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Stourport to Bristol is it possible?


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Hi all you good folk.

we are relitivly new to boating, we have a 58ft liveaboard in lock down at Kinver, but when all this covid has passed we would like to do the Kennet and Avon via the Seven and then back up the Oxford passing Banbury. We are aware that we can join the Seven at Stourport but not sure if it is possible/sensible to cruise all the way down to Bristol. We would love to hear from anybody who have done it or .could give us some advice.

thanks in anticipation.

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Definitely it's possible and it's a wonderful trip, but you really really really need to take a pilot from Sharpness to Bristol. It's over 16 years since we went, you can see our account of the trip here.

 

 

 

 

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We've done it too - you can see our account here

As Allan states, a pilot is sensible unless travelling in close convoy with boats that have a pilot aboard - also be warned, the pilot will expect you to make the trip at maximum RPM which is why in our case, the 22 miles to Portishead took less than three hours and some of that was waiting for the lock! The second leg into Bristol was quite choppy until we made the safety of the river into Bristol.

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We've done it, many have, and I can't think of more than 1 narrowboat that came unstuck, think it might have struck a buoy but you do need to be sure about the engine and stuff. The shaft coupling on Bee failed in Bath, it was a clamp coupling that had been used before and the thing was worn. Think the clamp element cost £12 to replace but if it had failed above the Severn bridges it would have been dangerous, no anchor will hold in that current. Clean fuel and check the nuts and bolts. You will overnight in Portishead marina and get the incoming tide up to Bristol and probably by yourself .Definitely take a pilot and bring lots of biscuits, the pilot ate all ours and we couldn't deduct the cost from his fee.

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As others have said, not a journey to do on your own.  However, with a bit of planning, the right weather and a pilot it is a safe enough trip and lots of folks have done it.  We did it with 3 other boats in 1996.

The planning involves getting the boat in the right state.  Engine serviced, Fuel polished, filters all clean- the pilots want evidence of this I believe,  Damn good anchor, plenty of chain, lots of rope warp as well. Towing rope handy, just in case.  It gets bloody lumpy under the motorway bridges!  Personal gear like lifejackets serviced, radio batteries in good nick and charged,  coffee and tea jars full etc.  A chart of the estuary is handy, so you can relate where you are to the rest of the world, and some good binos for spotting the various marks the pilot will use to navigate by. We also borrowed a life raft, because we could.

Then you need to wait for the weather and the tides.  The pilot will decide when weather is good enough and the tides need to be timed so that you can get from Sharpness to Portishead in daylight and then from Portishead to Cumberland basin, Bristol in daylight.  We waited about a month at Sharpness, then got the most glorious July summer day.  8/8 blue, gentle breeze, pleasantly warm, high tide Sharpness at 0730. 

 

The tides mean  you have to wait out a low water somewhere.  Most people use Portishead marina  though we anchored at Pill in the Avon, just above the M5 bridge, as Portishead marina was not then open.  The pilot gets off at Avonmouth or Portishead so you are on your own  up the Avon.

You need to let Bristol harbour know you are coming, and be prepared to pay.  Bristol Harbour charge like a wounded rhinoceros. You may meet outgoing traffic in the Avon, under Clifton bridge usually, but the dock master will tell you if there is something biggish coming.

 

Not an easy trip, but very very enjoyable and well worth it.

 

N

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11 hours ago, Busterboy said:

we are relitivly new to boating, we have a 58ft liveaboard in lock down at Kinver,

Being relatively new to the boating world you may not have come across the term 'fuel polishing' - this doesn't mean get out your tin of polish and a duster, it has a specific meaning to ensure your fuel is clean (and rust, bug and water free) and involves having the fuel pumped out of the boat through a filter, then pumped either back into the boat or into containers, the fuel is then pumped out again and goes thru a 'finer' filter, then the process is repeated once or twice more with ever 'finer' filters depending on the state of the fuel.

 

Whenever going on 'lumpy water' (ie off canals) it is advisable to have the fuel 'polished' as the rough water will shake the boat about and disturb all the crud and rust in the bottom of the tank, this WILL make its way into the filters, block them and your engine WILL stop,

 

Your planned route has the largest tide variation in the world with corresponding flow rates, being in a steel tube with no engine is not conducive to a long life.

