5thSeptember.  The days are starting to gain an autumnal chill, especially at 7am which is the time we were getting ready to cast off from our pontoon at the friendly and helpful Penarth marina, located in the impressive old harbour. We went out through the Cardiff Bay barrage at 0730. That’s an hour and a half after low tide. As the water drained out of the lock, the depth fell from 21m to 10m and we felt we were at the bottom of a cavern. Creeping out to sea through the channel we were left with less than a metre under the keel, with mud banks on either side.  We were glad to have judged the timing right, heading towards Bristol on the rising tide.

Exiting the lock at Cardiff

The passage to the mouth of the Avon is only about 20 miles and we could see the Severn bridge in the distance and the Somerset shore to the south. The deep channel for shipping becomes quite narrow at times and we were careful to keep out of it – but not too far, as there are sand banks and shallows to the side. The tide runs fast, almost four knots at one point which added up to 10 knots over the ground, so we made good time. We crossed the shipping channel off Portishead (from Denny Shoal to Firefly buoy), crabbing our way across as the tide swept us eastwards. The entry to the Avon was disconcerting for Nova’s crew: to avoid the shallow mud banks on the edge of the Swash channel you are advised to head straight for the south pier off Avonmouth docks, getting very close (“a long boathook length away” according to the guidance on visitmyharbour.com – a small exaggeration for effect perhaps, but many yachts have apparently ended up on the mud by cutting the corner). The skipper rather enjoyed the impact on the crew, before turning sharply right at the last minute and heading up the channel, following the leading marks. “That was easy compared with Hull” he commented, referring to the tide that sweeps across the entrance to Hull marina and requires a similar technique. Once in the river, calm was restored and we were able to sail very gently under gennaker for most of the 7 or so miles up to Bristol.

The river winds its way past wooded banks and little creeks (“pills”) full of moored boats – although many were still sitting on the mud waiting for the tide to rise.  Nearer to Bristol, steep cliffs rise above the river and the splendid Clifton Suspension bridge comes into sight, high above the river.

Our stowaway Bob came on deck to see the Clifton Suspension bridge

It was designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel who won a competition to design and new bridge and building started in the 1830s.  It wasn’t completed until 1864 (after Brunel’s death) when Sir John Hawkshaw revised the design and restarted building work, using the chains from the Hungerford suspension bridge in London which was being demolished.  We were intrigued to discover that Hawkshaw was also the engineer responsible for building the impressively long breakwater at Holyhead, which had sheltered us from strong winds a few days previously.

Nova in the centre of Bristol

Once through the lock we waited for two road bridges to be opened for us, then we were into Bristol’s famous floating harbour. We tied up by the harbourmaster’s office to register arrival and then made our way to the pontoon outside the Arnolfini gallery in the centre of Bristol.  Ferries and trip boats were buzzing around, buskers were playing music, and people were enjoying a drink on the harbourside. We could see across the water to the historic boats moored outside the M-Shed museum and we felt we had arrived at the heart of this vibrant city.

  • Distance: 25nm Cardiff to Bristol. Sailed 3h motored 1h
  • Wind: NW3-4


On our passage ‘Around These Islands’ Anne is writing about each trip, and Jonathan is writing some more ‘technical’ blogs, from our perspective as ordinary cruising sailors. We are sharing what we’ve learned, and welcome your thoughts too. Please remember that this blog – and your comments – are public.

There’s also a special focus on 12 key ports on our planned route, with articles from These Islands and a series of podcasts from Chrome Media called ‘Around These Islands in 12 Ports’.


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