Log #35k To Bordeaux

August 1, 2005 in Log Series 30-39, Logs by Series, Series 35 France, The Logs

Port Garonne, Bordeaux, France

Aug. 1, 2005

Hi Folks,

We are still here in Begles just outside of Bordeaux for a second week as we wait for repairs to our quadrant and installation of our new autopilot. We hope to be on our way within a week, as the Bay of Biscay starts to get stormy towards the end of August. Bordeaux is a beautiful city about which I will write in my next log. Being tied alongside a floating pontoon in a tidal river where the currents can be 5 knots one way, then 5 knots the other, each 6 hours or so is disconcerting. Ironically the tidal current is greater going upstream than downstream. However, we are OK and looking forward to more touring of this beautiful area while our steering system is being installed.

Once we leave here, we will go on a falling tide down to Paulliac where we will have the mast put back, go on the scrubbing posts and install our new propeller and put on new bottom paint; then up to Royan at the mouth of the Gironde before heading out into the Bay of Biscay for the Spanish coast. I will probably be starting a new log series at that time about our Atlantic adventures.

All the best,



Log #35k To Bordeaux

Port Garonne, Bordeaux, France

July 28, 2005

From Grisolles (PK 26), we left our mud-embedded mooring at 0700, to travel the 14 km to the next lock so as to arrive at 0900, opening time. It takes roughly 10 to 12 minutes per lock if there are no problems, even if there is a second boat. This was not to be our day. By 1230 we had completed another 14 km and 8 locks; however in Ecluse St. Martin, our 9th lock, things started to go wrong. The lock gates were open, and in we went at 1228. The gates closed, then everything stopped. The automatic lock was closed for the 1230 to 1330 lunch break with us inside it! So we spent a hot noon hour lunch stop in this sunbaked lock, until we were finally released at the bottom at 1345!

As we exited, a barge was upbound about 400 metres away, in mid-channel. We thought the captain would stay to the left (his right), and so we hugged the right bank. He then veered over to the right bank also. We grounded a bit and had to wiggle ourselves off before he reached us. He was going to a landing stage on the right bank. After passing this barge, we noticed another barge further down on the right bank. It was a dredge. OK, we would give it lots of room, and we veered over towards the left of mid-channel. Then we saw it had a cable stretched right across the canal! We sounded our air horn to let him know of our presence and came to a full stop to try to figure out what he was going to do. Stopping in mid-channel is difficult as the minimal current and wind can drift Veleda into the bank, and backing up a sailboat is always a challenge, especially at low speeds as the rudder does not have enough water moving past it to steer the boat. However we backed to a small landing stage on the left bank, hoping to have enough depth to go alongside, but sliding into the mud while 3 feet off the dock. David took a risky jump ashore with a bow line to secure us while we watched to see what the barge was doing. At first we thought it was going to lower the wire and ask us to sail over it. Then we were aware it had disconnected the wire from shore and was going alongside the right bank. A worker then waved us through.

OK, but we had to get off the mud. David was on board and had cast off our bow line, but we were solidly stuck. We rocked the boat, tried full ahead and full astern, all to no avail. David was able to shove off our bow a bit, and I hoped we could twist our way out. No luck. David then, using the long heavy wind generator aluminum pole, tried pushing our stern off. He straddled the lifelines beside the dodger and heaved for all he was worth. Veleda rocked a bit; just enough, not to free herself from the mud, but to cause David’s pole to slip and to throw him off balance. He took a bad fall into the water, bruising his legs as he went over the lifeline. There was no current and I immediately put the engine into neutral. I’m not sure if David didn’t hit the landing stage as well. We got him back onboard, shaken and wet, with a bruised calf and a small cut on his right ear. Then — the barge had a workboat come over to tow us off. Once free we were able to go around the dredge and on through the next lock to tie up safely (without grounding) at a large halte with water, electricity, and showers at Castelsarracin by 1500 for minimal cost.

There were several other English speaking boats alongside. The town itself was dead. It was an attractive enough place, but mid-week nothing was open, and there were few people around. David had phoned back to Toronto and found out a close friend was in the hospital, seriously ill. Being quite upset by this he felt he should cut his holiday with us short to get back to his friend, and other concerns he had. We fretted over when and from where he could depart. When we went over town for supper, nothing was open. We asked at a hotel bar for a taxi as we knew a restaurant just outside of town was open. After two frustrating phone calls, we could not even locate a taxi. A small pizza restaurant was all that was available. Oh well, a bad day all around.

