Day 25, Wednesday 20th June, 2018. Ilfracombe to Portishead ( Bristol ). A race against time and tide in the Bristol Channel.

Ilfracombe…. T was first up at 5am to gaze down on the surrounding mud… Poli Poli was well and truly aground…. sitting on her grounding plate, keel up inside and balancing on her two rudders and the skeg underneath the propeller. Mike came up a little later… somewhat amazed at what Poli Poli had done during the course of the night. As the tide went out, Poli Poli simply went down and down… until a gentle bump and a bit of creaking… she rested gently on the mud.


Photo above… Poli Poli on the mud in Ilfracombe. Waiting for the tide to come in.

We needed at least one metre of tide to lift us off… and we had calculated that this depth would appear around 9am. We had set ourselves a very challenging target today of 50 n.miles from Ilfracombe to Portishead, near Bristol. Challenging in the sense that sailing in the Bristol Channel is all about tides…. and not necessarily tidal heights…. but the speed at which the tide can flow with you or against you.

Planning to sail in the Bristol Channel… first work out what times you will be there, which direction you are moving in…. and most importantly, check whether the tide is with you ( a fair tide ), against you ( a foul tide ) or across you ( a beam tide ). The objective is to always sail with the tide coming behind you, helping you towards your destination. Usually if you time it right, you can plan for six hours fair tide.

So we planned to leave at 9am and benefit from at least six hours of fair tide as we moved up the Bristol Channel. And boy we certainly got it! As the wind was again directly over the stern, and the swell was rolling us from side to side… we did our best with all sails up ( with a preventer on the main ) and I am afraid, the engine on…. best speed achieved with this set up and a fair tide behind us was a massive 11.3 knots per hour. Why?

Well we had to make Portishead Marina last lock in was 5.15pm … which meant we had to do the 50 or so n.miles in 8 hours…. and in the last couple of hours we expected the tide to become seriously “foul”.

During the first few hours of the passage…the 11 knots became 9, then 8 and 7… and as we approached the narrowing of the Bristol Channel… we were finally down to 6 knots….punching a down channel, ebb tide. We had enjoyed a huge boost with the early flood tide up the Bristol Channel but the last couple of hours was hard going as we punched the ebb. Beyond Weston -Super -Mare the sea had been a steely blue colour, once we had entered the approaches to Bristol, it turned a muddy brown colour…. one supposed the outpourings of silt from from the River Severn?

We had enjoyed fair weather in the middle part of the passage… but early afternoon turned murky and grey…. and very windy too…. up to 24 knots from the north west by now. So an uncomfortable last couple of hours as we punched our way up river to the lock gates at Portishead. The tide was by now, seriously foul.

A long harbour stone wall projects out into the Bristol Channel… and this signals the end of the howling wind and brown coloured buffeting waves. Once round the end of the harbour wall … well peace and quiet and tranquility descends…. Mike sorted our the fenders and mooring lines, I spoke to a lady in the marina office… who had a North American accent ( turned out to be Canadian )… about Poli Poli’s entry into the massive lock showing three vertical red lights at this stage…. and there was Margaret standing high above on the great breakwater wall. We waved…. nothing in return … M was taking photos on her phone!


Photo above…Poli Poli…. Mike in the big, big lock at Portishead, waters tumbling in to raise us up to the marina level.

Now Portishead is the complete opposite of both Padstow and a million miles apart from Ilfracombe. An old Bristol dock, gentrified and in the likeness of Sovereign Harbour, Eastbourne, clean, smart, well laid out, and a Waitrose and lots of eateries. We were pleased to pass out of the huge sea lock and moor up on Pontoon G17.


Poli Poli safely moored up in Portishead Quays Marina near Bristol.  Margaret waving… so sooooo excited at joing the Circumnavigation…. for a little while at least!

We had made the 5.15pm deadline by over 2 hours. We docked at 3.30pm… the race against time and tide was over. We won’t always win, but today Poli Poli did.

Total distance 53.6 n.miles, duration 6 and three quarters hours,

We had sailed for 3 consecutive days and had travelled 179.3 n.miles, with sails of 65.5, 60.2 and 53,6 n. miles each day. We had reached Bristol.

596.8 n.miles from Eastbourne… over half way to our first thousand! It is not a race!


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