Day 26, Thursday 21st June 2018, Summer Solstice and the day we sailed up the River Avon to the very heart of Bristol, and the story of “Barney Rubble”……

We were all impressed with Portishead Quays Marina… very well organised, quiet, peaceful, and so so clean and tidy. Showers were a bit iffy…. wonderfully shiny clean but the hot and cold controls in two of the three Gents showers needed clear notices…. far too hot on the settings, T had to try the third smallest after nearly being scalded. Rarely seen that sort of problem in marina showers before.

We had a good nights rest… very quiet on the pontoons. Margaret had  now joined Poli Poli crew the previous evening. T… despite the control problem had two showers, one on arrival and one just before departure…. needed after the three days of consecutive sailing up from Lands End.

We departed Portishead in the 11.30am lock out ( which we had to book the night before )… our plan was to sail up the River Avon to Bristol City Centre and moor up at Bristol Marina.

In order to achieve this we had to plan with the timings of the last lock in to what is called Bristol’s “floating harbour”. The deadline we had to work to was to reach the outer lock of the Cumberland Basin by 2.15pm . Our departure time of 11.30am also coincided with an up channel flood tide. So  in the short 2 n.miles we had of open water in the Bristol Channel… we had the tide with us, This is extremely important and the reasons were explained in the previous day’s sailing up from Ilfracombe. The Bristol Channel has some of the greatest tidal ranges in the world and because of this it also has some of the fastest tidal streams in the world.

We locked out with a fine example of a Bowman sailing yacht plus a modern plastic looking fishing boat. Once beyond the big breakwater wall, the northerly wind smacked us on the face, and the muddy brown waters of the Bristol Channel carried us swiftly upstream. M had taken her Spanish pill ( or pills plural )… but we were only out in open water for no more than half an hour.

Now skipper T had the advantage of studying the charts on the morning of departure…however, as we sought out the entrance to the mighty River Avon, there were silent aspersions cast as to T’s skills as a navigator. Both Mike and Margaret saw a continuous line of mud flats,,, but T insisted there was an opening which represented the so called  River Avon.

The reality was that the entrance was backed by mud banks which made it look continuous, but the river snaked left and T held his ground. He could hear two sets of “breath being held”. T held his nerve, confident this was the Avon and the way to Bristol. It was… and our crew relaxed.

The very first bridge over the Avon on our 8 n.mile journey into Bristol is the M4 … the Avonmouth Bridge. Another factor the navigator on water has to take into account is the boat’s air draft ( height from the waterline to the top of the mast ). Poli Poli’s air draft is 18 metres. The air draft given on the Admiralty chart of the Avonmouth Bridge is 29 metres. ….. so on paper Poli Poli should pass safely beneath clearing it by some 10 metres.

But the equation does not end there…. we were going up the River Avon on a flood tide… a rising tide… and now the height of the tide has to be taken into account the moment or the time you pass under the bridge. We were about two and a bit hours off high tide and the gap, as we passed underneath looked a lot less than 10 metres. So no dismasting but a little bit of angst as we watched to VHF aerial on top of our mast clear the underside of the bridge.

A muddy brown river is the Avon, some quite tight bends, and Mike helmed Poli Poli just right of centre as we proceeded up the channel. We met a training rib coming the other way, a canal narrow boat and a long tourist glass roofed narrow boat…. where the happy ladies all waved to us with big smiles. The riverside scenery was both serene, peaceful and very green… plentiful wooded areas interspersed with fields and copses. A railway line followed the course of the river…. M thought she heard a steam train? Not confirmed.

We came upon a huge craggy rock on the port side…. black in colour and towering over the river. The chart indicated we had reached “Black Rock ” and at this point we were required to check in with the Bristol Harbour Master’s control…. so we radioed in on Channel 12… City Docks Radio VHF stating our position and planned destination.

Before we arrived in the first lock… we passed under the magnificent Clifton Suspension Bridge…. where air draft did not matter … the chart said air draft of the bridge was 71 metres… so no problem. A wonderful experience seeing the bridge high above and passing through the Avon Gorge.

