Novice Sailing On The Bristol Channel

Living on a sailing boat (in a project boat state); I was in a constant battle with ongoing maintenance. Annoyingly, you generally only learn about the maintenance involved in a boat through the experience of having one, and this can be a costly way to learn.  As things crumble around you, you either can either afford to pay someone else or blow the cobwebs off your toolbox and get your hands dirty. You learn how to fix things through friends, neighbours and let’s face it, most of the time these days, through Youtube! However, trapped in the eternal circle of cleaning, repairing and general maintenance, it’s easy to forget what boats were even built for. That is, for sailing!

Learning to sail has been something I’d personally been putting off for many years. As it turns out, just because you live on a boat doesn’t mean you can circumnavigate the world, and contrary to popular belief; having a long beard and talking like a pirate does not help either!  In fact, as someone once told me; most sailors will only ever sail leisurely in their local area. I was recently told a story about a man who owned a sailboat with all the technology in the world, yet had no knowledge of how to use it. What I found even more interesting is he had owned the boat for nearly 10 years and still didn’t know how to sail!  It’s easy to see how someone owning a sailboat as a home may never learn to sail, but I now that I’ve had a chance to get out on the water I realise what some liveaboards are missing out on!

I have booked sailing lessons over the years which have all been cancelled due to high winds and the occasional offer of trips out always fell on times that I’d be working.  I even planned a journey in my Hurley 22 from Brighton to Bristol, but couldn’t find anyone experienced and mad enough to do the journey with me! A few people in the pub post-pint had been up for the journey but come the next day when I began to make plans, suddenly they’re confidence dwindled!

Luckily, I recently found someone who was up for showing me the ropes, a guy named Captain Bod. He recently renovated his Achilles 24; adding an extension to the cabin roof. Like marmite, this was a modification that fans of the Achilles sailing boat either love or hate because it strays too far from the classic design. However, it’s all love from me! Built like a brick shithouse this extension allows the ability to stand up, something the designer of the Achilles 24 was quoted to have always wished he had accounted for!

I would never advise going out in any tidal waters, especially one as unforgiving as the Bristol channel, without someone who is experienced. However, with the right crew, you can get a quick insight into why the sea is such an unforgiving environment.  If anything, learning to sail in such hazardous conditions will give you a deep respect for the sea, as it did for me!

To get an early start sailing,  we needed to leave at 5.30am. The boat sits in the Bristol mud/sludge meaning we would need to leave at high tide. I decided to sleep on the boat the night before. My wonderful host picked that night to invite me to watch a documentary on the Bristol channel flood of 1607; rumoured to of been a tsunami (bastard!) Naturally, I slept like a baby, constantly waking up and screaming in fear of the 400-year due tsunami!e set sail on a Monday beginning our journey to Cardiff from bristol via the Steep Holm Island and many other beautiful sites. After 10 hours of sailing in what we believe

We set sail on a Monday to begin our journey to Cardiff from Bristol via the Steep Holm Island and many other beautiful sites. After 10 hours of sailing in what we believe may have been force 6 winds, it was fair to say that I was chucked in the deep end!  I have always seen pictures of boats heeled over but didn’t realise at the time what I was getting myself in for.  It was a mixture of fear and enjoyment so mostly terrified laughter! At the time, I kept having memories of someone who once said they had sailed the channel and seen large metal buoys being pulled under by the current! I realised they weren’t lying; the tide is ferocious!  Regardless, I was in good hands, the Captain is a confident sailor and knew the layout of the lands and waters.

Some hours into our journey, it was choppy as hell,  but luckily we were presented with a constant wind to keep us en route. On channel 16 we heard that there was someone in a canal boat who required assistance, too out of our range to go help. I could only imagine how horrible it would be to be in a canal boat on the sea that day!

We arrived in Cardiff safe and sound and being the classy gentlemen that we are, had us some awful Weatherspoons burgers caked in sauce before crashing out for the evening.  This wasn’t until after I’d dragged captain Bod around Cardiff bay in a kayak of course!

The next day we set off approaching midday and boy was the weather strange. It started off sunny and completely still with no wind, then it progressed into large dark thunder clouds with hail and snow. Strangest of all was the next to no wind followed by dramatic squalls. Suddenly the boat would heel over with the water almost rushing over the cockpit as we picked up great speeds. We aimed for the gaps in the clouds and with that found a more steady wind that eventually got us back to Bristol.

One thing that has really stuck with me is how I have been over-reliant on motors; sailing allows you to always a have a backup plan. On a power cruiser, if you’re engine fails, you’re heading for the rocks fast so unless you have an auxiliary motor to hand it’s not going to be pretty. All in all the journey was one I’ll never forget and one that has also got me thinking about what my next boat will be. I’ll certainly never cross the Severn bridge without gazing over the waters and wondering what the conditions are like, and perhaps its changed the way i’ll rennovate boats?


2 thoughts on “Novice Sailing On The Bristol Channel”

  1. Hi I’m really interested to find out some more information on the build of the coach roof extension/dog house. Would you mind emailing me for a chat or maybe there is a link to captain Bods build? Many thanks Tam

    1. Hello Tamlame, thanks for getting in touch. Bod is your man to talk to about the extension, I’m pretty sure it was built with plywood and then laminated with fibreglass, epoxy and a topcoat, but he will go into more detail with you I’m sure. I know he’s sailing to Newport today and bad weather(he loves it) so hell most likely be back on Monday.
      I’ll pass your email on too him. 🙂

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