phone signals may be weak but we were never completely out of contact.
Seals and sandbanks: the occasional black football floating a hundred yards away is probably a seal’s head. At low tide they can be seen sprawled across the exposed sandbanks and though panicked by approaching boats they are curious enough to swim close enough for cameras with zoom lenses.
Clothing needs to be wind as well as rain proof. Consider head, hands and legs if a cold breeze is expected.
At 41 feet long Boston lock is too short for most narrowboats. It can handle three abreast but it’s a case of waiting until the outgoing tide drops the water outside the lock to match the height of the river inside.
At Dog in a Doublet (outskirts of Peterborough) the lock is more than long enough for narrowboats and can take three abreast. Coming upstream (from Wisbech) with the tide one should expect a journey of up to 3 hours. Daryl said it could be done in two and a half and by leaving Wisbech immediately the tide turned we made it to D-in-a-D in exactly two and a half hours at 1700rpm.
Other considerations include tide times of six hour flood followed by six hour ebb. Like some other rivers on the east coast this rule doesnt apply to the rivers on the Wash where it can vary by as much as three hours of flood followed by nine hours of ebb.
Insurance: best to check with insurers well before the event that they will cover your expedition.
Costs: One can halve the expense of pilotage if three boats share the cost.
Mooring at Wisbech: for contacts and mooring fees see Wisbech Yacht Harbour
We paid just over £20 for a 60 foot narrowboat for one night. There are 16 amp and 32 amp electricity sockets on the pontoons plus water taps.
Wash Guide contact: Daryl Hill, mbl: 07909 880071
In conclusion if youre in any doubt about doing the Wash Id say go for it. Its a doddle when the weather behaves itself and it shouldnt be too taxing on a reasonably quiet summers day.
Dont get excited this isnt a blog update, Im only adding things of extreme worthiness as they come along.
Christmas was brilliant, thanks to family and friends and some of them still writing cards after many years since we last saw them thanks to you all.
This update is to let you know that the new Iris DeMent album is out and well worth the spend. Her voice has gone up several octaves but its still brilliant, well I think so and Im sure theres one other person in the world who agrees.
The album Sing The Delta.
Released last October but I had to wait for Santa to deliver it.
Right now V is away at Mums, the boat is parked up out of earshot of anyone else (Barrow-on-Soar) and Iris is belting out at 100+ watts. The speakers are rattling, the wine glass is full and tears are falling.
Next week were back to normal. Ipod and headphones are wonderful things arent they.
V would like to point out she’s away helping Mum, she hasn’t left home!
1st Oct. Birstall, (Leics Line)
2nd Oct. Kings Lock, Aylestone
3rd Oct. Kilby Bridge
2nd week Oct. Market Harbro’
3rd week Oct. Harbro’, Debdale, Foxton
1st week Nov. Kilby Bridge
2nd week Nov. Barrow upon Soar
Nov-Dec. Sileby, Barrow, Loughborough, drifting with the winds and tides.
Wednesday 15th August 2012
Its time to leave, our summer cruise is over.
With MiL onboard we paid our last visit to Sharpy. V wheeled Mum down the towpath to the old lock to see the river at high tide and I wandered over the hill to see what ships were in.
The only thing left to do was pay our respects to Purtons hulks, smile and wave for the last time at Sauls camera and buy up the last tray of sausage rolls at Glosters Sainsburys before drawing our summer cruise to a close.
Once Claire and Ter had called in to pick up Mum we plonked ourselves on the wall at Gloucester dock and waved our fists at the seagulls for the last time.
First in the lock at 8 oclock on Saturday we savoured the distinctive local accents until they opened the gates and discharged us onto the River Severn.
Keeping to a modest 4.5 mph we enjoyed the cruise up river to Worcester, V remarking how the colours along the way had changed since we were here in May. One more push and we made it to Stourport, to the good ol Staffs & Worcs canal.
And thats it, done, adventure over, were cruising canals again retracing our steps across the Midlands.
This will be the last Blog for a while. Wed only be taking pictures that appear on a dozen other Blogs and repeating whats already been written by Bloggers weaving their way to and fro across the waterways.
So were hanging up the keyboard, putting up our feet and going quiet for a while.
Weekending Monday 6th August 2012
The sun brought out the plastic big time.
White boats of all sizes zipped to and from Sharpness in bunches of threes and when two bunches met up and hit the swing bridges it was time to pull over and let the blighters go past.
I had to laugh when one old timer in his ancient narrer-boot refused to acknowledge them, let alone pull over.