Had to concentrate now on what lay ahead. The channel split… the left hand showing stone walls and at the far end closed tidal gates. To the right was the natural course of the River Avon. So we turned across the flood tide and into the lock… where Margaret spied a man waving a rope at us. We manouvered gently along this high wall, grasped the offered rope and sent up our mooring lines this way. After a lot of throwing lines upwards…. the drop was about 25 feet… we got three lines tied onto Poli Poli.

The wind we had experienced outside the lock earlier on at Portishead had not abated and blew strongly down the lock. We had high fenders out on our starboard side but still had to keep fending Poli Poli off the stone wall  with boat hooks as the north wind blew in.

We had the impression that we were there for about 20 minutes as we had been told by the lock guys that they were waiting for a sailing yacht called “Pickle”. The 20 minutes became forty, Pickle finally arrived, then the large lengthy tourist boat we had passed earlier ( the tourist ladies did not seem to be smiling anymore! ), then a black rib… and the wait on the wall became 40 minutes and then over an hour.

In conversation with one of the lock gentlemen… a guy from the Harbour Master’s Office… who asked us for our destination. We informed him “Bristol Marina” where we had booked a stay of four nights on a visitors berth.

Well this set off a long train of events that were to play out for the rest of the afternoon and evening. Roland… the Harbour Master guy informed us that he did not think Bristol Marina should be accepting private bookings from visitors. He would look into the matter… he was like a dog with bone… and would not drop the issue.

We responded that Bristol Marina appeared in all the national sailing almanacs and pilot books …. and these national organisations such as the Cruising Association and Reeds would not have entries in their almanacs and sailing guides which were not legit.

Anyway, the lock gates finally closed about 2.30pm… the lock filled up and from way down below, we were raised so that we could see the landscape above. Now we waited for the big swing bridge to swing… called the Plimsoll Bridge and nothing to do with the fore runner of training shoes… but with Samuel Plimsoll… a famous Bristolian who came up with a clever idea of how to stop dastardly criminal ship owners overloading their ships and risking the lives of the crew… the famous Plimsoll Line which was painted on the hull of every ship by the Merchant Shipping Act of 1876.

The Plimsoll Bridge duly swung…. and we entered a large dock called Cumberland Basin where we had to hold station whilst a second swing bridge was opened…. but not before the one we had just passed through…. was closed. Both of these bridges carried major roads and there was obviously an attempt to minimise disruption to traffic. We had to wait another 20 or so minutes holding the boats position in the Cumberland Basin with a strong north wind blowing. We did it.

Finally the second swing bridge opened and we motored out into the long stretch of river-like water called the “floating harbour”. In 1809, 80 acres of tidal river… the original course of the River Avon was impounded to allow visiting ships to remain afloat all the time ie blocked off at each end and entry by one lock at one end only. Over the next two centuries the “floating harbour” section grew as a busy commercial port until it closed in 1975. Since then, there has been an enormous effort to regenerate the area for leisure, commerce and residence. Same sort of story as the London Docklands.

We exited the Cumberland Basin and motored along the channel to Bristol Marina. Boy oh boy what a disappointment…. a very small, packed marina… lots of narrow boats on the pontoons… and very poor access and turning space to actually find our allocated berth.

Despite numerous radio and  telephone calls for assistance in locating our berth … with none forth coming, we made two failed attempts to get in…. we abandoned our planned stay here… and retreated to a berth alongside the shore of the main channel where we had a team discussion as to what our options were. Mike and I actually got off Poli Poli and walked to the Bristol Marina to eyeball the berths and turning areas. We were very disappointed with what we found… so we returned to the boat to take stock.

Just as we got back on Poli Poli… up popped our friendly Harbour Master Roland… who just happened to be passing by in a big black rib marked Harbour Master in giant letters along the sides. He now wished to inspect all the almanac entries that depicted Bristol Marina as having visitors berths. He duly took photos with his phone of Reeds, the Cruising Association Almanac plus the Bristol Channel Pilot guide given to me by my kind sister Bridget and brother in law, Richard.  Reeds clearly states “Bristol Marina…5 visitor berths.”

