Tuesday 11 – Thursday 13 July
Gloucester to Church End to Sharpness
We have had a few days of sortofhangingaround. Our pilot had to postpone our planned crossing from Sharpness to Portishead as he had a ship to take out and that took priority. In the meantime we have spent time getting to know our neighbours of a couple of days, Geoff and Carol. They live on a narrowboat called ‘Life on Mars’ with their dog, Millie or Mollie. I’m always interested in boat names and how they come to be so listening to Carol and Geoff telling Leigh it is not because they are David Bowie fans but because they ‘work, rest and play’ on their boat was quite insightful.
There are the remains of a railway bridge just by where we are moored.
The bridge was built to move coal from Wales to be loaded onto barges but in the mid-twentieth century two ships missed the turning into the estuary at Bristol meaning they were heading up the river Severn. Due to the blinding fog one of the ships hit the bridge. Both ships were carrying fuel so the second ship virtually drove onto the first and both caught fire. Out of seven crew, only two survived. It makes you think doesn’t it? Mother Nature can be kind…or very cruel indeed.
On Thurdsay evening Leigh and Tom ventured down to the Dockers Club in Sharpness for dinner, on the recommendation of a couple of other boaters. The food was excellent; great value, home cooked and plenty of it. The club reminded Leigh of a N.A.A.F.I – and she has frequented a few of those in her younger days. This huge building stands in a large plot of land and is surprisingly busy. I say surprisingly because Sharpness is more of a ‘name’ than a place so I wonder where everyone that goes to the club actually lives!
Whilst doing this leg of the journey I made a few observations:
Villages are few and far between and seem to be made up of residential dwellings and churches – where are the shops I ask?
Boaters facilities such as pump-outs, chandeliers, water-points are scarce.
The Gloucester and Sharpness canal is more like a river in that it is wide and very pretty with few mooring spots.
However, there is a chandlery/shop/bar/coffee shop about to open near Patch Bridge; called the Black Shed (or similar) the owners are super-friendly and we wish them lots of luck in their new venture. We especially liked the lady owner as Leigh had found a pretty little bitch tottering along the tow-path. When asking if the lady knew who she belonged to (she didn’t) she could see the concern on Leigh’s face so popped the dog on a long leash, gave her a treat and some water and waited for her owner to come claim her.
As it happened, her humans neighbouring live-aboards saw her and explained that she often wanders off. This wouldn’t be so bad but the dog didn’t even have a tag on so we couldn’t call the owner. I do wish all humans would take care of their canines. Wanderers and water doesn’t quite go together.
Woofs, Martha x
Friday 14 July
Sharpness to Portishead
Yay – we had a phone call from Tim at Gloucester Pilots this morning saying, ‘The weather looks OK so we’ll give it a go’. Translated, that means we are taking Very Pinook across the Severn estuary from Sharpness to Portishead. My humans were very excited and set-to battening down the hatches, so to speak. All plants and ‘moveable items’ were despatched to safe havens; plants to the shower room, other bits and pieces lay on the bed, sofa and floor of the cabin.
The vents and the doors at the bow of the boat were taped up – to keep any spray from waves coming in and we all had to put our life-vests on – that’s the rule.
As we entered the lock, from the Sharpness canal, my humans admired the gorgeous old Pilot Cutter that had passed us earlier whilst still moored on the canal. It was truly a beautiful sight. Pilot Cutters were used to take maritime pilots to and from large ships, which they would then safely navigate, to or from, ports in the channel. Being light they provided a faster and more easily manoeuvrable mode of transport for the pilots – coping well with winds, tides and currents. These wooden craft are few and far between nowadays so it was a thrill to be upcloseandpersonal.
Once out of the lock we saw our neighbours of the last couple of nights, Carol and Geoff from NB ‘Life on Mars’, waving us off. A lovely couple, whom we hope we’ll cross-canals with, sometime in the future.
Once on the open-water (which Tim, our pilot, referred to as the sea – although Tom says it is just an estuary) the thrill of the spray, the waves, the boats in the distance and the vast expanse of water was just exhilarating. Leigh and I loved it. Rosie snoozed most of the way across and Tom enjoyed steering whilst Tim guided him.
