Out onto the Severn
On the Sunday morning at 7.00. I was back in Sharpness for the next stage of our trip. With me were John and my youngest son, Adam.
The barges were locked out and, the moment we were clear of the outer lock gates, Peter put the helm hard a’port. It looked for all the world, as though he intended to ram the southern pier but at the last minute, he whirled the Nancy’s wheel and put the helm hard a’starboard. Her bows swept round, almost touching the stonework, Peter gunned the engine and we surged forward. The reason for his seemingly erratic manoeuvres soon became apparent. As we cleared the southern pier, the surging tide caught us and we were carried rapidly sideways and upstream. In no time at all, we had been swept across the basin and, as the barges steadied and started to make headway, the stern of the Glevum missed the north pier by about three feet. I imagined the situation if we’d had a less experienced skipper than Peter, then quickly decided to think of something else.
Our trip down to Avonmouth was entirely uneventful, a soft mist robbed the scene of colour and contrast but did not impair visibility too much for safety.
There was no wind and the water was a featureless stretch of grey, almost unbroken save for our wake.
Even in the Shoots, there was no sign of the turbulence that boils and bubbles through that dangerous, narrow channel in the rocks on an ebb tide. A few weeks previously, it had been a very different scene. On that occasion, as we had passed down through the Shoots on a rapidly falling tide, the whole hull of the lighter I was on, was twisting in the turbulence. The channel had resembled white water rapids, or would have done if the Severn were ever white. But today, there was scarcely a ripple.
The huge lock, into Royal the Edward Dock, at Avonmouth, was quite exciting, the barges were dwarfed by the enormous capacity of the lock. It was built to accommodate the largest of cargo and passenger ships but our barges were the only vessels to lock in on that tide. As the great sluices filled the lock, the barges bobbed around like corks and it was something of a relief when the lock was filled and the turbulence subsided.
Nancy and Glevum chugged through the docks, tiny against the massive cargo vessels that lined the quays, they looked like, and were, something from the pages of history.
After mooring up securely, we had a welcome cuppa. Peter and Bob, his engineer, reminisced of the days when you could cross from one side of the dock to the other on the decks of the barges and lighters. Today, Nancy and Glevum were the only barges to be seen.
To be continued.
Next post 12th July