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Escape from Sharpness (2)

Posted by indigodream on 16 September, 2008

The offshore View….

Foggy morning in Sharpness

Foggy morning in Sharpness

Oh what a cruel early start. We had 3 different alarms set for 6am and yes, they did manage to wake us. I did have time to fit the bilge pump (slight snag – the outlet was a different size but is there anything you can’t fix with loads of duck tape?!) . I even managed the last-minute pre-flight checks but it was all very fraught!

We thought we’d be locking out with the cruiser ‘Welded Bliss’, but they came down the towpath at 6.30am to say that they would not be joining us. Why? Because of the fog! Conditions were perfect – the dry weather, the light winds blowing the same direction as the tide, water still as a millpond – everything we needed, apart from THE FOG. We thought Welded Bliss was very sensible – you couldn’t even see the swing bridge from our mooring (about 200 yards).

Where's that lock?

Where's the lock????

Nonetheless I set off – it was early after all, and as far as I knew it might have burned off by breakfast time. The sky was blue and clear above us – it was only foggy at ground level. I got to the swingbridge around 7am and barely needed to pause as a BW guy opened the bridge with perfect timing. Even though it’s a short distance, the trip down the dock was quite awkward. With the boat central in the dock I could only just see the walls either side; the huge dock buildings were just vague shadows. And where was the lock? The BW guy on the swing bridge said just go on the end. But where is the end? Which side is the lock on? Initially I though it might be on the right but at the last moment I saw what looked like a lock gate on the left.

Note: If you do this in the fog then the lock is on the left NOT the funny looking basin on the right.

Waiting in the lock

Waiting in the lock

Ken, our Pilot, had already been in touch with Sharpness and asked that the boat was not dropped down ’til he arrived and looked at conditions. At first we couldn’t see the Pier Head building from the lock then the fog cleared a little and it emerged, then the fog closed in again, then we got a tantalising glimpse as the sun tried to break through. But as Ken arrived the building vanished again. After a bit of consultation and advice from Avonmouth (the word was that they could see the Second Severn Crossing – we certainly couldn’t!) the decision was made go for it. The Lockkeeper closed the gate and started lowering water levels when a boat parked up just outside the lock said “wait for me – I’m booked”. Everything then took so long – filling the lock up, getting the second boat in position – we eventually got out of the lock at 8:20am. Is that important? Well, yes, ‘time and tide wait for no man’ as they say, and the last lock entry into Portishead, 20 odd miles away, was at 11:15am. We HAD to get to the marina as Sue and the dogs had vetoed the idea of wading across the mud if we got stuck outside.

Moving out into the channel

Moving out into the channel

Out on the Severn the fog seemed to get worse. Ken reckons that as the tide drops, air gets pulled towards the River and so the fog lingers longer. It rang true as Sue (in the car) found blue clear skies and not a hint of fog just a mile or so away from the river.

Ken was ok with me driving but gave me strict instructions not to lose sight of land so we charged down the river no more than 200 metres away from the coastline.

Ken has an amazing knowledge of the river – at one point he said “ok time to cross to the other side, turn right here”.

Off I headed into the pea soup but where was the other side? Would I hit anything?

Ken’s instructions were “keep the sun behind you”.

But what sun?

“Ok” he said “that vaguely brighter bit of fog, keep that behind you. Short while later, get the sun over your left shoulder and keep going that way till you see a beacon, well 2 beacons.”

Ken the interpid pilot

Ken the interpid pilot

Sure enough a while later we were almost exactly central between the two beacons. Who needs gps, chart plotters, sophisticated calculations of river and tide flow etc when you have a Ken telling you to keep the bright bit of sky just behind your left shoulder?

Eventually we got to the other side and ran parallel to that. Every so often Ken would command a left turn (“get the sun on the beam”) which I think meant on your left and we would seem to be leaving the comfort of seeing what looked like a parallel shore line. But no, suddenly there would be land again on our right exactly the same distance away.

The original Severn Bridge

The original Severn Bridge

We hovered under the old Severn Bridge for a while – 1500 revs to stay in roughly the same place – whilst Ken mused on whether it would clear or not and waited for the toll booth to open 🙂

After 10 minutes we decided to just go for it (“head for that bit of driftwood”). This time my instructions were to have a beacon comfortably on my left and, sure enough, Ken spotted it long before I did and said “turn so that the sun is just there”. Of course we went right through the correct arch of the second Severn crossing avoiding miscellaneous rocks, sand banks and heavens know what.

From there it was a bit clearer. Ken pointed out the

The new Severn crossing

The new Severn crossing

entrance to the Avon and off we sped to Portishead where the nice people were holding a lock for us. The lock itself is awesome, high as a cliff and no paddles – the lock-keeper just opens the gate to let water in so it fills a bit fast..

Approaching Portishead

Approaching Portishead

So, my verdict on the journey:

  • 2 hours 10 minutes at serious revs so not too long.
  • Wind behind us, gentle tide made driving easy.
  • Swells and swirls are something to watch in places but nowhere near as bad as what you get when a gin palace goes by at speed on the Thames!
  • Doing it in fog means that you can’t get worried on width but also means you see nothing (and can’t take photos of the great views).
  • It was easier than the tidal Thames.
  • Very Important: Do not even think of going unless weather conditions are right, make sure you have a pilot. Reading other people’s accounts I suspect that down is easier than up.

