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15th July, 2018


Yesterday was a long day; after what seemed very short night followed by a race down to the BXA buoy to embark the Pilot, however the ‘rules’ had changed recently and because the Saga Sapphire is under 200 meters long, we are actually 199.6 meters plus paint, we were exempt the ‘outside’ pilot.

Therefore, we under took ‘radar’ assisted land-based Pilotage up to Meschers-sur-Gironde, which is about an hour and a bit, up the river before embarking the Pilot. We couldn’t delay, the only way Saga Sapphire could navigate up the Gironde was to run with the rising tide. Let me explain: when a river floods, the high tide first occurs at the point nearest the sea, then progressively works its way upstream along the river. A river doesn’t unilaterally rise, it rises as the mass of water travels along upstream.

At low water the river is around 6 meters deep. The heavy Saga Sapphire has a draught of 8.5 meters, so we need at least 2.5 meters of high tide to just float, let alone move along. My target timeframe was to be at around 4.5 meters above datum, giving me the comfort of around 2.5 meters below keel. Why do I need this comfort? Imagine if I have to slow down on the river for traffic or some other unplanned issue, I then fall behind the rising tide and risk getting rather close to the muddy bottom of the Gironde!

We had a very good pilot, whom only seemed to be able to talk about football as we swiftly made our way upstream. Sunrise was at 0625, the first daylight being around 0600. My first early bird Guests were up and about before 0630 for their first glimpse of the Medoc plains to the west. Further south, upstream, the lands are very low-lying and vulnerable to flood and was evidenced by the remnant swaths of silt left lying on the foreshore either side of the river. In conversation, the Pilot remarked “so you see why we don’t build houses here”, I simply smiled thinking “in England, we would!”

After 74 miles of river navigation keeping a wary eye on the depth under the keel, we approached our berth. The manoeuvre required some thought as we were swinging on a narrow river-way with 5 knots of upstream flow. Using the slack water near the bank, the bow was positioned in the slower flow, allowing the faster main flood-stream to drift the stern around. Once pointed with the stern upstream, we manoeuvred, with the use of tugs towards our berth.

The mooring operation took some time, a total of 16 mooring lines were used to secure the ship on this fast-flowing river berth. Then we had the fun of getting the gangways positioned. Again, a huge tidal range on the river required a deck 7 aft gangway, provided by the port, and on deck 5 our own gangway. However, a crane is required to position the shore gangway and this is operated by the linesmen ashore; so all moorings have to be finished before we can take the gangway. Their mind was more on football I think; because the crane was parked on the other side of the moon, so it took a while to get it into position. Long story short, it took a while from completing moorings to having the gangway connected to the ship.

Some great tours for the first-day call and some great feedback in the evening despite the 35 Celsius shade temperatures. That was yesterday and today, I am awaiting for departure as I write.

This morning, our second day in Bordeaux, I awoke in rather hot and humid conditions, my cabin was a bit of a roaster. The heat in Bordeaux can be quite stifling - it’s so far inland from the sea that there is rarely, in summer, a maritime airstream from for the sea to freshen things up. A full day here and of course it’s was football this afternoon for the French. France having won, you can imagine the enthusiasm for the ‘dock workers’ to arrive at work, on a Sunday evening just to let go our mooring ropes, I’m sure it will be fine!

We were due away 2030, but I am still waiting for the crane driver to lift off the gangway. I have a long night ahead of me, about five and half hours of night river-pilotage… which has the same changes as arrival, whereas were require to run just ahead of the falling tide, rather than the rising tide as on arrival yesterday.

So, I’ll be signing off now for today and drop you a note on how departure went later on.

Captain Stuart Horne

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.