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U3A Writing: That Treasure Called Denny

"On a Spring day when the weather was forecast fair we set sail in the Curlew from St. Pierre Pill to land on Denny Island so the kids could see the seagulls nesting and maybe some seagull chicks.'' Eric Taylor goes sailing in the Severn estuary.

Looking downstream from almost anywhere below the second bridge, to Redwick, the small island apparently near Bristol, is called Denny Island. in fact it is a good distance from Bristol and the deep water channel flows between the island and Avonmouth.

On a Spring day when the weather was forecast fair we set sail in the Curlew from St. Pierre Pill to land on Denny Island so the kids could see the seagulls nesting and maybe some seagull chicks. There were two adults experienced in the Severn estuary and two young lads who had been sailing before. Our boat for the journey was a bilge keel, sailing cabin cruiser, called a Lysander of about 18 feet in length with a small outboard engine ( Seagull ) as auxiliary power.

We sailed down the Shoots with the tide, moving at an astonishing speed and were soon off Avonmouth. The deep water channel to Denny at low tide requires an approach from the South West so we had to sail past the island to come back up strewn and find a safe anchorage. We anchored safely some 30 feet ( 10 metres ) from the dry land. The plastic dinghy was pumped up and we made our way ashore. Recognising the strength of the current in these parts, we had fastened a rope from the cruiser to the dinghy, pulled the dinghy well ashore and weighed it down with some nearby stones.

As we explored the island many of the gulls took offence and proceeded to mob us but our attention was drawn to the many nests and the gull chicks moving around in the undergrowth. The island is very small and in no time we had explored and seen all there was to see. Back to the dinghy! Where is the dinghy? 1 can see it floating behind the cruiser on that long rope and the tide has come in very quickly. Not only has it come in very quickly it is now roaring around the island and our boat is getting further out. Decision time.

Getting out to our boat would be dangerous in such a fierce current and if you were swept past the next stopping place would probably be Chepstow. It was decided that one of the adults wearing a lifejacket would enter the water well upstream of our anchorage, swim out into the current and be washed down onto Curlew, grab the boat and climb aboard. If he misses the boat he should be able to grab the rope and work his way up into the stem of our sturdy craft. There could only be one attempt at this plan and failure could lead to disaster.

The swimmer went in, he was washed up onto the boat but the raging current made climbing in a major undertaking but it was accomplished. Now to stall the engine and pull up the anchor.

A clutch was a refinement too many for the Seagull, start the engine and let it run forward. Following this procedure, move rapidly to the bow of the boat to pull up the anchor. The engine started, the boat moved forward but the anchor could not be lifted. Stop the engine, try to lift the anchor, no use it would not budge. Thinks, tie a float to the anchor warp, release the anchor start the engine and pick up the crew. Anchor released with float, engine starts, boat moves forward and fouls the anchor warp, the engine stops and cannot be started until the shear pin has been replaced and the tide is still roaring. Boat is picking up speed, to be dashed on the rocks? No! Our hero dashes into the cabin and pulls out an extra large canoe paddle, paddles the cruiser into slack water in the lee of the island, the crew re-embark. Repair the engine, recover the anchor and sail peacefully back to our anchorage.

Another mundane sail on the Severn estuary, it seems that they are all the same.


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