 

River Severn & Bristol Channel Tides (severn-boating.co.uk)

 

Timing is critical with Spring tides running at 8 knots (9mph) and your boat only managing (probably) 5 or 6 mph you end up going backwards

It is certianly not advisable (and probably would result in voiding your insurance) if you went without a Pilot.

Edited by Alan de Enfield
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To the above I'd add make sure that your fuel tank is full to the brim to minimise the risk of stirring up sediment, tape over orifices like well deck drains, cratch cover on if possible to stop water getting into the well deck, VHF radio and know how to use it. You'll need long mooring lines for Sharpness and Bristol.

 

Your insurer may have an opinion and want an extra premium.

 

Have we put you off yet?

Edited by Onewheeler
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Don't cover deck drains (scuppers) they're there for a reason. I did the trip from Bristol to Portishead on my own in 2013, waited for the next tide and picked up a pilot from Portishead for the two and a half trip up to Sharpness. I taped up the bottom of the bow doors and the low level vents at the bow with duct tape but I left the scuppers free. If waves break over the bow and you don't have a cratch cover you want the water to be able to escape otherwise it will accumulate and flood the boat. Whatever gets in through the scuppers will similarly drain out by itself.

Edited by blackrose
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3 minutes ago, sueb said:

Do make sure you have an empty toilet before you start. This is applicable to all rivers.  Something we never remembered before we started.

 

Are you referring to possible sloshing action, or do you find the river trips scary? :D

 

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58 minutes ago, blackrose said:

Don't cover deck drains (scuppers) they're there for a reason. I did the trip from Bristol to Portishead on my own in 2013, waited for the next tide and picked up a pilot from Portishead for the two and a half trip up to Sharpness. I taped up the bottom of the bow doors and the low level vents at the bow with duct tape but I left the scuppers free. If waves break over the bow and you don't have a cratch cover you want the water to be able to escape otherwise it will accumulate and flood the boat. Whatever gets in through the scuppers will similarly drain out by itself.

Although I have a cratch cover, I've always put tape over the outside of the drain holes for rough water, reasoning that if water gets in over the top, it will push the tape off.

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33 minutes ago, Onewheeler said:

Although I have a cratch cover, I've always put tape over the outside of the drain holes for rough water, reasoning that if water gets in over the top, it will push the tape off.

So what's the point of the tape if it's going to get pushed off by a bit of water? 

 

I'm sorry, you can do whatever you want on your boat, but telling someone inexperienced to tape over their deck drains is just bad advice. You don't know how they're going to do it and it could end up sinking their boat. Nothing should obstruct those scuppers.

 

 

Edited by blackrose
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My checklist included putting a rubber bung into the airvent hole of the holding tank, as it is in the side of the boat at a height which can occasionally be reached by a big wave.

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I would suggest getting to know your boat very well, and acquire more experience yourself, before thinking of attempting this.

 

Many narrowboats spend most (all?) of their time on canals where their engines, gearboxes, cooling systems etc. are not tested to any extent; and when faced with a strong river current more than a few cannot cope.  It is best to find out if this applies to your boat (or you) long before exiting the lock at Sharpness (or, to be honest, leaving Gloucester lock for a passage to Tewkesbury).  There are several lengths of the non-tidal Severn (north of Tewkesbury) that allow for extended periods of high-speed engine running upstream.  Having done this, do the trip down to Gloucester and back a few times.

 

Any engine/propulsion failure out in the estuary is immediately a very serious, potentially life-threatening situation.

 

There is a lot of good guidance in the Gloucester Harbour link above and elsewhere.  It is essential to take a pilot as others have advised above.

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Back in the late 90s i was driving car transporters out of Sharpness dock, the company had a large storage compound next to the lock. Talking to the staff there one night whilst watching the vicious swirling of the tide coming in i was told the story of a guy turning up at the lock making a passage to Bristol in a narrowboat. Story goes that when asked what navigation he was using [chosen not to pay for pilot] he waved a road atlas at them and insisted he knew what he was doing so they let him through. A couple of hours later a cargo ship coming up from Bristol called the docks and said there is a guy clinging onto a marker buoy in the river and could they send rescue. He was rescued and his boat was recovered after 3 days, all windows gone and totally full of mud after about 10 tides had gone through it. Moral of the story, always use a pilot.