Between you and me, Leigh, Rosie and I all think Tom did a great job. He steered fast but steady and we felt totally safe. I did have a sharp intake of breath when I heard Tim say, there’s a massive rock but they have shotblasted a sort of groove in the middle of it for the ships to pass. ‘What if we miss the groove’, I barked.
Leigh reassured me that with Tim’s expertise we would be fine. We were. Yelp!
Tim was a really nice guy, very easy-going and confident. He was telling Tom that he had been at sea most of his adult life and was ex-merchant navy. Now, you may know that Leigh is ex-Royal Navy, so when he said (tongue in cheek) that the Merchant Navy was the, ‘Senior Service’, Leigh sharply retorted,
‘So when did you start doing stand-up?’
Tim jokingly replied, ‘I need you to be lookout at the front of the boat’, intimating she might go overboard. Typical service-banter!
Oh, the fun of it!
One huge coincidence was that we later found out that a friend of Leigh’s – Sharla – had worked for Tim when he captained a boat for the Merchant Navy. Small world eh? He’s a great pilot so I thought I’d honour him with a snap….
After a few hours we reached the lock at Portishead, and boy, what a huge lock it was. Nine metres wide and forty metres in length. You tie up to a floating landing-stage and the stage rises with the boat as the water pours in. Watching the water as the paddles open is awesome. I felt like I was on Noah’s Ark going through Niagara Falls.
We moored up for the evening in the newly built and very posh marina at Portishead Quay. At forty-seven pounds a night it ought to be posh. When Tom told Leigh the cost (double that of most marinas) she exclaimed, ‘Is dinner included at that price?’ Yelp!
Woofs, Martha xx
Saturday 15 July
Portishead to Bristol via Avonmouth
Oh. My. Goodness. We had a rather turbulent, yet exhilarating, windandsprayinyourface sort of crossing today. I loved it!
Leaving Portishead, pilot-less, around nine-thirty this morning, Tom was intent on keeping an eye on a little cruiser (apparently Narrow Boaters refer to them as ‘yoghurt-pots’) which – we knew from a conversation with the owners last night – had a pilot. Now, you may wonder why Tom had made the decision to go-it-alone, when this small cruiser were choosing not to…so I’ll explain. On the cruiser were a guy and his wife. Her first trip on the boat was only yesterday; the man was more experienced and confident to do the much-smaller crossing, but she insisted they booked a pilot. Leigh is less risk-averse and a bitofadaredevil, Tom is pretty experienced and a very good helmsman so…
The locks that take you to and from the channel are pretty huge and get you mentally prepared for a big change but when you get out there, into the open water, you realise what a big change from rivers and canals it is.
I find it totally awesome and breathtaking and life-affirming. You know you are alive as your breath in the air, take in the big views and the only thing you can smell is….pure joy. No trees to read, no lampposts to guide you…just freedom.
As we crossed the weather started to turn; the wind really got up and some of the waves were pretty fierce. Tom kept control of the boat, but at one stage even he was a little concerned. Watching the bow of the boat wave from side-to-side was rather exciting – I guess many people would use a different adjective but, for Leigh and I, exciting fits! It was a very different weather from from yesterday’s and Tom was right when he summed it up as, ‘It’s typical for us to have a pilot on a calm day and not today’. That’s life eh?
Old salty sea dogs like me, Rosie and Leigh just live for days like today. Yelp!
As we cruised into Bristol, we heard shouting and looked up to see two of Leigh’s ex-work colleagues from her Pampered Chef days. Leigh was super-excited to see them. Through the wonderful ‘keep-in-touch’ social media site that is FaceBook, Kate and Rachel (plus husbands) had let Leigh know (only about an hour earlier) that they were in Bristol. It was too much of a coincidence to let the opportunity pass, so Leigh and Tom joined Rachel, Pete, Kate and Steve for lunch. They then came back to admire Very Pinook (and me and Rosie). The three women had a wonderful catch up and were just thrilled to have been able to meet up. The men found plenty to chat about; we did think Pete might have stowed away – he so loves narrowboats!
Woofs, Martha X
PS Leigh actually steered on the open waters today…she said, ‘There’s not a lot of chance of me crashing into another boat so I’m quite happy to steer!!’