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To Bristol with Wye Invader Two & Innisfree - March 2020

Wye Invader Two – Sharpness > Bristol > Portishead > Sharpness
Sunday 22nd & Monday 23rd March 2020

For the last 5 summers, Wye Invader Two has departed Sharpness on 4, sometimes 5 occasions to go downstream on the River Severn Estuary to Bristol, Portishead, then crossing to Chepstow then on up the River Wye to Tintern, Llandogo, and on one occasion to the Quay at Monmouth, the first narrowboat ever to do so, we’d then return back down the River Wye to Portishead and on back to our mooring in Sharpness.

monmouth rowing club
monmouth bridge

Last year apart from the passage to Monmouth Quay at the end of March, the weather seemed to be one storm after another and this seemed to go on into the Summer, then the Autumn and on into 2020 to almost half-way through February 2020, when the BBC Long Range Weather Forecast offered a small window of 2 to 5 days in the last 2 weeks of March.

I spoke to Andy who looks after the camera equipment and helps with boat maintenance when we lift her out over the Winter period and he was up for a trip, subject to weather. I had also been in contact via the Wye Invader Two Facebook page with Bob Bolton and his narrowboat ‘Innisfree’ who’d asked, if it would be possible to follow Wye Invader Two down the Severn Estuary to Portishead and on to Bristol as he wanted to get on the Kennet and Avon canal, and it would be a safer for two narrowboats to travel the dangerous waters together.

I’d replied that I didn’t have a problem with his request, subject to him going online to the Gloucester Harbour Trustees website and following the requirements of boat maintenance with regard to the engine, fuel tank, fuel filters and safety equipment. I also mentioned, he needed to book the bridge and lock at Sharpness and the locks at Portishead and Bristol for Innisfree as I had already made the bookings for Wye Invader Two. We arranged to meet on Saturday the 21st March in the evening at 1800 hours by the bridge entry to the dock, and be ready to move off into the docks with the gate booked for 0600 hours on the Sunday morning.

Andy and I left Hereford by car at 1600 hours on Saturday and were passing over the dock bridge in Sharpness by 1715 hours, as we passed over the bridge we could already see Bob and Innisfree moored between the 2 bridges. By 1805 hours we had parked the car, started up Wye Invader Two, topped up the water onboard, vacated the Marina and were moored alongside the Canal River Trust moored vessel with Bob moored adjacent to the track and inline astern of CRT vessel, we spent about an hour talking through the journey and the weather and we agreed 05.00 should be the alarm time, whoever was up first should give the other boat a shout!


Sunday 0500 hours and the coffee was on, 0530 hours check the engine and gearbox oil levels, at 0545 hours dawn was starting to break and I took a photo of the sunrise. 0550 hours and the bridge to docks was opened, Wye Invader Two passed through and Bob was not far astern. 0625 hours, Wye Invader Two was moored in the lock, because Bob was on his own, he positioned Innisfree alongside and she was secured to Wye Invader Two, the lockdown started and the gates were opened at 0640 hours, High Tide was at 0658 hours, we departed the outer lock at 0645 hours and turned into the last 15 minutes of high water.

For the next 30 minutes we averaged 4 mph, we were now 2 miles downstream of Sharpness adjacent to Berkeley power station and were in position to take advantage of the outgoing tide and we were just in front of the debris field (trees, logs etc), as the ebb of the tide increased the speed of Wye Invader Two and Innisfree increased, so the next 5 miles were covered in about 35 minutes with a speed between 4 to 8 mph. Wye Invader Two and Innisfree followed the Navigation Channel and moved over to starboard to the mid-line with Oldbury Power Station, Wye Invader Two and Innisfree then turned to Port so at that point, Oldbury Power Station was now on the Port side.

