Log #35m Bordeaux and leaving the Gironde

August 26, 2005 in Log Series 30-39, Logs by Series, Series 35 France, The Logs

Cedeira, Spain

Aug. 26, 2005

Hi Folks,

We are on the northwest corner of Spain, having motored for the past 10 days since we arrived in Spain at Santander. Hopefully as we go south from here we will not be heading into the wind as much.

All is well, other than the past three days have been cloudy, cool and rainy. We are getting used to the large Atlantic swells which wash the coast. They are 100 metres long from crest to crest and two to three metres high from trough to crest. Here in Cedeira we are anchored in the first good sheltered bay we have seen that is not occupied by large drying shoal areas, and not exposed to the relentless Atlantic swells. We will dinghy into town later and hopefully will be able to send this off.

This will be the last of Logs #35 for France series, and I will start my new address list with the next series Logs #36 for Spain. However I will send out a supplementary log from Sayonara, friends of ours, to give you their take on sailing in Italian waters.

If you haven’t let us know yet that you wish to continue getting our logs directly, please do so and indicate if you wish to receive jpg picture attachments periodically.

All the best,



Log #35m Bordeaux and leaving the Gironde

Cudillero, Asturia, Spain

August 22, 2005

My last log recounted many of the problems we had getting Veleda ready for sea after ten weeks in canals and inland waterways. This one is more optimistic, recounting our enjoyment of Bordeaux and the friendly marinas we experienced at Begles in Bordeaux, and Pauillac and Port Medoc up the Gironde, before venturing out into the Bay of Biscay on the Atlantic coast.


I agree with the tourist brochures that Bordeaux is the second loveliest city in France, next to Paris! The few 15th and 16th century houses, the grand palaces, classic facades and arches of 18th century buildings erected prior to the Revolution, the 19th century urban homes with their narrow stone facades,  the 20th century cubic art-deco houses, all scattered amongst tree-clad traditional French squares; the expansive plaza in front of the Corinthian-columned Grand Theatre; the vast but tranquil Public Gardens; the grandiose fountain and broad Esplanade des Quinconnces, the hub of the efficient bus and modern tram transit system; the grand cathedrals with their towering steeples – St. Michel, St. Seurin, and the double-spired St. Andre and St. Louis, all dating back from the 12th to the 16th centuries; all are architectural feasts for the eyes.

From our marina in Begles there are hourly local buses, which for one Euro allowed us to travel into downtown Bordeaux and anywhere in town, for an hour from boarding the first bus. We took a winery tour for a day; this included a wander around town in the morning with a visit to a Wine museum outlining the history of wine making in the Bordeaux region from Roman times to the 19th century. A delicious lunch at a small restaurant (Baud Millet, Restaurant de Fromages, 19 rue Huguerie, <http://www.baudetmillet.com>) ended with choices from the over 100 types of cheeses in their cellar. In the afternoon we went up the peninsula through the Medoc wine area and toured through two chateaux, Chateau Liouner (a recent, since WW II, family estate with 60 hectares of vines) and Chateau Siran (aristocracy dating back to 1428, with a 250 acre estate including 100 acres of vines) to see their vineyards, the processes used, and to sample their vintages. Mmmmm!

We visited the Jean Moulin Museum which gave a reasonably good account of the resistance movements and the French forces in WW II. Bordeaux was part of Occupied France during WW II. There was a memorial to the Royal Marines, the Cockleshell Heroes who launched a small open boat attack down the Gironde on armed merchant cruisers in Bordeaux. We were proud to see a few Canadian flags in the museum, representing Canada’s contribution to the Normandy landings (albeit the current Maple Leaf flag, as opposed to the Canadian Red Ensign under which our troops fought at that time) and the freeing of France from Nazi domination. The German submarine pens in the inner bay of the lock-gated harbour are still there, too heavily constructed to be destroyed, parts of them now art museums. Instead of touring these, we visited some good chandleries around the perimeter of the two bays.

The Colbert, a retired French Navy ship, is on display as a museum, and we enjoyed a few hours touring through this “Cold War” era cruiser. We found it interesting that in the Admiral’s quarters, the main displays were of Charles de Gaulle’s trip in the Colbert to Canada in 1967, Canada’s centenary, and the newspaper coverage of his offensive speech in Quebec City in which he ended his rousing monologue with the incendiary separatist slogan of “Vive le Quebec Libre!”; after which he was promptly kicked out of Canada by our then Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. A twenty-year freeze in France-Canada relationships followed. The Colbert left a few days later without de Gaulle.

Begles Marina (Port Garonne)

Port Garonne, at Begles, a southern suburb of Bordeaux, is a good marina with good security, clean washrooms and showers, water and electricity on stable pontoons. It is next door to Rolland Marine, a chandlery and repair yard, and several suburban shopping malls, including the largest Carrefour grocery store we have ever been in, and a large Bricomat (like a Home Depot or B & Q centre) as well as other large upscale restaurants, electronics shops, and fashion stores. However the pontoons, though solidly anchored with fixed pillars, are exposed to the full current of the Garrone, and the muddy silt-laden river and tidal currents swirl intimidatingly past the pontoons at four to five knots. There is no breakwater. It was these currents that caused Sprite to flip when tied alongside the pontoon in front of Veleda. The slosh of the water was a constant reminder that we were moored in a swift flowing tidal river, the flood tide flowing upstream faster than the ebb down.

