Canal Boat - - Tidal Cruising -

We hadn’t re­ally in­tended to tackle the Sev­ern Es­tu­ary but, hav­ing gazed out from Sharp­ness across its beau­ti­ful vis­tas of sim­mer­ing sands and chang­ing tides, we couldn’t re­sist the temp­ta­tion of an­other es­tu­ary trip down to Bris­tol.

This is an­other that can only be tack­led in good weather and, again, it’s a two-tide trip. Sharp­ness to Por­tishead near the mouth of the Avon, where you wait in the ma­rina for the in­com­ing tide to make the run up the Avon to Bris­tol. You can go the op­po­site di­rec­tion but be warned, the weather can even change be­tween Bris­tol and Por­tishead so you could be stuck in an ex­pen­sive yacht ma­rina for two-three days wait­ing for it to im­prove enough to reach Sharp­ness.

And the lo­cal weather is tricky; we were in a queue of ten nar­row­boats and cruis­ers who had been wait­ing up to five days at Sharp­ness for it to im­prove enough to get out into the es­tu­ary.

You re­ally do need a pi­lot here, too, as the nav­i­ga­tional chan­nels and cur­rents are tricky. Book­ing is a lit­tle more for­mal than The Wash as there is more com­mer­cial traf­fic – you call Glouces­ter Pi­lots who will al­lo­cate you one. And it’s gen­er­ally a one boat per pi­lot rule, too: the com­plex route and strong cur­rents can separate boats too much for a sin­gle pi­lot to guide them. Your pi­lot will want to know that your fuel tank has been cleaned, as well.

Af­ter a thumbs up for the weather, we booked our en­try through the swing­bridge into Sharp­ness docks and then gath­ered in a huge sea lock built for seago­ing freighters to meet our pi­lot, Tim But­ton. Then we pushed out of the lock and turned to face the last of an in­com­ing tide that we had to punch for the first 20 min­utes of the trip. The tide races in high and fast up the Sev­ern (think Sev­ern Bore) and this was a spring tide, too, so even hug­ging an in­shore route at the tail of the flood it was slow go­ing.

The route is re­mark­ably com­plex: af­ter

‘You could be stuck in an ex­pen­sive yacht ma­rina for two-three days wait­ing for the weather to im­prove enough to reach Sharp­ness’

Seadog Brian goes ashore on the sands

En­ter­ing the big Por­tishead lock

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