THE SEVERN ESTUARY
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