Saturday 19th June : Portishead, out and back
(16.5nm, 4 hours 20 minutes underway)
The weather seems uninspiring as far as the forecast went, but the boat was now near at hand. Nikki was working both Saturday and Sunday and it seemed a bit cheeky to go away again the weekend after I'd just got back from bringing the boat back from Plymouth. However, her shift started at 1100, and Saturday's high water at Portishead was a neap of only 10.7m expected at 1443, so it seemed a shame for Dad and I not to take the opportunity to take Calstar out for a sail for the day.
So we did just that.
We cast off at 1140 and made our way around the marina to the lock, Dad putting her alongside to starboard in the bit of space left on the pontoon behind a much larger yacht than us ahead, handling the boat like he'd been manoeuvring Westerly Griffons in and out of locks all his life.
Alongside, and settled in waiting for the gates to close behind us, I was momentarily surprised to hear somebody calling my name.
It took me a moment to realise who it was before I recognised one of our old friends from Portishead Cruising Club, Ray Chappell, although in my defence he was on a bike and not in his boat and wearing a hoodie and sunglasses.
Ray is the skipper of the yacht "Lionheart of Clyde", a lovely 40' Hans Christian Christina, that we'd last sailed in the company of on our last trip from Portishead up the Severn to Gloucester and back, via the Sharpness Canal, some few years back, which was when the photo above was taken.
Not long after that trip Ray and Lionheart left to begin his first circumnavigation, crossing the Atlantic and heading west through the Panama Canal. They are about half way around now, the boat unfortunately marooned by the present pandemic in Malaysia, and Ray currently back in the UK awaiting the opportunity to return and continue their journey.
It was good to catch up.
Calstar shared the lock out with three other yachts. We were last in and therefore last out, and the procession out to the end of the breakwater seemed terribly slow. Once past the breakwater however, with a nice breeze blowing in from the eastern bank, we didn't waste any time getting the sails up and the engine off, and were soon on a very comfortable close reach to starboard, being carried up towards the bridge.
I measured our apparent wind at 10.5 knots, which came as a pleasant surprise as the forecast had been for much less. The Windfinder app, as reliable as I've always found it to be, doesn't account for the Severn's tide.
With the wind blowing in over the eastern shore it lacked any kind of fetch so the water was very calm. Dad and I entertained ourselves for a while arguing about where the Bristol Channel became the Severn Estuary and where the Severn Estuary became the mouth of the River Severn. We didn't reach a conclusion, other than neither of us were sure anybody had an answer.
Having now "researched" it on the Internet, Wikipedia does confirm that the Bristol Channel ends on a line running from Hartland Point in Devon to St Govan's Head in Pembrokeshire in Wales. Which is about where we met so many dolphins the other week. The Severn Estuary begins on a line between Sand Point in Somerset (just up-channel from Weston-Super-Mare) and Lavernock Point, immediately south of Penarth on the edge of Cardiff Bay.
So when we sail from Portishead to Cardiff, which I suspect will become a regular trip once again now we're back, we don't actually leave the Severn Estuary.
According to the same Wikipedia entry, the Severn Estuary extends from there all the way up channel "to the limit of its tidal influence near Gloucester" which must, I imagine, mean the weirs at Maisemore and Llanthony respectively. Albeit the tide does, on big springs flood a lot further up river from there, covering both weirs to the extent that we can sail a Drascombe Lugger over them.
The draft of which is no more than we have on our Griffon. But the bridges (and any remaining shreds of sanity we have) would quickly put pay to the idea of taking Calstar up that far.
So I think we were both right. Our home sailing area is the Severn Estuary, and the Severn Estuary is the mouth of the River Severn.
But I digress.
My original plan was to only sail up as far as the West Cardinal beacon marking the Lower Shoots, round it to starboard and then reach back against the tide until it turned. The area between the two bridges is complicated with rocks and sandbanks, although with 10 meters of tide, only the well marked and very visible Charston and Chapel Rocks should have been any danger.
But I've known more than a couple of friends out of Lydney that have found themselves grounded on either the rocks or sands in this area on a falling tide, and I wasn't keen to join that particularly exclusive club.
But the tide was still flooding hard by the time we reached the Lower Shoots beacon, and Dad was clearly thrilled by the idea of sailing up under the bridge again, so we carried on up.
Passing under the bridge is always a bit of a thrill. I don't know why, but it is. You have the distant rumble of the motorway traffic overhead muted by the roar of the water as it hits and divides around the footings of the bridge. The flow eddies and swirls, the wind heads and backs as the pillars of the long, sweeping bridge interfere with it. From a distance it seems like an improbably small gap to fit between, though you know they get cargo ships through here with little difficulty, and then in the last moments as you quickly close in, the gap opens up and you're swept through.
Through to the other side, you steer to port to avoid the beacon marking Old Man's Head and the surrounding rocky ledge, and then to starboard to steer between Charston Rock and the submerged Dumplings. The water in the channel swirls and lifts and tumbles in eddies and counter eddies, even on the otherwise smooth sea.
Two of the other yachts that had locked out with us had clearly had the same idea and were ahead, and another, possibly out of St Pierre's Pill was already up here, pottering about outside the mouth of the Wye.
By the standards of Plymouth Sound and the seas between there and Falmouth, this number of boats would count as a still empty sea. By local standards it almost felt like traffic congestion.
We carried on up the roiling channel between Charston and Dun Sands, the tide easing but not quite yet reversing its flow. The smaller of the two Portishead yachts ahead reached the mouth of the Wye and turned back, passing us to windward as they headed slowly back towards the bridge. The larger of the two eventually tacked, but set off in the direction of the eastern bank. We turned ourselves a little while after and headed back down channel, the last vestige of the flood tide still punching against us.
It was an uneventful sail back, a nice easy reach, the wind easing off as the tide turned, but never quite failing. We finally dropped our sails and put the engine on somewhere at the top of the King Road between the Firefly and Outer starboard laterals, then crabbed our way back inshore across the ebbing tide to the shelter of the breakwater and the Hole. Calling up for a lock on Channel 80, we were told the 1545 would be ready for us.
Bringing Calstar back in behind the breakwater against the ebb tide, I was struck by just how much alike it was to landing a glider in a crosswind. You come in with the craft slewed quite markedly into wind (or tide) with the rudder to counteract the drift, and then at the last moment, just before you touch (or in the boat's case, you hit the slack water behind the breakwater) you have to "kick the drift off" to land clean and in a straight line.
We loitered in the shelter of the Hole outside the lock for about fifteen minutes before the gates opened and we were able to enter, coming alongside to starboard. A few minutes later the big yacht we'd followed up channel arrived in the lock behind us, going alongside to port assisted by a burst of bow thruster. The gates closed and the sluices opened, and the waters of the narrow lock turned into a boiling maelstrom and swiftly rose.
It was a great day's sailing, and we got home in time for tea, although Nik finished work and went out to bingo with a friend (a "game" I'll never understand the appeal of) so I didn't catch up with her until much later in the evening.
Interestingly, the GPS log recorded 4 hours and 20 minutes from casting off to being back alongside our berth, but Strava only tracked 4 hours and 1 minute of "moving time", suggesting, although I didn't note it in my log, that we spent 19 minutes in total in the lock, both locking out and then back in.
It doesn't, of course, account for the twenty minutes or so we spent outside in the Hole waiting to get back in, as although we were under power, we didn't sit completely still in the shelter of the breakwater. In total, the engine ran for just over an hour. So we had three hours of very pleasurable sailing out of the day in which we covered around 16 miles up and back down again.