Although we were not due to arrive in Bordeaux until 3pm, it was still a morning start up on the Bridge as we welcomed the pilot on board at 9am.
The distance from the pilot station to our berth in the heart of Bordeaux is 67½ nautical miles, so it was going to be a busy day for me. The pilot boarded promptly by pilot boat and we entered the Gironde Estuary before veering right to take the Garonne River to Bordeaux. As this can be quite an exposed pilot station in the winter, being in the heart of the Bay of Biscay, the pilots tend to use a much easier option, a helicopter to board the vessels. However this morning conditions were ideal and safe for a boat transfer. With a morning “at river” I was able to welcome some of the National Trust for Scotland lecturers to the Bridge to offer a commentary as we headed upstream. In the Discovery Lounge, poet Kenneth Steven discussed the words of French poet François Mauriac, who was recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1952.
Everyone was out on deck as we passed under the Pont d’Aquitaine and then the new lifting bridge and into the heart of Bordeaux. Once clear of the bridge, we had to turn the ship in a fast running river, the river “ebbing” i.e going back out to sea. So I got enough distance from the swing bridge and started to quickly swing the ship.
The trick is to make sure you have enough room to drift back towards the bridge during swinging and this happened. By the time we had completed the swing, we were close to the bridge as expected so started to move astern upriver to the berth. In stark contrast to yesterday it was a glorious summer Saturday, with many families on the promenade watching as I berthed the ship alongside the historic waterfront.
With the very strong current, it was one of the more difficult manoeuvres and with all the passengers on the ship watching over me, and about 5000 locals ashore enjoying the sunshine and watching me berth, talk about pressure!!. Anyway all went well thankfully and we gently landed alongside the fenders.
Bordeaux has been a major port since pre-Roman times. Its “golden age” was towards the end of the 18th century when commercial activities, and in particular the wine trade, flourished. The city underwent a radical transformation with the creation of grand boulevards, elegant townhouses and neoclassical squares. Around 5,000 buildings in the city date from this time and have earned it UNESCO World Heritage Status. Bordeaux was much-loved by Victor Hugo, who wrote “take Versailles, add Antwerp and you have Bordeaux”. Since my last visit here the tram system has been completed and even this modern form of transport has had to sympathise with the original architecture as there are no unsightly overhead wires powering the new sleek trams.
As we arrived, bagpiper Jim Butler was performing much to the amusement of the families gathered on the quayside. His rendition of “La Marseillaise” drew cheers from the crowd. A couple of shore excursions were operating this afternoon, including ‘Panoramic Bordeaux and a Chateau’ and ‘Bordeaux City Tour’. With the passengers now orientated they were prepared to head out for the evening if they wished and sample the local delicacies. On board there was a sumptuous French dinner prepared by George, before a local folk group, “Lous Reoules” performed in the Discovery Lounge. Then everyone came out on deck to witness a grand firework display to mark Bordeaux’s ‘Festival of the Sea’. Astern of us was the Mexican tall-ship “Cuauhtémoc” which was understandably attracting a great deal of attention. She is one of four tall-ships built in Bilbao in 1982 to be a sailing ambassador for her home country. The other three were purchased by Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela. “Cuauhtémoc” translates into English as “Descending Eagle” and was the name of the last Aztec ruler of what is now Mexico. The firework display began at 11pm and lasted a good twenty minutes. With that it was time for bed and the joy of not having an alarm call in the early hours.
We awoke on Sunday to more glorious sunshine and the passengers eagerly headed out on their tours. Options included Pyla Sand Dune Hike, Saint Emilion, The Medoc Vineyards, and Château de Cazeneuve. For those going ashore independently it was a short stroll into the centre of Bordeaux. All aboard was set for 1.30pm and then the pilot came aboard to take us downstream and back out into the Bay of Biscay.
Whilst I was navigating the ship down the river, with the pilot being ‘interesting’ to work with, Reverend Professor Andrew McGowan conducted the Sunday Service with Neil and the Filipino Choir, before Michael Barnett delivered a piano recital featuring the works of Erik Satie, titled “Man of Honfleur, Collector of Umbrellas”.
At 8pm we said an eager farewell to the pilot and headed out into the Atlantic Ocean, setting course to sail round the northwest corner of France to our next port, Honfleur. The evening concert saw a variety showtime titled, “Clan Jamffray” with contributions from Jamie McDougall, Alistair McDonald, Ian Watt, Paul Livingston and Michael Barnett.
It really has been a marvellous overnight stop here in Bordeaux and one that will live long in the memory. I hope we are back here sooner rather than later!