Just over 3 miles ahead was the Old Severn Bridge, our course was just to the right of the centre of the centre span, as we passed under the bridge the GPS recorded a speed of 13.9 mph for a 3 minute period. Half a mile below the Severn Bridge to starboard, the River Wye joins the River Severn, I slowed the engine speed sufficiently to maintain steerage but we were still travelling at about 10 mph, Andy spoke to Bob via the two way radio to keep him informed. The wind speed increased to 16 mph and seemed to be making the water choppy even though the tide was on the ebb. Wye Invader Two and Innisfree cleared the 2 bridges in just over 20 minutes a distance of 3.6 miles.

innisfree on river severn
old severn bridge

Portishead could be seen about 6 miles further away, because of the increased wind speed and direction from the North East and the ebb tide, our course was to Avonmouth first and then on down to Portishead outside of the Navigation channel, the 7 miles was covered in just over an hour and we locked up in Portishead at 0915 hours.

0915 hours to 0930 hours. We locked up into Portishead and paid for the short stay-over by card via the phone, we left the lock, went about 75 metres, turned then came back down the Marina towards the lock entrance and moored on the floating platforms at Hammerhead B, Innisfree came in alongside and secured his bow to Wye Invader Two and I secured his stern. I checked the engine and gearbox oil levels, the engine coolant level was fine as the expansion bottle is clear and as it’s above deck, can be seen all the time. The sun was shining so it was a chance to warm up, we checked on Bob and both he and Innisfree were good, so it was breakfast and sleeping bag time for a couple of hours.

1450 hours. The lock gates opened and the traffic lights were green, Wye Invader Two and Innisfree were secured in the lock chamber and the gate closed.

1500 hours. We were lowered down to the River Severn, because this was the first lock out of the day, it took a while to get down, when the gates opened we departed with caution as there are mud banks on the port side by the pier end.

1530 hours. As we cleared the end of the pier a large ship carrying Airbus parts (probably the Ville de Bordeaux) passed up the channel left to right across our front no more than 200 metres ahead, it then slowed, stopped and went about, waiting for another large ship to exit The Royal Portbury Dock.

leave portishead
airbus ship

Wye invader Two and Innisfree turned to starboard and moved along just outside of the channel and to starboard of the channel markers, as we cleared The Royal Portbury Dock, we navigated almost to Avonmouth Docks and then turned to starboard so as not to run aground on the mud banks in the entrance to the River Avon.

1600 hours. The distance from Avonmouth docks to Bristol is about 8 miles this was covered in about 1 hour 15 minutes, as we arrived in the lock the tide still had a long way to come in, so we moored by the ladder on ropes lowered down to Wye Invader Two and Innisfree by the lock keeper, by about 1800 hours and last light we paid the lock keeper for the overnight stay, and were given instructions as to where the mooring was, and instructed to be back in the lock by 0530 hours.

1830 hours. Bob and Innisfree led the way to the mooring, we secured Wye Invader Two and Innisfree, had some food and a beer with Bob, then it was back to Wye Invader Two and a warm sleeping bag with an alarm set for 0500 hours (again!)

brunel bridge
bristol mooring

0500 hours. Coffee.

0515 hours. Navigation lamps on, start engine and cast off, Andy gave the bows a push and we were clear, heading back through Cumberland Basin to just outside the lock, we moored up and informed the lock keeper we had arrived.

0530 hours. The lock keeper then left to put the stop gate on the channel between the main docks and Cumberland Basin, this in turn, stopped the main docks area from being flooded when there was a Spring Tide, as there would be later that morning.

0550 hours. Dawn was breaking, time for a photo and not a cloud anywhere.

0640 hours. The lock gates were opened, the tide was still on its way inland, the sun was starting to shine down the left side of the Avon Gorge. Wye Invader Two left the lock, 5 minutes later we passed under the famous Brunel Suspension Bridge, even though the sun was shining the wind was blowing down the Gorge and it was only 2 degrees C.