The Onshore View….

Emerging from Sharpness Lock

Emerging from Sharpness Lock

I have to say that I honestly wasn’t worried about Richard’s safety on this trip. He’d planned it well and I was certain that the pilot would see them safely down the river. But with the morning so rushed, and the fog so thick, I did wonder whether our cursory farewell and quick peck of a kiss on the towpath would be our last ‘goodbye’!

Of course it wasn’t! To start off with, I had the chance to catch up with him at the lock – I drove round with the dogs and while we were waiting for the pilot he made me some excellent coffee. This was very welcome – it was too early and cold for being up and about. I was reassured by Ken’s wry confidence and said goodbye again so that I could go round to the viewing point to take photos of the departure.

A goodbye wave from Sharpness Basin

A goodbye wave from Sharpness Basin

My job was to try to get photos of the trip – as it happens, the fog put paid to that, but if you’re in ever in the same position then here are the best viewing points:

Sharpness: as you drive into Sharpness there’s a mini-roundabout – turn left down a lane signposted ‘picnic area’. You get a great view of the basin and dock-entrance there. If it weren’t for the fog I’d have got a great view of the river as well.

1st Severn Cossing: Severn View Services on the M48 – drive up to the Travelodge then walk up the path past the glass-clad office building to the viewing point. Great view normally – wouldn’t have known there was a bridge there in the fog if it han’t been for the traffic noise!

The Severn Bridge and Indigo Dream hovering beneath

The Severn Bridge and Indigo Dream hovering beneath, honest, the bridge is there somewhere....

2nd Severn Crossing: From the services take the A403 signposted “Severn crossings visitor centre” – three or four miles down there’s a village called Severn Beach – turn towards it and follow signs to Severn Beach railway station – Station Road runs down to the river’s edge where you get a fine view of the bridge (but not the boat which had gone though 5 minutes previously and was lost in the fog downstream).

I gave up at that point – the boat was ahead of me and the visibility was so poor – I just headed off to Portishead.

The dogs had a thoroughly stimulating morning – we stopped freqently and they got to rummage around lots of new places and got into a staring match with a cat in Severn Beach – top entertainment if you’re a greyhound!. We encountered an injured

Injured sparrowhawk

Injured sparrowhawk

young sparrowhawk on the Severn View footpath. The dogs were very good – they spotted the bird first but didn’t touch it, and they moved away when I told them to – amazing. I know that it’s ‘nature red in tooth and claw’ but I didn’t feel right to walk away from the injured bird without trying to do something. I did report it to the RSPCA but they were useless (long story). Luckily I ran into some local people who knew of a nearby owl and hawk rescue centre and promised to contact them for help.

The trip to Portishead took ages – whatever you do, don’t listen to your satnav – get off the M5 at junction 19 and take the main road into town – enough said! To Portishead town council – put up some decent road signs – your town’s a maze!!

I eventually caught up with RIchard, having driven round in circles for what felt like 30 hours. The pack was reunited and we spent a lovely sunny afternoon in the marina – no fog here! The dogs caught up on their sleep, we checked the boat out, chinwagged with other friendly boaters and marvelled at the mud-banks outside the lock. The word on the water was that Gloucester Dock was going to open the next day as the water levels on the river had dropped abruptly – we avoided the temptation to go back up the tidal Severn in order to meet our original crusing plan…..

8 Responses to “Escape from Sharpness (2)”

  1. Lesley said

    One day we are going to do this, one day.. Need to top-up on bravery pills first!!!

  2. Nic said

    Wow, great, all I’ve managed to do is occasionally venture onto the rivers. I’ve still not gone to the tidal part of the Thames.

  3. Greygal said

    Epic stuff, guys. You could try the Channel next…And as for Lou and Blue leaving an injured bird, aren’t they good? When I say ‘leave’, mine hear ‘eat’.

  4. indigodream said

    Lesley – Lou still has a few valium left – they won’t make you brave but at least you won’t care and will smile the whole way down river. She’s happy to share if you decide to venture onto big waters!

    Greygal – shhh – I don’t need you putting ideas into Richard’s head! Oh, and it was unusually good of the dogs – I was expecting a reprise of the rabbit tug of war which embarrassed me out of our local park for quite some time!

    Nic – do the tidal Thames – it is extremely interesting – we first did it with an instructor – that really helped our confidence for subsequent trips. The lock-keepers at Limehouse Basin do an extremely good guide with maps and safety checklists – invaluable.

  5. Anj P said

    Well done!!

    Serendipity is moored near to Lock 5 on the Kennett and Avon, by Saltford Shallows, so if you are passing Saturday or Sunday (cann’t get away from work during the week) give us a wave.

    Anj P.

  6. indigodream said

    Serendipity – what a shame – we must have passed by you yesterday. We’ll wave back from the top of Caen Hill tomorrow!

  7. Tony said

    Your ‘Sparrowhawk’ looks much more like a juvenile Hobby, much rarer than a Sparrowhawk!

  8. indigodream said

    Happy to be corrected Tony!

    However if it was a rare juvenile Hobby then I suspect it’s even rarer now – I could not get the RSPCA out to rescue it; some other passersby were going to contact a local bird of prey sanctuary but I wonder to this day whether the bird was saved 😦

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