River Garonne and Gironde Estuary
Information about the 150km long river Garonne and the Gironde Estuary
The Garonne rises in the Pyrenees and drains a large part of the Aquitaine basin. It is navigable as a tidal river, and also in two short sections. The section in Toulouse is 5 km long and includes one lock. The second section extends from the confluence with the Baïse at Saint-Léger to the junction with the Lot outlet canal at Nicole, a distance of 4.7km. Here the river was made semi-navigable in 1995 by clearing a narrow channel through the sill of marl above the confluence of the Lot. The river was thus to provide the vital navigable link between the Baïse and Lot navigations. The works proved inadequate, however, and no passage can be made during low flows. An alternative link to the Lot will eventually have to be provided. From Nicole to Castets-en-Dorthe, a distance of 73km, the shifting channel presents numerous obstacles to navigation, and depths vary considerably. Navigation is possible only during moderate floods or in light craft only.
The river becomes fully navigable as a tidal stream at its junction with the Canal de Garonne at Castets-en-Dorthe. From this point downstream the river forms part of the main waterway route across southern France from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean. At the Pont de Pierre in Bordeaux the river becomes a maritime waterway. At Bec d’Ambès the Dordogne enters on the right bank, the river widens considerably and changes its name to Gironde. The distance from Castets-en-Dorthe to Bordeaux is 54km, Bec d’Ambès is a further 25km downstream and the length of the Gironde from Bec d’Ambès to the sea is 71km. Navigating the tidal stream presents no exceptional difficulty, but careful attention is required and use of one of the waterway guides covering this river is recommended. It should further be noted that a bore (mascaret) sometimes forms during low flow periods over a distance of up to 40km upstream from Bordeaux.
History – Commercial navigation extended upstream of Toulouse from the Middle Ages, but the river was never canalised. Only a short length was made navigable through Toulouse after the weir at Le Bazacle mill was raised to supply water to the Canal de la Garonne. Now navigation is effectively limited to the tidal river.
Key Waterway Dimensions
- Max Height: 6.50m
- Max Draught: 1.80m
River Locks – None. (Lock at access to/from the Canal de Garonne at Castets-en-Dorthe.)
Draught – Depths are variable and subject to the tides. Local advice should always be obtained, but if the tidal stream is properly worked, vessels drawing up to 1.80m (the maximum authorised draught on the lateral canal) are generally able to make the passage between Bordeaux and Castets-en-Dorthe.
Headroom – The bridges leave a minimum headroom of 6.50m above the highest navigable water level.
Towpath – There is no towpath.
Authority – VNF – Direction territoriale Sud-Ouest
Unité rivière de Cadillac
– 12, rue Adolphe Homeau, 33410 Cadillac (PK 0-49)
Passage Planning – Tides and Currents
- Approximate notional minimum depth 1.80m, headroom 6.5m. This is a tidal river and also one with significant areas of sandbanks, shallows and other obstructions. Care must be taken to keep to the safe channel, including using the appropriate bridge arches. Neap tides are to be preferred.
- Going upstream to Castets, leave Bordeaux 4-5hrs before local high water and carry the tide upstream for an approximately 6hr journey.
- Going downstream to Bordeaux, leave Castets at local high water to carry the outgoing tide and river current.
- Specific advice may be obtained from the VNF office at Castets ecluse – 05 56 62 83 07 or 06 62 99 63 91 (speak to Jean-Christophe who very knowledgeable and helpful) – or from the VNF regional office at Cadillac 05 56 62 66 50.
- The Garonne Mascaret At Equinoctial (and other) Spring flood tides a mascaret (tidal bore) may form, particularly between PK31 Barsac and PK65 Begles, travelling up the river against the current. Cadillac pontoon should be avoided at this time but the phenomenon is not especially dangerous for experienced boaters in adequate craft if one keeps bows to the flood, to ride it, and a centre-stream position.
