• It was quite something to see 40 boats altogether as a family team that had obviously all bonded.
  • … the conditions were superb, making this cruise an amazing first-time experience.

Gary Workman tells the story of 40 RIBs and small boats that conquered the second highest tides on the planet to help raise funds for Macmillan Cancer Support.

It all started with a suggestion from a forum on Facebook and the idea just magnified. A few people came together and started to organise a trip on the dangerous waters of the Severn Estuary. As soon as the idea was put out there, the response was huge and every minute there was another person who wanted to join. So, from a small group, suddenly there were over 1500 members, and although not all were able to take part, the enthusiasm and support of the group for this trip were phenomenal. The group designed their own burgees and there was a constant buzz on Facebook.

So the plan was that everyone was to meet at Bristol on Saturday 6th June, get together on the Saturday night and lock out on the Sunday. At the suggestion of Bristol Cruising Club (BCC), it was decided that a BBQ with entertainment should be arranged on the Sabrina, which is the Bristol Cruising Club clubhouse. The group was soon being offered donations for the Saturday night in the way of prizes from companies, and the Bristol Harbour Authority offered free parking, free licences and free lock-in. Thinking that it would be a good idea to have a guest speaker on the Saturday, contact was immediately made with world powerboat and sailing record holder Alan Priddy, who had no hesitation in agreeing to take part in this fund-raising event.

On Friday evening, 5th June, some of the boats arrived and the BCC made everyone welcome, and by the Saturday, RIBs and boats of all sizes were there. Parties of volunteers were at the slipways to meet the members and help them off their trailers into the water, and all moored up alongside Sabrina. By Saturday afternoon things were really coming together, the club was open and the BBQ was getting set up. Already the atmosphere among people who had never met was rather like a family get-together.

The mere sight of so many RIBs and small boats stretching halfway across the water from the special pontoon alongside the BCC’s Sabrina was attracting the attention of the public, who could not wait to take photographs of everything going on. A safety briefing was given first at the BCC, and a safety boat was provided by Kevin Green, an SARA member.

Soon the party was in full swing, the atmosphere was growing by the minute, and the raffle and auction, together with the guest speaker, began raising money for Macmillan. A target was set of £1,000, which was thought not to be an easy task. The party continued through the evening, with people chatting and telling boating stories alongside the live entertainment provided by the BCC, before focusing their excitement on the day ahead, and then heading back to their hotels in anticipation of what was yet to come the following day.

The plan was to set out in two groups – one for those who wanted to go via both bridges on the Severn and another for those who wanted to head straight for Portishead and meet up there with the first group.

At 08.45 the first set of boats left Bristol Lock to ride down the River Avon, passing under the Clifton Suspension Bridge. The weather was perfect and spirits very high.

Having left Avonmouth, about 15 RIBs hit the tide, which pushed the boats along with an extra 8 knots behind them. The sea was flat calm and they passed under the bridges. With most of the members never having cruised on these waters, their awareness of the confused water and whirlpools showed that all had done their homework, but the conditions were superb, making this cruise an amazing first-time experience.

Once under the bridge there was a hard turn to port taking into account the tide push, forcing the boats sideways. They headed into what is known as Slime Road, which, despite its name, is a lovely place to stop and admire the scenery without anchoring. The boats waited here for the tide to change before heading back to meet up with the second group on their outbound journey towards Penarth and across to Wales into Cardiff Bay.

It was quite something to see 40 boats altogether as a family team that had obviously all bonded. The sun was now high, and it was the hottest day of the year.

As the boats approached the Welsh side, for a couple of miles the sea became a bit lumpy and messy, and gave the hard boats a bit of a bashing for a while, but everyone stayed close and worked as a family team.

The boats entered Cardiff Bay through the magnificent lock to their arranged mooring and, with the help of the harbour master, moored safely up. It was then off to find some refreshments and talk about the experience, everyone staying together in this group, excitedly sharing photos, email addresses and phone numbers.

At 17.00 it was time to leave, with everyone clearly having had a wonderful time. Some had to fuel up before heading into the lock, which for the first time was completely full of RIBs from one end to another. The boats slowly dropped the 40ft into the basin, amid the clicking of cameras and a barrage of jokes and laughter. Then the enormous gates opened to reveal the huge mudbanks ahead. Boats waiting to enter the bay must have been expecting a small number of boats to exit, but they just kept coming and coming.

With time to spare, it was decided to visit Flat Holm Island. The boats hovered around in the sunshine for a while, then started the 18-mile journey back to Bristol, which was enormous fun for everyone because it decided to chop up a little as they neared the halfway point.

On arriving safely off Avonmouth it was decided to take the opportunity for a photo shoot, and all the boats lined up with the Macmillan flag for a photo depicting this unique family group of new-found friends as a memento of a truly wonderful weekend.

Sincere thanks go to the following for their crucial contributions to this extraordinary event: Bristol Docks for free navigation and facilities; Bristol Marina Limited for the launching facilities; Michael Hall and the Bristol Cruising Club; Jo Hall, BBQ chef and food; Garth Lock for the photography; LGS for the auction prizes; Servoca Secure Solutions for the security of the boats; and Alan Priddy, the guest speaker.

Having thought that £1,000 would be an extremely difficult target to reach, the amount raised for Macmillan Cancer Support was £2,500 … and the collecting continues.

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