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On 11/01/2021 at 08:40, Sea Dog said:

Its definitely possible as attested above.

Would it be a good idea for you do it as a novice? No. I don't think so.

Would I do it in my narrowboat, being reasonably experienced, having been trained to handle a powerboat in heavy seas? No, I wouldn't, because the boat is unsuitable.

Others think differently though and quite a few do it. Good luck to them - and to you, should you join them. :)

 

Do you think it's unwise in a narrowboat even if you have a pilot (and are following all the other advice and have all the recommended accoutrement)?
 

I'd really like to make a sea or estuary passage one day, mainly to make a "ring" where no inland waterways ring exists. Perhaps the Severn as per the OP or perhaps between the rivers of the Wash. Is there a sea or estuary passage that is perhaps more accessible for a narrowboat than others? I like some adventure but I don't want to take any really crazy risks :)

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45 minutes ago, jetzi said:

Do you think it's unwise in a narrowboat even if you have a pilot (and are following all the other advice and have all the recommended accoutrement)?
 

I'd really like to make a sea or estuary passage one day, mainly to make a "ring" where no inland waterways ring exists. Perhaps the Severn as per the OP or perhaps between the rivers of the Wash. Is there a sea or estuary passage that is perhaps more accessible for a narrowboat than others? I like some adventure but I don't want to take any really crazy risks :)

It all depends what the boat was designed to do. Our boat was designed to cruise on the River Severn as well as on other inland waterways so our trip down the Severn Estuary was an acceptable risk. Would we do it again?

Probably not!

We experienced an injection pump failure on the River Thames in 2006 that stopped the engine until we could fit a replacement, if that had happened in salty water we would have needed a lifeboat or a salvage tug. The inland rivers can be pretty dangerous but there is some comfort in being close enough to the sides and bottom to facilitate use of the pole or get ashore with a rope. The prospect of being swept out of the Severn Estuary with nothing in the way until one hits the coast of Venezuela can be a tad daunting . . .

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We see a few narrowboats each year in Portishead marina but having chatted to a local pilot in the pub one night he thought narrowboaters were mad to do the journey.

 

 

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8 minutes ago, NB Alnwick said:

It all depends what the boat was designed to do. Our boat was designed to cruise on the River Severn as well as on other inland waterways so our trip down the Severn Estuary was an acceptable risk.

Is it a narrowboat that has been designed for rougher conditions than normal?

 

6 minutes ago, Rob-M said:

We see a few narrowboats each year in Portishead marina but having chatted to a local pilot in the pub one night he thought narrowboaters were mad to do the journey.

 

 

I would have thought that the pilots must think it is OK, I mean they are pilots after all?! Or do they think narrowboaters are mad to do it without a pilot?

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11 minutes ago, Rob-M said:

We see a few narrowboats each year in Portishead marina but having chatted to a local pilot in the pub one night he thought narrowboaters were mad to do the journey.

 

 

But what does that say about the pilots who take them

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1 hour ago, jetzi said:

Do you think it's unwise in a narrowboat even if you have a pilot (and are following all the other advice and have all the recommended accoutrement)?
 

I'd really like to make a sea or estuary passage one day, mainly to make a "ring" where no inland waterways ring exists. Perhaps the Severn as per the OP or perhaps between the rivers of the Wash. Is there a sea or estuary passage that is perhaps more accessible for a narrowboat than others? I like some adventure but I don't want to take any really crazy risks :)

it is not mad to be adventurous. With full and proper preparation a narrowboat is capable of withstanding surprisingly rough waters. Yes, an engine failure would render you helpless, just as it would do on a cabin cruiser or a luxury yacht (or even an ocean liner, did anybody mention the Titanic?). We have also rescued several boats that were in peril on the rivers because they didn't prepare properly, but I have total confidence in our ability to cope with adverse seas or flooded rivers. I would however advise any novice to stick to canals or gentle rivers or to take a pilot or more experienced boater when appropriate. 

 

As I posted earlier we have crossed from Sharpness to Bristol; we thoroughly enjoyed the trip and would happily do it again. Our 2020 plan was to cross the Wash, preferably detouring to explore the other rivers there, and we had been contemplating crossing from Liverpool to Ellesmere Port in 2021 - the current situation has made us rethink our timings but not our ambitions! 

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