The Gironde, formed at the confluence of the River Dordogne (and the River Isle) with the Garonne, is Europe’s largest estuary. Tidal currents and conditions, which can be significantly modified by wind strength and direction, must be taken into account in planning an upstream or downstream passage. In very general terms –
- The downstream ebb flow happens for approximately 2/3rds the time, the upstream flood for 1/3rds. This means that the flood tide is much stronger than the ebb, particularly in the hours HW-4 to HW-3. Apart from the obvious, note the implication for ‘shooting’ the Pont de Pierre at Bordeaux (see above).
- Approximate tidal timings (but affected by wind and ebb strength)
– Standard Port – PdG Pointe de Grave (estuary entrance – link is to tidal times)
– HW Pauillac = HW PdG +1hrs (link is to tidal times)
– HW Bordeaux = HW PdG +2hrs (link is to tidal times)
– HW Castets = HW PdG +4hrs
1. Baïse-Lot section
PK 0.0 Junction with river Baïse l/b, d/s of Saint-Léger lock
PK 0.5 Bridge (Saint-Léger)
PK 3.3 Narrow channel through marl sill
PK 4.0 Confluence of river Lot, r/b (no access)
PK 4.7 Junction with river Lot navigation, r/b Nicole lock
2. Bordeaux section – continuation of Mediterranean-Atlantic route, east to west
Note: Quays marked ** are historic and are probably no longer viable. Cadillac may be considered the only reasonable mooring between Castets and Begles (even then it may be uncomfortable in some river current conditions).
See ‘Essentials’ for passage planning and tidal information.
PK 0.0 Junction with Canal de Garonne
Only the right-bank side of the side-by-side lock chamber pair is used. VNF vignettes will possibly be checked at this écluse, coming into the ‘system’ from the river – they can be purchased at the écluse office (05 56 62 83 07) or online in advance (see VNF tariff information here). The entrance door is located two storeys up the face of the building: testament to the potential height of river flooding.
PK 0.3 Castets-en-Dorthe bridge (Eiffel), village l/b Waiting pontoon
PK 2.0 Quay** (Mondiet) r/b
PK 5.4 Saint-Macaire quay** r/b, village 800m
PK 7.6 Langon quay** and small town l/b. This is where the Airbus parts are unloaded from their barge, for onward road transport to Toulouse.
PK 7.7 Former bridge piers
PK 7.8 New road bridge (D1113)
PK 7.9 Railway bridge, quay** d/s l/b
PK 11.2 Quay** (Garonnelle) r/b
PK 12.6 Preignac quay** l/b, village 500m
PK 14.1 Barsac quay** l/b, village 1500m. Mascaret bore (at Spring tides) travels from here downstream to PK48.1 Begles
PK 18.8 Cadillac bridge, pontoons u/s r/b, night €10, water, electricity, shower, slipway, village 500m r/b
Floating pontoon on piles, but possibly best avoided at Spring tides. A very pleasant ancient village. Mascaret effect noticeable here, when it occurs.
PK 19.8 Quay** (Cérons) l/b
PK 20.5 New road bridge (D13)
PK 22.2 Podensac quay and village l/b
PK 26.4 Quay** (Lestiac) r/b
PK 27.6 Quay** (Arbanats) l/b
PK 31.0 Bridge, quay d/s r/b, possible pontoon moorings, Langoiran 300m r/b. Ebb (downstream) current here may be significant.
PK 32.3 Portets long pontoon l/b (reserved for local boats and river cruise ships), village 700m
PK 36.8 Quay** (Baurech) r/b
PK 38.3 Cambes quay r/b, village 300m. Mascaret may be at its strongest here.
PK 39.6 Quay** (Esconac)
PK 40.6 River divides (Île de la Lande), navigation in r/b arm, pontoons for 12 boats, water, electricity, shower, slipway (mooring free)
PK 42.2 Downstream tip of island
PK 45.6 Private resturant pontoon (Camblanes) r/b
PK 46.5 Quay** (Port de l’Homme) r/b
PK 47.2 Upstream tip of island (Île d’Arcins), navigation l/b
PK 48.1 Bègles boat harbour (Port Garonne) l/b, 6 berths, night €23.11, fuel, water, electricity, showers, crane 10t, slipway, repairs. A large river PdP, fuel and 12 tonne lift-out facilities – passing boats will probably be allocated outside pontoon positions, further out into the current, keep bows towards the flood tide. Supermarket and other shops nearby, good transport connections into Bordeaux.
