Home Waters Fair Flows The Tide
Yachting Monthly|April 2021
Jonty Pearce tries to get his timings right as he crosses the lower Bristol Channel from South Wales to North Devon
Jonty Pearce
When we arrived at Lundy’s anchorage the sea was smooth and the evening sun warm as we settled in the cockpit for a rewarding sundowner. The island’s bay was well sheltered from the westerly breeze and the anchor had dug in well. We made our plans for a morning expedition ashore and relaxed to admire the view. All was well with the world, and we turned in contentedly anticipating a peaceful night’s sleep. How things can change with the turn of a tide! We were woken by the clashing of pans, cutlery, and plates as our Southerly 105 Aurial began rocking violently from side to side. Having failed to block out the cacophony of unwanted sound I accepted that I’d have to take action. Emerging from the comfortable cocoon of my bunk I went on deck. The horizon was bouncing up and down and the stars pirouetted wildly around the anchor light as the masthead swooped from side to side. This would not do at all. The incoming tide sweeping past the south of the island was now bringing in a swell that swung Aurial away from lying head to wind; the waves, albeit small, were abeam with a cadence guaranteed to make her roll her guts out. I pondered our options. The motion was too great to ignore, and leaving Lundy in the middle of the night with the flood tide whipping up the island’s races unwise. I wished I’d equipped Aurial with a flopper stopper, and decided that pushing out the boom with a bucket of water or even the dinghy tied to the end might put unwanted strain on the rigging. After some thought, I adjusted the angle of the anchor cable with a spring brought back to a cockpit winch. Once all was rigged, the pull brought the stern more into line with the swell while the light wind came on to the beam. Aurial’s wild motion eased and the world became calm again. I retreated contentedly to the warmth and comfort of my bunk. For us, Lundy has been renamed ‘Lumpy’.

CALM SEAS, BIG TIDES

Our cruise started at Dale, tucked into the mouth of the Milford Haven waterway. While tidal timings do not limit access to the Haven, the passage eastwards past Linney Head and St Govan’s Head is subject to currents of up to 4 knots; trying to sail against such an adverse flow is somewhat frustrating. Wise sailors time their departure to coincide with the flood tide as it sweeps up the Bristol Channel to Gloucester and the River Severn. Indeed, the tidal range of the Bristol Channel is the second highest in the world; Dale’s peak range is over 7.5m while Avonmouth’s can exceed 14m. It is not only the tide that can hamper eastward progress; the Castlemartin Firing Range is generally active during the week, and the exclusion zone can extend 12 miles offshore, though the detour can be as little as three miles. When in use, Range Control boats are on patrol to busily shepherd intruders to safety.

For the Friday of our trip the update line (on 01646 662367) told us that the range was inactive. We enjoyed reaching in a gentle southwesterly from St Ann’s Head to Linney Head, where we were careful to give the inconveniently placed Crow Rock a wide berth; drying at 5.5m, this ship-killer is usefully marked by a beacon. The flood tide gave us a swift passage past the cliffs, and we managed to spot St Govan’s lonely chapel in its hidden cleft in the rocks before rounding St Govan’s Head. We elected to stop for coffee and a walk at Broad Haven, a delightful anchorage and beach midway between St Govan’s Head and Stackpole Head with direct foot access to Bosherton’s Lily Ponds. The bay was well sheltered and the waters round Church Rock calm. After stretching our legs on the picturesque network of paths round the Lily Ponds we continued our passage towards Tenby.

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