Next morning we tried the internet at the local library to find out about flights from Paris so David could change his tickets, and found one for Sunday afternoon. OK, we checked at the local train station, to find there was an early morning high speed train from Bordeaux to Paris, and an even earlier morning train from Agen to Bordeaux. Today was Wednesday, and we would have no problem getting to Agen by Saturday for him to catch the early train Sunday morning.

We left at 1110 and were able to get through 4 locks in 5 km before the lunch stop at an ecluse (lock) bordered by fields of bright yellow sunflowers, their round green-fringed faces all turned towards the canal (and the sun), stretching like a golden tide to the hills on the horizon. We did another 3 locks and 4 km to moor alongside (not grounded for a change), across the channel from the halte in Moissac at PK 64. It was a lovely spot in an enjoyable town with its 11th century cloistered abbey, the church of St Pierre, the cobblestone streets, the narrow lanes radiating off the market square, and the wide parks and plaza on the other side of the canal facing the River Tarn. There were even people around. That evening we went to a jazz concert held in the cloister, a large ensemble of 5 vocalists and 10 instrumentalists playing swing and be-bop jazz. The quadrangle of the cloister was ringed on all four sides with ornate Romanesque arches (about 120 by my count) with intricate scroll work and images on each pillar. The lawn had a 400 year old pine tree as its sole decoration. The setting was exquisite, the music moving and nostalgic, with such songs as one of my favourites, originally by Julie London, “Cry Me A River”, some “Switched on Bach”, and the whimsical vocals of “Java Jive” (I like coffee, I like tea).

Next day was July 14th, Bastille Day. There was a ceremony at the war memorial and an open air concert in the main town square in the evening. David treated us to a lovely meal in the church square. We didn’t bother listening to much of the concert as it was mostly loud rock music.

In the morning Judy went back the short distance to the last lock at 0900, and made arrangements for the Port Tornant (turning bridge) to open for us. We made good distance that day, travelling 40 km through 8 locks to moor alongside Boe Halte, just outside Agen. We had no problems in our transit other than the usual grounding on the mud for lunch. We did notice a couple of engine problems. Several times in the canal the engine water intake would get blocked by debris, and we would have to take the dinghy foot pump to blow the blockage clear. When we started losing power at one point we realized there was air in the fuel line, and had to bleed the second Racor fuel filter. We have had this problem intermittently for a year or more and have not been able to trace where the air gets in. Another problem was that I noticed the alternator was not charging our batteries. A loose wire to our smart regulator was the culprit.

(I am still happy with the smart charger, a combination of an Alpha regulator and an Echo charger allowing longer full output of our 100 amp heavy duty alternator to charge the batteries faster before reducing to a moderate charge and then a trickle charge rate. I can put 85 amps back into the batteries in one hour at a fast idle when at anchor. Solar panels or the wind generator cannot match that. This is one of the reasons I am not unhappy about our wind generator staying off.)

Boe Halte is a pleasant park site with water, electricity, showers and an information office. The cost was a minimal 2 Euros a night, with extra for electricity and showers. The claim to fame of the area is prunes. There was even a prune museum near town we could have explored. Instead David took us out to one of the best restaurants we have been to so far. Unknown to us, this was to be our last meal out with him. We arrived in Agen next morning, going past the halte there as it was next to a busy road, and we wanted to get closer to the train station. The stretch in front of the train station was also beside a busy road, bur we secured there for the accessibility to the station and to the city. After lunch, we went to the train station to get David’s tickets for next day to Paris. Murphy’s Law, that early train to Bordeaux does not run on Sundays, so David caught the afternoon train and stayed in Bordeaux overnight and then caught the morning train to Paris (at least that train from Bordeaux ran on Sundays). After he left we wandered up the main street, looked in a couple of churches and decided to move on rather than stay alongside that busy road for the night.

Judy and I did another 3 locks and 12 km before nudging into the mud at the halte at Serignac. Now that we didn’t have David aboard, Judy had to do all the shore jumping and scrambling down the slimy ladders after the lower gates opened at each lock. We managed OK. We have been fortunate in this transit from the Med to Bordeaux that we have had crew to help us through the locks most of the time. We have only had about six days of locking through on our own. Thanks Tony and Annie, and David. The halte at Serignac, other than not enough depth for us, was very nice. It had a solid wood landing with free mooring, water and electricity. There was no office or attendant, and it was a short walk into the pleasant but closed up town.

