A massive river system that opens into the sea, the Gironde Estuary and River Garonne experience tidal flows of up to 5 knots. The strong currents, in tandem with nearby rocks and sandbars mean that in winds of 20+ knots this becomes a dangerous area and entering/exiting is a no go zone.
Entering this waterway is carried out on the in going tide, so working with the tide and wind was a critical factor in planning this leg of our journey. Timing was everything.
A midnight departure was the name of the game, for with minimal winds, this would put us at the opening at 10:45 – the time at which the waters recommenced their flooding.
Our timing was perfect! Excitement abounded as Gratis was turned landward.
A short distance to our left was a series of sand bars and rocks over which the sea broke. Swells built, forming a wave that raced forward at great speed prior to finally cresting with a hat of white water which finally came powerfully crashing down. The waters continued forward across the estuary’s opening, building once more into good sized swells through which Gratis motored. As our girl rocked and rolled, it was a reminder of the Indian Ocean crossing.
On our tail followed the ships that had been patiently waiting outside. With us keeping to the starboard side of the channel, these beauties quietly glided on past.
Tidal speed ever increasing, and not wishing to arrive at Pauillac Marina, which was quite a tight fit to enter, before still water Big Bertha’s revs were regularly reduced.
No journey is without excitement, and today’s came with the arrival of a dredging ship racing against the tide at 14.6 knots toward the estuary opening – we later discovered there is no speed limit upon the waterway here and the ships’ captains make no allowances for small boats.
Creating a massive bow wave that it left in its wake, as the ship disappeared from sight, Gratis was left rocking and rolling upon the wakes as waves broke upon the side decks. Down below, Anne held on tight to the bubbling curry as utensils flew in tandem from one end of the galley to the other.
With a width in kilometres rather than metres, this estuary was mind boggling in size. Sand dunes either side, this gradually became dotted with small town ships. The further in one continued, the greener the scenery became. Church spires dotted the horizons and farmland gradually became prominent.
Mid – afternoon, and Pauillac was sighted. A tight turn or two and we were soon in the safety of the marina, moored to a pontoon.
The quiet bliss of a small country town greeted us as Big Bertha came to rest.
Patterns upon the mud flats at low tide.