River Adour and tributaries
Information about the 133km long river Adour and its tributaries
The Adour and its tributaries form a fascinating and attractive cruising area, despite their isolation from the main waterway network. Until 1979, the river was officially navigable from Saint-Sever to its mouth in the Bay of Biscay near Bayonne, a distance of 133km. However, in view of the uncertainty of navigable conditions in the upstream reaches (especially above the limit of tidal influence), the river has been downgraded over the 101km from Saint-Sever to the confluence with the Gaves-Réunis at Bec-du-Gave. This means that navigation above km 101 is at the risk and peril of users, with no maintenance and no channel markings are available. On the other hand, downstream of Bec-du-Gave, the minimum conventional waterway markings and signs are in place (down to the Pont Saint-Esprit in Bayonne). Traffic is limited to the professional fishing boats and two trip boats Le Bayonne and La Hire.
Free-flow navigation formerly continued up the Adour and its tributary, the Bidouze, to the ports at Saint-Sever and Mont-de-Marsan respectively, but the channel in these sections has long been abandoned, and there has been no maintenance on these upstream reaches since 1979. Already above the Luy (PK 79) and especially above Dax (PK 67), the limited draught generally precludes navigation during low-flow periods, in other words from June to October inclusive. Moreover, a natural sill has formed on the river just downstream of the bridge (Pont Vieux) in Dax, so that navigation through Dax is only possible when the river is in spate. Above Pontonx, the flow is reduced in dry summers to a modest trickle between the sandbanks.
The table below gives the official distances, counting from zero at Saint-Sever, but starting at the practical limit of navigation at Pont-du-Pouy.
Tides are critical to navigability of the Adour. Spring tides of high coefficients are felt up to Dax and exceptionally to Pont-de-Pouy (PK 61) or more rarely Pontonx (PK 42), a distance of more than 90km. Regular tides are felt up to Vimport (PK 77, upstream of the Luy), a distance of 56km from the sea, and the rise and fall is quite substantial, varying according to the coefficient from 1 to 4.2m at the mouth and from 1 to 3m at Urt (PK 111).
From Dax (PK 67) to the confluence with the Luy (PK 79), great care is necessary to avoid shoals and the numerous groynes which extend out into the channel. From the Luy to the confluence with the Gaves Réunis depths are greater, especially at high tide, but it is generally advisable to follow the outside of the bends. From the Bec-du-Gave to Bayonne there are no obstructions. In the centre of Bayonne, however, passage through the old bridge (Pont Saint-Esprit) is to be avoided during a strong ebb flow (see below under headroom). Heading upstream from the mouth (or the yacht harbour at Anglet-Blancpignon), passage is always to be preferred on the flood tide, or at high-water or low-water slack.
The passage between Bayonne and Dax is much easier if the tidal stream is properly worked. Propagation time from the mouth to Vimport is approximately four hours. Heading upstream, it is advisable to leave Bayonne two to three hours after low water, but local advice should be sought, either from the authorities or from the harbourmaster in the port of Anglet (addresses below). On account of the shifting banks in the Adour estuary below Bayonne, use of the appropriate marine charts is recommended.
Several tributaries of the Adour are also navigable for a short distance upstream from their confluence. These are the Gaves Réunis, navigable for 9km to the town of Peyrehorade, the Bidouze and a short length of its tributary, the Lihoury, giving access to the hilltop village of Bidache (16km), the Aran (6km), the Ardanavy (2km) and the Nive, which is navigable through the centre of Bayonne and upstream over a distance of 12km. Like the Adour, these are all tidal rivers and navigation is easier if the tidal stream is used.
The rivers are free-flow, partly tidal navigations, relatively undeveloped (especially upstream of Saubusse), free of commercial traffic and with very little boat traffic. There is no hire boat activity. The banks are densely wooded and impracticable through much of the length.