We traveled 23 km through 3 locks before stopping at an halte in Damazan for lunch. We wandered through this most attractive traditional French town, with its Mairie a raised half-timbered building in the middle of the large town square. It was a sleepy old rural town with no one around until we returned to the canal road, when we saw many people, all of a sudden, getting ready for a bicycle rally. After another 16 km and 3 locks we stopped for the night at Le Mas-d’Agenais, another pretty, quiet town all closed up on a Sunday evening; even Monday we could not find a butcher’s shop open. We were able to get some vegetables though.

Next day was to be our last day travelling in the canals, and it was beset with a few complications. We got off at 0900 and were through our first lock by 0910. Having done 4 locks and 25 km before lunch, we stopped at the small sleepy agricultural town of Hure. During lunch it rained for a few minutes, but had stopped before we set off for the afternoon. Shortly after departing we noted on our GPS that we were moving from the Eastern Hemisphere back into the Western Hemisphere as we crossed the Prime Meridian. Then it started to rain again, and just as we were coming into the first lock it really poured; we were in a full fledged thunderstorm, with torrents of rain, thunder, and lightning. This couldn’t have started while we were tied up for lunch; oh no, it had to wait until we were approaching the lock. We got into the lock in a full downpour, then the power went off! Stuck again in a lock! However we were there for only 20 minutes until the gates opened and we were off again.

Getting towards late afternoon, we went off the canal into a small bay where there was a marina, Fontet Halte, part of a large park setup. We grounded on one side, then when we tried to go alongside a small finger dock we scratched the bow a bit, as it was not a floating wooden one but was on a solid concrete piling and had steel corners. Aaarrgghhh! We didn’t stay.

Back into the canal, we cleared Ecluse Fontet and headed towards the second-last lock, Ecluse Bassanne, in our day’s plans. We were waved down and helped alongside the bank by a French lady who said Ecluse Bassanne was broken and might not be fixed for a couple of hours. However it was only a ten minute wait until we saw the lights come back on and we entered the lock. We shared this lock with the French power boat, whose crew served as a shore party to open the lock gates after our descent. After clearing the next Ecluse Mazerac, the last before the final set at Castets-en-Dorthe leading into the Garonne River, both of us went alongside at Castets-en-Dorthe, as we had to make arrangements to go through the final two locks. We heard the locks were broken and we could not exit next day, which was fine with us as it was my birthday and we wanted a relaxed day alongside. This final day under way in the canals saw us do 8 locks and 40 kilometres through two thunderstorms and two lock breakdowns.

We had a quiet day next day for my birthday, with a few pleasant gifts from Judy, going into town for some groceries and making arrangements to exit the locks next day at 0900 into the Garonne River. That evening we had to shift our mooring to clear the pontoon landing, as a large 68 metre long hotel peniche was arriving for the night. The Garonne is tidal even above this point, and to get the 25 miles (51 km) downstream to Bordeaux, we had to go at high tide or on the falling (ebb) tide. Next day the French power boat was leaving earlier than our original plan, at 0745, and so we joined them, surprised that the lock would open before 0900. The first of the two locks was a 3.3 metres drop and the last 5.5 metres, at about one hour before high tide, to get us into the flowing Garonne River. Goodbye to the quiet canals, we were now in the currents of a major tidal river heading for Bordeaux. The tide was still flooding upstream when we entered the river, as our speed was only 4.2 knots at cruising revs of 2500 rpm at 0910. We left our revs at that level and watched the speed increase as the ebb tide current increased. By 0945 our speed was up to 6.3 knots and by the time we passed Cadillac the speed was 7.4 knots. Incidentally, Cadillac is the town after which the General Motors luxury car, the Cadillac, is named, except in French the double “L” is pronounced as a “Y”. We noted it also has a solid pontoon halte that we could have gone alongside. However, on we went to moor at Port Garonne in Begles, a suburb of Bordeaux, a pontoon marina which we approached after passing and then going upstream for a more controlled approach inside the outer pontoon. We were in Bordeaux (44˚ 47.93N, 000˚ 31.63W).

Now the problems and delays started in installing our new below deck Raymarine ST6001 Smart Pilot which I bought at Holland Marine in Toronto. More about Bordeaux, the wine areas and the installation problems in my next log.