PK 48.8 D/s tip of island
Bordeaux – refer also to notes (2013) of moorings along the river
PK 49.0 Bridge (François Mitterrand), ring road (N230), u/s limit of Port of Bordeaux
PK 52.7 Railway bridges, old Eiffel bridge and new bridge
PK 52.8 Bordeaux bridge (Pont Saint-Jean), wharves, moorings and waterway authority d/s l/b
PK 53.8 Bridge (Pont de Pierre), tramway line A, limit of inland waterway, mooring for passenger ships 400m d/s l/b. Take one of the three (white edged) central arches. It can be difficult to maintain steerage through, if carrying an upstream current; there are strong eddies beyond on the left bank/upstream side because the bridge tends to ‘hold back’ the river – a difference in water level can even be noticed between the two sides. The tidal turn from strongly downstream to strongly upstream happens very rapidly.
PK 54.0 Pontoon d’Honeur: Good new pontoon immediately downstream from the Pont Pierre, left bank.
PK 57.2 New bridge (Pont Jacques Chaban-Delmas) with lifting span
PK 57.4 Entrance lock to docks, l/b, Conservatoire International de Plaisance (museum) in second basin, 5 berths, crane, repairs, restaurant. Access to the Commercial Harbour is via a very large ecluse (05 56 90 58 00 or VHF Ch12, 9 or 16) only accessible from HW -1.5 to HW +0.5
PK 59.3 Lormont quay and village (Bordeaux suburb) r/b
PK 59.6 Bridge (Aquitaine suspension bridge, ring road A630), yacht harbour (halte nautique de Lormont) u/s l/b. The strong river and tidal currents at this point do not make for comfortable berthing.
PK 63.3 Bassens wharves r/b
PK 74.0 Oil refineries and power station r/b, wharves
PK 75.2 Tip of island, channel r/b side (danger, submersible dyke)
PK 79.3 Bec d’Ambès, confluence of Dordogne, river changes name to Gironde
PK 88.6 Lamarque ferry terminal l/b beyond tip of island, village 800m
PK 90.8 Blaye ferry terminal and town r/b (wharves u/s), mooring for 6 boats, water, electricity, shower
PK 100.3 Pauillac quays and town l/b, mooring for 10 boats, night €25, diesel, water, electricity, showers, crane 15t, slipway. The consistently recommended place to un-mast or re-mast (the alternatives would be Royan or Port Medoc at the estuary’s seaward entrance, a further 45km/24NM and thus inadvisable if carrying one’s mast). Optimal access into or out of the harbour is at slack water; the crane is used at HW slack. Capitainerie 05 56 59 12 16.
PK 103.6 Oil refinery, tanker berths l/b
PK 106.6 Nuclear power plant (Blayais), r/b
PK 108.3 Saint-Estèphe quay l/b, village 1000m
PK 114.5 Saint-Sorlin-de-Conac (Port de Vitrezay) r/b, moorings for 4 boats, water, electricity, shower, slipway, restaurant
PK 119.9 Saint-Christoly l/b (former quay)
PK 129.0 Mortagne-sur-Gironde quay for 10 boats r/b, (accessible high tide), night €20.54, water, electricity, showers €1, crane, slipway, pump-out, repairs, village 1200m
PK 132.4 Lighthouse (Phare de Richard) l/b
PK 142.8 Meschers-sur-Gironde quay r/b, accessible high tide, night €20, water, electricity, shower, slipway, pump-out, repairs
PK 144.8 Le Verdon-sur-Mer (Port-Médoc) l/b, night €19-27, fuel, water, electricity, showers, crane 45t, slipway, pump-out, repairs, restaurant, wifi
PK 148.7 Port-Bloc ferry terminal l/b
PK 149.8 Royan ferry terminal r/b, tourist resort, marina opposite the Pointe de Grave l/b, limit of sea, night €24.45, fuel, water, electricity, showers €2, crane 24t, slipway €3, repairs
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