However, our hearts were no longer in defending Bristol Marina. Roland clearly was going to do the investigation. We now needed a place to park Poli Poli.

Guess what…. up popped our friendly Harbour Master… he had a number of visitor berths in various parts of the City Centre. He would go off in his black rib, check out one or two… and phone us back if there were spaces.

Sure enough after a 20 minute wait, we got the phone call. We motored off down the “floating harbour” passing the SS Great Britain on our way, a pirate ship. a pop concert venue on the riverside where there was to be a show on Friday and Saturday night, to a stretch of water known as the Arnolfini…. and lo and behold there was a proper pontoon, cleats and shore power under the trees with a security gate… right in the heart of the City….there also was “Pickle”. The green boat in the right hand pic below.



And who was on the pontoon ready to take our lines…. our friend now, Roland the Harbour Master man… conducting an investigation into visitor berths at Bristol Marina. We shook hands and Mike gave him a tenner to put in the Harbour Master’s Christmas drink fund. Slaps on the back all round. It had  all started in the lock!!!

And here we are right now…. in the very heart of the City of Bristol.


Poli Poli safely moored up in the centre of Bristol, just below Pero’s Bridge, next to the Arnolfini building and opposite the old Llloyds Wharf…. now a Weatherspoons. Good for a full English.

The photo below… Margaret in the cockpit and the view out of the cockpit tent at the stern. Hundreds of people…. mainly Bristol uni students we thought gathered here in the sunshine.



On a river ferry crossing the next day, a young guy with blonde dreadlocks … in charge of the ferry…. told me that Roland’s nick name was “Barney Rubble” up and down the river…. and no doubt in a few pubs too. Quite a character by all accounts…. more of that later.IMG_5855 1

Poli Poli in the heart of Bristol on the “floating harbour” opposite Weatherspoons. IMG_5860

Poli Poli moored in Bristol City Centre… below Pero’s Bridge …. the two horns!


So Isaac loves Shana… every modern bridge in a major city gets adorned with “love” padlocks. There must be 10,000 on Pero’s Bridge in Bristol. No wonder Robert Dyas is still flourishing… although I did recognise a few from Wilko’s. On the Millenium Bridge in London, the “wibbly wobbly” from Saint Paul’s across to the Tate Modern… used be as above, but Southwark council remove them now.


The two horns of Nero’s Bridge in Bristol…. the tallest mast the other side of the bridge is Poli Poli.



Poli Poli in Bristol… by Saturday evening every space on this pontoon was full up!


Poli Poli next to the Arnolfini Centre….. arty culture place. Mainly for Guardian readers… ooops a prejudice has slipped out!

Hey folks…. have just craked this photo thing… loading pics from i-phone onto Windows 10 photo app… then getting them to move to One Drive…. then finding them to load onto the blog…. what a pain.

So if you are interested there are now pics of Padstow, Ilfracombe sitting on the mud, and Portishead. Please scroll back.

2 thoughts on “Day 26, Thursday 21st June 2018, Summer Solstice and the day we sailed up the River Avon to the very heart of Bristol, and the story of “Barney Rubble”……

  1. Hi Toby,
    Enjoying your log very much. Hats off to Margaret for going out in the Bristol Channel! Very brave. And you didn’t even have to lash her to the mast!
    I thought you had a shower on board? Enjoy the concert in Bristol. Sound travels well over water at that volume. No 9.00pm bedtime for all of you!
    Tip a nod to Llantwit Major as you sail past. Land of the Price forefathers going back to the 11th century according to the headstones in the grave yard. Weather forecast looks to be set fair for you. Enjoy it while it lasts!


  2. Hi Simon …thanks for message..yes we have two showers on board Poli Poli ..but had a problem with the water pump fixed . M is currently washing her hair on the me? Well laundry day sitting in the posh YHA cafe..can use the very good YHA laundry room. YHA … hats off to them …still going strong long after my YHA school trips to the Wye Valley in the 1980’s. Bunk beds, communal washing and dormitories!! Hope Sue and family are well ..folk are talking of a 10 day heat wave! Have you got an e-mail plus phone no for Hew Lloyd stop Cardiff on Tuesday. All the best Simon…Toby.


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