Cruising the Bristol Channel: Exploring Britain’s finest grand gulf

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Peter Cumberlidge shares the secrets of this vast and glittering cruising ground, home to some of the richest vistas and most fascinating boltholes in Britain

Bristol Channel boaters

cruising-bristol-channel-boat-owners-jake-kath-scott-credit-peter-cumberlidgeJake & Kath Scott

Boat: Celtic North, Sealine F42/5
Berth: Portishead Quays Marina

Jake runs Portishead’s Compass Sea School and Kath is their chief instructor. They are also RNLI crew members, but get away in their boat as often as possible with their labrador Izzy. Celtic North’s 435hp D6 Volvos give an easy 25 knots and a maximum 32 knots.

Jake pointed out two lunchtime anchorages near Portishead – Ladye Bay on the Somerset shore, north of Clevedon Pier, and Slime Road up the estuary beyond the old Severn bridge (“don’t worry about the name,” he says, “it’s a grand spot”).

Cruising westwards, Jake and Kath often head straight for Swansea, leaving Portishead before high water to catch the River Tawe lock on the same tide. They like the Grape and Olive restaurant, at the top of the 29-storey Meridian Tower. Jake told me Swansea is the ‘Blue Line’ for the Bristol Channel, where the sea becomes more enticing. Then they might press on for Ireland.

cruising-bristol-channel-boat-owners-mike-susan-kenny-credit-peter-cumberlidgeMike & Susan Kenny

Boat: Triton, Neptune 36 Classic
Berth: Penarth Quays Marina, Cardiff

Originally yacht owners, the Kennys bought Triton after Mike had back trouble and she proved ideal for the Bristol Channel. Her two 150hp Cummins 4BTs give 7-8 knots on 3gph and she’ll do 10-11 knots if needed. Mike describes her as “a tough seaboat and a comfortable country cottage!”

On Friday afternoons, Mike and Susan often head for Portishead, an easy 17 miles in most weathers. Then they might go up to Bristol, which has good waterside bistros. They like Watchet if the tide suits, a very friendly harbour Mike says, even if you sit in soft mud near low water. Remember to turn off all your seacocks first. They enjoy weekends in Swansea and are fans of Porthcawl, where they are one of the larger boats. The entrance is narrow, Mike told me, but you just have to line up and go for it, regardless of fishermen on the piers.

cruising-bristol-channel-boat-owners-gavin-dawn-smith-credit-peter-cumberlidgeGavin & Dawn Smith

Boat: Big Blue, Sea Ray 310
Berth: Penarth Quays Marina, Cardiff

Gavin and Dawn live 40 minutes from the marina and make full use of Big Blue, whose two D4.2 MerCruiser diesels give 35 knots thirsty top speed and an easy 21-23 knots. Portishead is their regular quick jaunt, leaving Cardiff two hours before HW. Watchet is handy too, and Penarth boats often go over there for flotilla weekends. Big Blue ventures inland as well as down-Channel, sometimes zipping up to Sharpness and following the canal up to Gloucester docks.

Gavin and Dawn enjoy visiting Swansea Bay, and from there Saundersfoot is a favourite stop – it was Gavin who told me about its new pontoons.

From Milford Haven, Big Blue has ‘gone foreign’ to Kilmore Quay on Ireland’s south-east corner, an amiable harbour about four hours from St Ann’s Head at 20 knots. They chose their weather carefully, but this was a bold jump across quite a lonely sea area.

cruising-bristol-channel-boat-owners-jenny-denton-brenda-steventon-credit-peter-cumberlidgeJenny Denton & Brenda Steventon

Boat: Zenith, Trader 445
Berth: Swansea Marina

‘Jen and Bren’ are experienced Bristol Channel hands. In the 1990s, their Corvette 32 was based in Stourport up the Severn and they took her down-Channel every season. Because they enjoyed these waters so much, Jen and Bren eventually moved to Swansea Marina and changed the Corvette for a Trader 41. In 2006 they bought Zenith, a Trader 445 Signature.

From Swansea, Jen and Bren got to know the Gower anchorages, especially Oxwich and Pwlldu (Black Pool in Welsh), a secluded pebble beach east of Pwlldu Head. Occasionally they “popped over to Ilfracombe for an ice cream.” Further west, they love the bays in Milford Haven and going out to Skomer. Padstow is a favourite, sometimes via Lundy.

I met Jen and Bren when they kindly bought one of my books at a signing session. Their enthusiasm for the Channel continued and, as Jen remarked, “It has taught us our craft well.”

cruising-bristol-channel-boat-owners-phillip-callan-gail-latham-credit-peter-cumberlidgePhilip Callan & Gail Latham

Boat: Sea Dream, Fairline Targa 31
Berth: Neyland Yacht Haven

Philip and Gail live near Worcester, three hours’ drive from Neyland. They bought Sea Dream in Portsmouth Harbour, where the previous owner offered them his berth for the rest of the season. Philip and Gail looked at each other, gazed around at the number of boats whizzing about and politely declined. Sea Dream was soon aboard a low-loader heading for West Wales.

Philip says Milford Haven is perfect for the kind of boating they enjoy. Neyland is a peaceful spot and the Haven has sheltered anchorages in virtually any winds. On summer hols, Sea Dream has cruised up-Channel to Tenby, Swansea, Cardiff and Watchet.

But on quiet weekends she usually turns west around St Ann’s Head towards Skomer Island: “South Haven is a slice of paradise and we often have it to ourselves.” Philip is a qualified diver and the clear waters here are magical to explore.

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