Gironde 45 11.83N, 00 44.59W

Saro's Gyda
Derrick Thorrington
Thu 19 May 2011 08:49

Royan/Gironde Estuary, Biscay

We are now on the threshold of becoming full blown seafarers again having metamorphosised from a barge and back into a sailing yacht a few days ago.

We thoroughly enjoyed the rest of the Canal Lateral du Garonne, especially the ancient town of Moissac with it’s superb Romanesque abbey and world renowned cloisters, and the many unspoilt villages en route. There were herons and little bitterns to keep our attention as well as the ever present swallows, house martins and swifts darting over the water.

Moissac Cloisters

The very last lock of the canal into the Garonne looked rather daunting at 10 meters deep but was operated by a very friendly and considerate keeper who let us down gently as our longest lines were not long enough to secure to the bollards as we dropped!

The exit onto the Garonne River

The Garonne here was deep, wide and rural lined with fishing huts on high stilts to cope with the Spring floods.

Fishing huts

As we headed for Bordeaux the current increased. We throttled back as we were trying to time our arrival at the pontoon downstream of the city for slack water. We still bowled along at 7.5knots however which was particularly scary when we “shot the rapids” through one of the 16 narrow arches of the Pont de Pierre, the limit of navigation for masted boats. There was nowhere to stop in Bordeaux, high quays, no pontoons and a vicious tide, so we headed for a small pontoon further on where we braved the night in preparation for the next ebb the following morning.

The next stop was Pauillac. There are only 4 hours of ebb on this river and due to the strength of the current, navigation is only really possible by travelling with the flow, hence the various stages of the journey. Pauillac is where we planned to have our masts stepped having heard of it’s good reputation several times. We arrived too early again. The distance was 25M but it took only 3 hours and our log recorded only 19M. The rest was the effects of the tide. At one point we were motoring at 3.5 and the GPS was registering 8.5 over the ground! It was impossible to enter the narrow tight bend of the harbour so we hitched on to a convenient buoy to wait.

Note the bow wave!

As you have seen, the water here is chocolate brown. Once safely in, our berth was very shallow but although we were on the bottom at low tide, it wasn’t a problem as we just sank down into the muddy ooze.

Can you spot where the mud ends and the water begins?

The masts were put back into the boat with the minimum of fuss. To celebrate our arrival back into the Atlantic we were given a voucher by the mast team which when presented to the Tourist office was exchanged for a bottle of the local wine! We spent the rest of that day and the next making the masts secure and sorting out the sails, ropes etc, as well as giving GF a thorough clean.

Pauillac is in the centre of the Medoc area and as we sailed down the estuary to Royan we passed many Chateaus surrounded by acres of rolling vineyards. The water changed from chocolate to good old Solent grey/green, much more pleasant.

Leaving Pauillac

Royan is a very new town having been severely bombed in WW2, but has been rebuilt with plenty of space and greenery. We were not sure about the exterior of the 1970’s concrete cathedral, but it redeemed itself by the huge amount of modern stained glass lighting up the interior.

Tomorrow we plan to head north, exploring the offlying islands as we go.