Thursday, 11 July 2013

the Sharpness test

DSC_4127, originally uploaded by Dru Marland.
"The forecast looks dodgy for Wednesday evening- we're sailing on the morning tide!"

Jo Bell had mustered her scratch crew at short notice; they all got into Portishead towards midnight, by which time I was well asleep on Suzanne's boat Electra, tied up alongside Jo's Tinker.

At 0400 there was not a breath of wind, though by 0500, the flags on the harbour control tower were fluttering gently, as, possibly, were our hearts as we fortified ourselves with coffee and toast.

Tony, Alan and Jo
Carl the pilot arrived as we swung into the lock. As the water drained out, he shouted across a few helpful hints: "Between the bridges, watch out for whirlpools and eddies. It's a bit of a ballsy approach to Sharpness; the river will be trying to take you to Gloucester. Get close enough to the pier to paint it!"

And so we set off. Three things were moving the boats; our engines, limited by Electra's top speed of about 5 knots; the incoming tide, whose speed varied with time and location; and the north-easterly breeze, which had by now freshened to a Force 2, as we passed the shelter of Portishead Pier and headed out into open water. We pointed our bows in the rough direction of Cardiff, and made a track towards the Shoots, that narrow and sometimes quite alarming channel between the English Stones and the Welsh Grounds, across which the Second Severn Crossing is built.

Not long ago, someone sailed from Portishead, heading for Sharpness, using a road map. He did not get very far. Though he didn't drown, and his boat was salvaged, he probably earned the title of 'duffer'. As you can see from the chart, the navigable channel meanders from bank to bank as you go upriver.

Passing under the first bridge, my Tom Tom told us that we were making 10 knots, though it was still unable to suggest a suitable route to Sharpness. This was unusual for my Tom Tom; I'd expected it at least to tell us to turn right as we passed under the motorway. I guess it was out of its depth.

The surface of the river was as lively as several leprechauns, as the incoming tide rushed hither and thither; here a current pushing out from the reef  of Charston Rock; there a whorl over Mathern Oaze as the water decided whether it was going to go up the Wye to Chepstow or on to Gloucester. Under the old Severn Bridge and past the Hen and Chickens, one last great whirlpool tugged playfully at the rudder as we passed Whirls End onto the Slime Road.

We passed the prominent towers of Oldbury nuclear power station, and made out the distant silos of Sharpness. For ages they seemed to remain resolutely in the far distance- then suddenly they resolved themselves, and the pier was looming over us.

Right hand down a bit!

Here is my account of the time that I canoed across the Severn Estuary, from New Passage to Chepstow, with Richard Beard

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