0740 hours. As Wye Invader Two passed under the M5 motorway bridge, I phoned Bristol VTS (Bristol Vessel Traffic Service) the Navigation Authority for an update on traffic movements, I was informed that 1 ship was just leaving Avonmouth and another was due to arrive at 0750 hours, he asked for our location which I gave, Wye Invader Two then reduced speed and came to a stop until the second ship had passed.

bristol dawn
m5 bridge

0755 hours. I phoned Portishead and informed them of our position, they confirmed that no other boats were waiting for the lock and he would open the lock gates as soon as we turned in by Portishead Pier. As Wye Invader Two departed the shelter of the River Avon and passed by The Royal Portbury Dock,
the tide had turned and the wind was still from the North East, the waves went from flat calm to about a metre high and very close together, all on the starboard side, fortunately the exhaust of Wye Invader Two is on the port side. Just short of the pier, I turned to port and for a brief moment Wye Invader Two was skiing! The lock gate had just opened and we went straight in, the gates were closed, we had arrived in Portishead.

0830 hours. The lock gates opened and Wye Invader Two moved out into the Marina, as it was still windy it was necessary to secure the bow to the wall of the Marina on the starboard side and allow the wind to turn the boat, this done we then moved forwards to just short of a access ladder and moored facing the lock ready for departure later that afternoon. I spoke to the Marina and paid for the stop-over and confirmed the lock out times, we then discussed the wind and it’s change of direction and that the wind speed should ease later that afternoon, they confirmed that was also their understanding of the situation.

0900 hours. A late breakfast, the sun was warming the cabin of Wye Invader Two through the windows, so it was sleeping bag time for a couple of hours at least.

1230 hours. Andy sorted some food and I got on with checking the engine oil, the gearbox oil and filling the grease container for the stern tube.

1520 hours. The lock gate opened and the traffic lights changed to green, I started the engine, we both put life jackets on, I also turned my VHF radio on and spoke to Bristol VTS and gave them our ETD (estimated time of departure) as being 1540 at Portishead Pier, we moved into the lock and moored to the port side with another Narrowboat on the starboard side, we were both going to Sharpness, leaving 4 hours ahead of high water to be in Sharpness before last light.

1530 hours. The lock gates closed and we were lowered down, 1545 hours, the gates opened and we moved with caution to Portishead Pier because of the low state of the tide.

1550 hours. Wye Invader Two moved away from the pier at about 45 degrees to the first starboard channel marker, then we turned to port and crossed the channel at a right angle and set course for the centre of the Prince of Wales Bridge, about 6 miles away.

severn bridge

1626 hours. Wye Invader Two passed under the New Bridge, the GPS recorded a 3 minute segment at 13.5 mph, I slowed down to 8 mph to give sufficient speed for steerage, half a mile in front and to port the River Severn tries to push half its water volume over to the left and into the River Wye, the speed of Wye Invader Two also increased to 10 mph, I eased off the engine speed back down to 8 mph, half a mile ahead is the Old Severn Bridge, I changed course to port to pass closer to the left bridge pier and ready to turn as soon as Wye Invader Two was level with the topside of the bridge pier, so as not to be pushed up onto Slime Road Sands and stay within the marked channel and also to allow for the large volume of water deflected back down towards the bridge in the form of a eddy, as we cleared it, 100 metres ahead was the turn starboard.

1650 hours. From now on it’s fairly straight forward, because Wye Invader Two was still 3 hours ahead of high water and high tide, she must stay within the marked channel. Slime Road is on the starboard and the next 2.5 miles are marked, 18 minutes later Wye Invader Two turned to starboard across the Severn towards the upstream part of the Oldbury power station tidal reservoir about 2.17 miles ahead.

1710 hours. Sharpness is about 6 miles ahead, Wye Invader Two is averaging 10 mph, about a mile from Sharpness we slowed down, on the port side about 200 metres of the left bank of the channel had standing waves about a metre high simply because the volume of tidal water was too great for the Channel, something you don’t see unless you are at least 2 maybe 3 hours ahead of High water. Wye Invader Two slowed and moved over to starboard into deeper water as we were only a few hundred metres from the outer dock entrance, as we came level I increased the engine speed and we entered Sharpness at 1810 hours, 2 hours and 20 minutes after leaving Portishead pier.

gps log

Bob Bolton with Innisfree had continuous video of the trip to Bristol, unfortunately it's not been possible to get hold of all of it until the current 'Non essential travel' ban is relaxed. There is a short excerpt on YouTube here.