GARONNE RIVER TO BORDEAUX, 2019
We went down to Bordeaux in early June 2019 and spent 3 weeks there, moored at both Ponton d’Honneur and Cite du Vin. In 13 years of cruising we have done the Rhone twice, the Seine 3 times, and the Rhine once. The Garonne is very different because of the strong tides; so it deserves respect and advance planning. Yet many have said that the trip was a great experience, and so do we. Our suggestions follow the list of links and phone numbers below. If you have questions, please send us a private message via the DBA website; we are not regularly monitoring the Forum.
Blue Flag article by Stuart on Hilda May HERE
Waterways Guide “Garonne, canal de” HERE
Port information on the river for this trip is found at the end of the guide for the canal.
Forum thread “Garonne to Bordeaux” in August 2011. Port and lock information is out of date, but the river doesn’t change.
Best place to start is Bruno Chanal’s website and excellent guide. Only the links for moorings in Bordeaux have changed (see below).
Can2mers discussion group. Search for “ Bordeaux” (2/17), “Gironde Advice” (8/15),”Cruising to Bordeaux” (7/15), message 2021 (4/12)
Briel Guide #16 is essential: L’Estuaire de la Gironde https://www.carte-fluviale.com/en/
River Level for Garonne-Tarn-Lot https://www.vigicrues.gouv.fr/niv2-bassin.php?CdEntVigiCru=25
PHONES AND EMAILS
Locks 52 + 53 Garonne Canal 06 62 99 63 61
“ “ contact Sandra Girard mobile 07 85 87 42 24
“ “ alternate, usually on the water Boris mobile 07 87 86 45 34
VNF Subdivision Cadillac 05 56 62 66 50
Chandleries in Bordeaux Accastillage Diffusion 05 56 39 03 90
U Ship 05 56 43 19 61
– Bruno and most other advisors say do not take the risk of a stop on the way!
Late June to early September have the best weather and least risk of flooding. Advance reservations are required for Bordeaux moorings and the locks at Castets going both ways.
Use Tide Tables and River Levels to pick suitable dates. Tides at Castets are Bordeaux + 2 hours, and the lock is open only at high tide +/- one hour. Outside those hours there’s a good pontoon on the Left Bank just below the iron bridge and the lock. Always leave and arrive in good light when you can clearly see debris in the water. Pick days when the tide coefficient is less than 80; a lower number gives a smoother ride. During “spring” flood tides, when the coefficient is greater than 80, there is the risk of dangerous tidal bore, known as a “mascaret”. It occurs between Begles (PK67) and Preignac (PK 30), and is greatest at Cadillac, where it brings the surfers out.
Vigicrue stations For river levels, choose towns upstream of Castets and a longer period on the graph (30 days) to smooth out tide effect. Only Marmande page gives the debit (current). In summer and good weather, the combined river and tidal current ypically runs from 4-5 up to 8 – 10 km/hour for both ebb and flow. It’s stronger between Cadillac and Bordeaux.
Suitable boats and skills needed
“Inland Water” insurance coverage may or may not cover the Garonne as far as Bordeaux – worth checking your policy.
Wakes are not nearly not as big as on the other large rivers, so most inland waterway boats with good engines can do this trip in good weather. However, the Garonne’s current is much stronger than most other rivers because it’s tidal, the height rising and falling four to five meters in Bordeaux. Slack tide lasts just a few minutes when the current changes, then speeds up quickly.
Constant vigilance is needed to avoid unmarked shallows and debris because you are moving quite fast. You will be travelling with the current 55km in 4 or 5 hours if you leave on time to carry the tide the whole way. Your engine must be strong and reliable enough to control your boat and be able to:
Power through the strong eddies by the Pont de Pierre (“Stone Bridge“) in Bordeaux and a few elsewhere.
Turn against the current and secure the boat quickly when mooring up, ferry gliding when necessary.
Deal with any unexpected events safely. Moorings along the route, except at Cadillac, are private. You can’t moor or anchor for long because of mascaret risk when the next high tide arrives.
They are absolutely necessary in advance at Bordeaux. Mooring options have changed since Bruno Chanel’s guide, but are current in the DBA Waterways Guide. Today there are only 3 pontoons, all on the Left Bank, managed by the same Plaisance Bordeaux office:
Ponton d”Honneur, just below the Pont de Pierre, PK 0 (1km below PK 70 on the river), steps from the Bourse. Most convenient, beautiful view of the bridge lit up at night.
Cite du Vin, downstream at PK 3.5, quieter, trees, less river traffic, short tram or ferry ride to downtown, market across the street, nice view of the lights on new lift bridge.
Begles, upstream at PK 65.5, usually has room when others don’t. Cheaper. Longer tram ride to downtown, but has a big shopping center across the street.
Submit reservation request online well in advance to get the dates you want, with your registration and insurance. In season the office is busy. If they don’t acknowledge in 2 days, follow up with a phone call; sometimes they didn’t get it, and you must submit again over the phone. After it’s accepted they will call back later and advise you of your assigned position and the gate code, which does change from time to time. Call them if they don’t call you before you leave Castets, so you can moor in the right spot on arrival and not have to move later, a difficult manoeuver if the tide has changed and current is stronger.
NAVIGATING CASTETS TO BORDEAUX
In Castets the Port Captain will call and book the locks for your trip down and back for you. The lockkeeper decides what time you leave to go downstream. He knows the river current, which varies by wind and rain, and how it’s affecting the tidal flow.
The Briel Guide #16 is essential because most of the shallows shown there are not marked with buoys. Also the track line follows the best depth in the channel and under bridges. It runs mostly but not always in the center. Two important items in the guide are now out of date:
Moorings in Bordeaux for visitors are different today. Only Begles is in the guide.
The signs on the Pont de Pierre arches are no longer there. The center arch is reserved exclusively for big airbus barges, but you can’t see its red light in daylight. You can see that it is buffered with tires. Choose the next arch on either side.
The tidal flow will increase gradually as you go down. So it’s helpful to estimate what times you want to pass certain landmarks, and adjust your speed so that you arrive when you want to.
In fair weather and neap tides, the only serious turbulence you’ll encounter is at the Pont de Pierre; be ready for it and arrive 1 hour or less before low water.
The pontoons in Bordeaux are very substantial and security is excellent, so you can really enjoy the city. The tide rips by and occasionally you’ll need to clear some debris that gets lodged between the boat and the pontoon. Water and power are available on arrival. Capitainerie staff will visit you to collect the fees.
NAVIGATING BORDEAUX TO CASTETS.
Call the Lockkeeper and/or Port Captain in Castets to confirm your reservations before leaving your mooring in Bordeaux
Leave no later than 1 hour after low tide. If you leave earlier, be sure not to outrun the flood. You’ll lose its benefit and risk surfing the tidal bore if it’s a strong one.
Keep a good eye out for logs and other debris, especially after spring tides and rain.
Tidal flow will be quite fast in the beginning but peter out gradually above Cadillac; adjust your speed accordingly. Lock will be open waiting for you at the scheduled time. If you are early, or it’s late in the day and your appointment is for the next morning, the pontoon mooring should be comfortable.