Trip on a yacht starting 2011-06-26 in BSA-extraJuly11

Severn sailing, June 26 - July 7 2011 – report by Jock Playle

We are all used to sailing on the south coast, with few tidal restrictions for either entering port or making progress – exceptions maybe are entering the River Yealm, crossing Salcombe Bar, or rounding Start Point. I’ve just spent 12 days in the Severn Estuary, between Portishead and Milford Haven, and it was a learning experience. We were on a friend’s Moody 36 with a crew of 4. For several years the boat, now based at Portishead, was berthed at Plymouth, and our sailing was to the Channel Isles and Brittany.

The first leg was an easy one, the 20 nM from PortisheadMap to Cardiff. We left at 1400 on Sunday June 26, two hours before HW on a neap tide, and locked into Cardiff BayMap at 1800. Next day we went to Swansea, 46 nM. HW was at 0415 so we left early at 0545, giving us 4½ hours of fair tide, and reached Swansea at 1400. HW was at 1620 and the Tawe lock operates HW +/- 4½ . So far so good.

We now wanted to go to Milford Haven, 55 nM so we needed all the tide we could get. BUT the Tawe lock is operated by the city council who work office hours, and the earliest lock opening is 0700. To get an extra hour’s tide we stayed another day in Swansea, leaving on Wed 29th at 0700 1½ hours after HW. Ideally we would have liked to have left an hour earlier. All went well at first, we were making 6K due W at the West Helwick buoy when we were rudely interrupted by a radio call from Manorbier Range “vessel heading W at 6K in position 51°30’ N, 04°24’ W” – i.e. us. We were courteously asked to divert NW to Caldey Island – this seemed to be quite a good idea as the RAF were firing surface to air missiles out to sea. So we ended up later than expected motoring into 20K of W wind and a foul tide, to enter Milford marina at 2110. The lock took ¾ hour – it is huge, and fills painfully slowly, so slowly that, apart from 2 hours free flow there are only 3 entries and exits in 8 hours of operation.

Our original plan had been to go to Waterford in S. Ireland. We had left a day later than planned because the weather on Saturday had been foul, we now had unfavourable W winds, and as the Tall Ships Race was starting from Waterford the harbour was closed to other craft – not even landing was permitted. Instead, we decided to spend a couple of days exploring the Milford Haven harbour – a cruising ground in its own right. The final nail in the Ireland coffin was when our throttle cable broke as we were leaving Milford marina, and we lost another day for it to be replaced. So we went upriver to the delightful spot of Neyland marina, and had a day cruising the whole area from Lawrenny in the east to Dale Bay in the west.

We timed our departure from Neyland to give us a fair tide down to the entrance and then clear St Govan’s Head before the worst of the foul tide. However, shortly after clearing the entrance and sailing well, we were intercepted by the Castlemartin Range safety boat who, again very courteously, gave us a southerly course to steer to avoid the army firing tanks out to sea. By the time we were allowed to go east again the foul spring tide was at its peak. We eventually reached Swansea at 9.20 that night.

With the weather forecast to steadily worsen we pressed on the next day to Cardiff, again clearing the Tawe lock at its first 0700 opening. Instead of the forecasr SW wind we had a SE on the nose, and had to motor-sail into wind and tide – and what a tide, 4K off Nash Point – we covered 3 miles in 3 hours. The trouble is that if you are using Swansea as a stopover you have no option. On these passages of 45 – 55 miles you meet some foul tide and as each one involves a large south facing headland with a tide race (Nash Point, St Govan’s Head etc.) there isn’t the option of staying far out at sea to avoid it. However we were glad that we had chosen to press on to Cardiff that day. The 9 pm weather report from Mumbles was southerly severe gale F9. We were safely in Penarth marina at 6.30.

The final day was perfect. We covered the 20 miles to Portishead in 2½ hours, thanks to a 20K SW wind and several K of tide – and this was with the genoa only.

You can see from all this that sailing the Severn is very different from the south coast. We learned a lot and we now think that the best way to go west from Portishead to Milford Haven is to use one ebb tide to go to Cardiff, stop there overnight, then sail from Cardiff on the next day’s ebb tide direct to Milford Haven with an overnight passage to arrive there on the following day’s ebb tide. This has two advantages – the passage uses three favourable and just one foul tide, and by missing out Swansea you avoid the tide race round the headlands as well as reducing the overall distance by 15 miles. Cardiff to Milford Haven is 86 nM so it will take about 17 hours which is three tides – obviously better to have two with you and one against. Via Swansea each of the two stages of 46 and 55 miles has to include an adverse tide most times (you could just do the 46 miles from Cardiff to Swansea on one ebb tide at springs – provided the Swansea lock times are suitable).

This hasn’t been the usual BSA sailing report with details of delicious meals on board, meals out and pubs visited – there were of course all of these. It is an account of lessons learned in a new sailing area, and how to do better next time. Ireland next year perhaps – watch this space.

Portishead  51.4906,-2.7592
Weather at EGGD   9 kts from South 24.0C, 1020mb Partly Cloudy
Cardiff Bay  51.4466,-3.1662
Weather at EGFF   6 kts from SSE 24.0C, 1017mb Partly Cloudy