While he plodded along in the middle the retired captains took things into their own hands and started passing each other and him all at the same time. I know its naughty but I was willing one of the large cruise boats to come round the corner when I took this snap.
Have you noticed that people dont take snaps any more. That must have ended when things went digital.
Tuesday was nice, we had lunch aboard with friends Dick and Jenny. I say lunch but it was getting dark by the time they left. We had a row of empty bottles (orange juice of course) and more dirty glasses than plates to sort out before bedtime. We had an excellent time.
Back up to Gloster (nowt wrong with that spelling is there?) for the weekend to pick up MiL for her summer cruise. We couldnt compete with the cruise boat Edward Elgar, she had a sax blowing keyboard-ist singer fella entertaining them all evening. He was very good and it was tempting to join EEs passengers applauding each number.
I saved someone £60 this week. I was visiting the night-soil deposit when a motorist drove up to Llanthony Lift Bridge and stopped. He was about to start off over the bridge when I beckoned to him to wind down his window.
Where are you going, says I.
Across the bridge, as my Sat-Nav tells me to, says he.
Oh-arrhh, says I, Oi wouldnt be doing that unless you want to be paying the £60 fine, I continued in my best Gloster accent.
Once the new bridge on St Ann Way came into use they disallowed Llanthony Bridge for the likes of private cars. And apparently the local govt makes thousands of pounds out of those of us still following an old version of Tom-Tom.
On Friday we took to the roads and Im hoping my good turn comes back and saves me a speeding ticket when my exuberance took us a little too smartly through a village north of Shepton Mallet.
It was Barrys funeral in Corfe Mullen so V and me trundled down to the south coast to catch the service. Terribly sad, he will be missed by a lot of people here and abroad. He had many relatives and friends in Bulgaria. One of lifes good guys, you dont see many like Barry.
As for us were having our last cruise on the Gloster and Sharpness Canal and hoping to catch a couple of sunny days where we can sit around the BBQ. If the wet stuff goes round instead of over then MiL might get a push along the tow path so she can appreciate the countryside with those excellent views of the River Severn.
Weekending Sunday 29th July 2012
Smashing weather all week, shame it coincided with V going across country to see the little un. Didnt see the point of having a barby on my own but on the other hand it was perfect weather for floor varnishing.
Three generations apart, Gt. Grandma and Bethan seem to have connected.
OK got the floor sanded and varnished (Ronseal Diamond Hard) and went to Gloster to test it.
A million seagulls have sprogged and taken their offspring to the skies. Not content with bombing the cabin roof and sides they let go their slimy load so that it enters the back door and splatters the newly varnished floor.
Now that we have shiny floors the white stuff comes off with a wipe, just wish it would come off the instrument panel and circuit breaker switches as easily.
Every bridge between Gloster and Sharpness will have to lift or swing for this beauty. She almost had me tempted until I remembered I hadnt finished with narrowboats or been through the dutch barge phase yet.
Sainsburys, at the Quays, have let me down, theyve stopped doing jumbo sausage rolls at 2 for a £1. But at 59p I shouldnt complain. I bought four, had two given me by other boaters, plus a real pasty (thanks Pam) so I shant starve.
As it happens they were pumping canal water over the bridge steelwork to cool it, to stop it expanding in the heat and sticking against the abutments.
But wasnt it a hot night!
With the roof hatch and portholes replaced by flyscreens and a mozzie zapper glowing blue in the corner I was confident that nothing with wings and needle sharp tongues was going to get me. And sure enough, not a single bite in the morning.
V returned on Fridays train hooray, with photos of little un. Dont they change quickly, its only been 7 weeks but already the wrinkles have gone, to be replaced by smiles. Im talking about the baby, not V.
Im afraid I broke two rules this week:
1. Watched Olympics opening ceremony.
2. Mentioned the Olympics.
Can I last two more weeks?
If anyone has information on this 100 year old ex RN launch then her owner would be glad to hear of it.
Sunday was going to be a day of socialising and good grub but it was cancelled at the last minute, John and Jean from Hampshire pulled out when John decided to half pass a kidney stone.
On the down-side this meant I had to go without a slap-up breakfast. On the up-side it meant I got double portions at lunchtime. Poor old John, dont suppose the hospital grub is up to much but you probably dont feel much like eating on those levels of morphine.
Hope you pass it soon mate, otherwise theyll be drilling in for it.
On a sad note, lost a special friend earlier in the week. Barry was doing so well after his op and we thought his heart problems were all in the past but sadly it wasnt to be.
However, he knew where he was going and Im looking forward to seeing him one day, on the other side.