The port captain was most friendly and helpful, although he spoke no English. We were stuck there for 18 days while getting the complications of installing out new autopilot straightened out, as indicated in my last log, but were charged for only two weeks at 85 Euros per week. We particularly appreciated the efforts of Richard from Rolland Marine who did such a thorough job of installing the Raymarine autopilot in spite of the complications of a cracked quadrant and minimal space in which to mount the system. Thanks Richard.

Pauillac (<Tourismeetvindepauillac@wanadoo.fr>)

Our 25 mile trip downstream to Pauillac established our new steering system was working well. Pauillac too is a tidal marina, but with a high barrier around the pontoons that reduces tidal flows between the pontoons. The port captain and his assistant were most helpful with putting up our mast, then taking it down and putting it back up after the spreader bases were repaired (again with their assistance). They also helped us when we went on the hard, including pulling our smaller prop off so we could install a larger one. A bit of PR for Pauillac was that any boats that had their mast installed received a free bottle of Pauillac (a Bordeaux region) wine. Because we had it installed twice, we got two bottles of wine. We were four days in Pauillac when we initially hoped to be there only two or three to get the mast up. As it was, we were fortunate to get the assistance we did; we were afraid we would have to wait until the end of the French holiday period two weeks later to get the repairs to our spreader base on the mast. The costs were quite acceptable, at 15.50 Euros per night, 24.00 Euros for drying on the hard (during which we replaced the smaller prop with the larger, replaced the zinc anode and did bottom painting – much cheaper than if we had to be hauled out for a day on a travel lift) and 49.00 Euros for each of the two installations of the mast (no charge for the demasting).

The night before we left we enjoyed a travelling circus that was in town for a couple of days, a pleasant mom-and-pop show with a few animals, a total staff of seven, including a couple of attractive women who did trapeze acts, hula hoop displays, trained dogs, cats and pigeons, a magic act and served at the refreshment stand during intermission. Other animal acts included a Shetland pony, a llama and a camel. The musical clowns weren’t as good as I hoped, but the local kids enjoyed them. We were able to re-supply at a large Intermarche grocery store in the morning before leaving at high tide at 1100 to catch the ebb tide another 25 miles downstream to Port-Medoc. Pauillac is a most pleasant town, and we would recommend for other cruisers doing the Canal du Midi to have their mast stepped at the marina, as it is efficient and economical.

Port-Medoc (www.port-medoc.com)

On our way downstream to the mouth of the Gironde estuary we unfurled our genoa to motor sail with it for a couple of hours, and to check it out. No problems. Our original destination that day had been Royan, on our right bank at the mouth of the estuary. However, it has a tricky narrow entrance especially near low tide, which was when we would have arrived (since we left Pauillac at high tide and the beginning of the ebb tide in order to have the current with us). However, on the left bank as we approached Port-Medoc, (about which we had little information from our 2005 Almanac, other than a new marina was in process) we saw a wide opening and many masts inside a large solid breakwater. It looked an easier entrance than Royan, and so we went in. Port-Medoc is a large modern marina with floating pontoons with power and electricity, minimal currents due to the high solid breakwater, a fuel pontoon, and a Captainerie in which several friendly people spoke some English. It has at least 14 pontoons with finger docks providing slips for about 500 boats with depths of 2 to 3 metres, good security, 5 washroom and shower blocks, a 35 ton travel lift, repair shops (chantiers navals), and a large hard-standing area. There is a commercial area of stores, boutiques, chandleries, a newspaper and stationery shop, and a car, motor scooter, quad and bicycle rental shop which also provided wi-fi internet and laundry service. We were in heaven!

The Captainerie had a memorial plaque to the ten Royal Marines who mounted the small open-boat attack on the armed merchant cruisers in Bordeaux. They were launched from a British submarine off Pointe de Grave and had to paddle around the point and 50 miles up the estuary. However, three of the boats were sunk or swamped by the tidal currents nearby, some of the men being drowned, and at least one captured and executed. Two of the boats made it to sabotage the ships at Bordeaux, but only two of the ten marines made it back to England alive after the operation.

We had a large load of laundry washed, but elected to take it back on board to hang out to dry. The wi-fi was operational, but, Murphy’s Law, was not an open system, but an Orange phone system for which an Orange wi-fi connection card had to be purchased. No one there knew how to get this. It could be purchased on line, but you had to get on line to do so, but you could not get on line without the connection card. Talk about a Catch 22! Same problem as I encountered at the train station in Bordeaux, but at least there I found a shop that sold the connection cards. However another shop in the marina, Micro Ocean (<http://www.microcean.com>), had a computer training facility and allowed us to go through their computers to access the internet to download and send out our E-mail. Thanks, Stanislas, for your help.

One final problem though; Judy tripped and fell on a small raised curb, scraping her knee and hands, and straining her wrist! She was unable to use her right hand for any pulling or turning activity for several days. We nursed her with cold compresses and Ibuprofen pain killers. However, she was happy with the laundry done, E-mail sent and received, the showers, and especially as there were a few British boats in port with whom she exchanged books before we left next day. Happiness is…

Before leaving we wanted to fill our water tanks. Our hose would not fit the taps! A British boat on the end of the pontoon had the necessary connections which he lent us. It was the Omega, an old British motor boat which had a Dunkirk plaque. It was one of the boats which crossed the channel to evacuate the British troops at Dunkirk in WW II, an old boat with a proud history. We left at 1030, rounding Pointe de Grave and heading SW diagonally across the Bay of Biscay for Santander in Spain. We had entered the canals from the Mediterranean on May 28th and after 380 nautical miles, 144 locks, 392 bridges and one tunnel, emerged into the Atlantic Ocean on August 12th, hoisted both main and genoa and were a sailboat once more.