Saturday, 15 September 2012

Courant violent

Port de Mortagne-sur-Gironde, winter quarters

We only stopped the one night at Meschers, neither the silent atmosphere of closed-up holiday homes nor the price per night encouraging us to stick around. The moment the automatic lock gate opened, two and a half hours before high water, we were on our way so as to catch the last of the flood up to Mortagne. The pilot book indicates that the lock at Mortagne is only opened from HW-1 to HW, so we didn't want to miss our chance. As it turns out, that was a bit of an exaggeration. Depending on the size of the tide, it's open from two to four hours.

Following the narrow channel in through the surrounding reed beds, we were immediately impressed by the security of shelter inside, the pretty setting with the limestone cliffs behind and the relaxed friendliness of the harbour master and other local folk. Here, we thought, is a potential wintering spot. The clincher came when we found out the price - very, very reasonable. In fact, the cheapest marina we've encountered on the trip so far.

The view from our cockpit
Vineyards adorn the higher ground 
They grow other stuff too. Sunflowers ready for harvest
We did still want to have a shot at visiting Bordeaux before the rumoured shutdown of its lock for winter maintenance so, after a couple of nights at Mortagne, we set off up river. We hurried up on the tail end of the flood, reaching Blaye just at the turn of the tide. Unfortunately, a stiff breeze was blowing against the increasing ebb flow, raising an ugly brown chop that made the prospect of lying on the 'halte nautique' unappealing in the extreme. The 'Courant Violent' sign on the bridge leading out to the pontoon wasn't kidding. We heard later that more than one boat has sunk at this pontoon in rough conditions!

Blaye's halte nautique - it's right out there
Blaye shenannigans
The pink line shows our peregrinations at Blaye. We took one look at the pontoon and said, 'Nah!', thought we might get a reasonable anchorage over by the Ile Nouvelle, where we'd noticed some moorings on the way past. Went over for a look and said, 'Nah', went over to the Ile de Pate, anchored, rolled around for a bit and said, 'Nah', hauled up the anchor (of course the current was increasing all this while) and went back to the Ile Nouvelle, where we passed, if not a comfortable, at least a tolerable night. The current was pretty considerable, perhaps 3.5kt and this 5 days before spring tide. I dreamt of the anchor chain snapping, but of course everything was all right and the anchor well and truly buried in the thick river mud.

The wind too carried on howling most of the night but conditions were slightly calmer in the morning as we waited for slack water before moving across to the pontoon. The tides, not surprisingly, are a bit odd up this large river estuary. The main difference from what we're used to is that the ebb continues to run for about an hour and a half after the time of predicted low water. Slack tide is then very brief and the current picks up swiftly into the flood.

Anyhoo, we sat and waited for the tide to turn, then hauled the anchor and crossed back to the pontoon. The flood was already running at maybe 1kt as we made a lovely docking on what we subsequently discovered to be the commercial (wrong) side of the pontoon. Leisure craft are meant to go on the inside, which is actually slightly more sheltered, so we decided to shift around though the current was running stronger all the time. It was kind of a fun challenge and we brought it off without mishap or shouting, though no doubt things would have been different if anybody else had been watching.

Blaye's main (only?) attraction, but it's a good one 
Picturesque ruins inside Blaye Citadel
Blaye's other undoubted attraction
With the raging current and ugly chop, the halte nautique really wasn't a comfortable or restful berth. Problems with the lifting bridge and lock at Bordeaux and the fact that our friends there would be away in any case, plus the approaching spring tide and equinox (with its likely attendant gales) decided us to beat a strategic retreat back to the haven of Mortagne. We left before dawn the next morning, when all was calm and beautiful and we had the whole of the ebb to boost us along.

Just a sliver of moon to keep us company in the pre-dawn chill
Misty morning on the Gironde
A river of many moods

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