Thursday 1 September 2011

Severn Crossing to Sharpness

Severn Crossing to Sharpness
Part Two
30th August 2011

Excuse my indulgence in two posts about a 30 mile trip, but the crossing from Portishead to Sharpness is one of the classic tideway trips and justifies a bit more space, and more photos than a single post provides. I will get back to the Huddersfield Narrow in a few days.

The Old Severn Crossing

We left the tale above the turbulent holes between the new and old Severn Crossings. Having led the way for the last hour and a half, Francesca Leah decided to undertake a circuit or two to kill time and simplify their entrance to Sharpness lock. We took point position, surging along a hundred metres or so from the western shore till we reached the two pilot lights set up on the bank. This was our cue to transfer to the eastern shore following the deep water channel and avoiding the sandbanks which lurk under the shallows to trap the unwary.

Francesca Leah going round in circles

This is where the pilots really earn their money, following a snaking channel which changes over time. The way is marked by pilot lights which when lined up reveal the safe passage but the real art is making allowance for the tidal flow. For every mile on course there has to be a mile of drift. This dynamic is hard to describe but as we crossed towards the maker on the power station we had the unnerving impression of the channel marker moving rapidly down the estuary. All very disorientating. 

Bidges and light sabres

Marker led to marker as we zig zagged our way northwards, finally locking our sights on the grain silos of Sharpness Dock. The passage had one last twist to it in the form of the entrance to the harbour. Sarah relinquished control to the pilot who brought us in fast and close to the wooden breakwater through which the incoming tide surged. These piles offered a measure of protection but still the narrowboats crabbed their way to safety, slewing across the lock entrance at 30 degrees or so till they finally made it into the welcoming embrace of the outer pool walls.

Safety of Sharpness Docks

The lock into the docks is predictably huge and as we rose the lock keeper dropped a bombshell. Having looked at Sarah's trading license he was wondering if he should levy the commercial boat lockage fee - a whopping unbudgeted £240. They had never seen a license like this one before and in the absence of any clear guidelines common sense prevailed and The Book Barge was treated as a pleasure craft. That was a relief because this crossing had already involved two £140 pilots fees. This may be a short cut from the Kennet and Avon to the Midlands waterways, but it certainly isn't cheap.

 Jeff and Sarah

For Jeff and I the trip was over. We had had our three hours out on the tideway and now we had to find a way back to Portishead and our car, 25 miles away. The lock keeper was great, offering me the phone number for Castle Cars and even speaking to them to give directions. The journey back down the M5 took 40 mins or so and my wallet was lightened by £50, the sort of sum I was expecting.

 Made it!

All in all was a classic trip undertaken in particularly calm conditions. A little more sun would have been nice but at least it was mild and dry. No matter how short a journey, I am always a bit sad to see a boat continuing into the distance. Another journey continuing on without me...

 The Book Barge continues its travels

A final glimpse of the old warehouses in Sharpness Docks

Did I mention the little issue of the fuel filter? No, I didn't think so. Maybe some things are best left unexplained.


nb Chance said...

Hi Andy
Fantastic couple of blogs, very interesting and great pictures, must have been an incredible experience for you and Jeff. Best Wishes Doug

Don Haines said...

My wife and I are the owners of Francesca Leah, experiencing this momentous trip in the company of the Book Barge. Before setting off we exchanged email addresses so that we could swop photos after the trip - hence the presence on our cloakroom wall of a fantastic shot of our boat going under one of the Severn bridges! Thanks for the memories!

Andy Tidy said...

Don - I assume you have seen this months edition of Waterways World where Sarah (Book Barge) has an article about the trip. Predictably, you feature!