History – Since the Adour is a tidal or free-flow navigation, the history of its use and improvement over the centuries is not related to canalisation works, but to channel dredging and clearing as required after major floods. Such works were often difficult to fund because riparians were reluctant to bear the cost. A major project was carried out in 1775, with works on the navigable channel, also providing a towpath between Dax and Port-de-Lanne. During the 19th century, however, the quality of the navigation rapidly deteriorated and traffic declined. The deep tidal waters from the Gaves Réunis down to Bayonne continued to carry substantial traffic until 1920. This isolated waterway network is little used by recreational boaters, but the Basque region and culture are uniquely attractive, and well worth making this southerly detour, for sea-going or trailed craft.
Key Waterway Dimensions
- Max Beam: 5.05m
- Max Height: 3.00m
- Max Draught: 0.90m
Draught – The available depth varies considerably. Between Dax and the Luy it is normally about 1.00m. From the Luy to the Gaves Réunis it is 1.50m, depending on the state of the tide. From the Gaves Réunis to Bayonne it is 2.00m. The mean depths of each of the tributaries, and the tidal rise and fall in cm, are as follows: Gaves Réunis 1.60m (±40), Bidouze 2.90m (±90), Lihoury 0.90m (±60), Aran and Ardanavy 1.20m (±60) and Nive 1.75m (±75).
Headroom – The minimum headroom under the fixed bridges at high spring tides is as follows (the figures in brackets indicate the increased headroom available at low tide): Adour 4.30m (8.50m*), Gaves Réunis 3.00m (5.00m), Bidouze 3.50m (5.30m), Lihoury 4.70m (6.00m), Aran 3.60m (4.80m), Ardanavy 3.00m (4.20m) and Nive 0.40m (4.20m). The only problem for most boats is on the Nive at Bayonne, where the bridges should be cleared at low tide before proceeding upstream.
* According to the local navigation regulations, the clearance is 6.50m above the mean water level, which is +2.40m on the datum of the marine charts, not taking into account the higher level which may be caused by flood flows.
Towpath – There is no longer a continuous towpath. The former towpath has been converted into a public road along the left bank for much of the length of the Adour.
Authority – Direction Départementale des Territoires et de la Mer des Landes – 351 Bd Saint-Médard, BP 369, 40012 Mont-de-Marsan (PK 0-40)
Direction départementale des Territoires et de la Mer des Pyrénées-Atlantiques, Délégation à la Mer et au Littoral – 6, quai de Lesseps, 64107 Bayonne Cedex (PK 40-72 and tributaries).
PK 0.0 Saint-Sever bridge, historic limit of navigation
PK 31.6 Le Hourquet, confluence of Midouze
PK 42.0 Pontonx bridge
PK 61.0 Pont-de-Pouy bridge, effective u/s limit of navigation
PK 66.7 Bridge (D947)
PK 67.0 Dax bridge, quay d/s l/b, town centre l/b
PK 67.9 Railway bridge
PK 71.6 Mées quay, village 1000m r/b
PK 77.0 Bridge (Vimport), quay u/s l/b, normal limit of navigability
PK 79.0 Confluence of Luy (unnavigable), l/b
PK 81.0 Quay (Carrère) l/b
PK 83.0 Saubusse bridge, quay and village r/b, water
PK 87.0 Bridge (La Marquèze), quay u/s r/b
PK 91.0 Former quay (Gelez) r/b
PK 94.1 Former quay (Rasport) l/b
PK 96.5 Port-de-Lanne quay l/b, Auberge du Port, trip boat La Hire, village 1000m l/b
PK 97.7 Bridge (D817)
PK 101.0 Bec du Gave, confluence of Gaves Réunis, l/b
PK 101.4 Public quay (Sames), l/b
PK 103.4 Bec de la Bidouze, confluence of Bidouze , l/b
PK 104.9 Former quay (Sainte-Marie-de-Gosse) r/b
PK 110.3 Former quay (Saint-Laurent-de-Gosse) r/b
PK 110.8 Confluence of Aran , l/b
PK 110.9 Bridge (Eiffel)
PK 111.1 Urt quay l/b, pontoon moorings, village 800m l/b
PK 113.5 Auberge Baladour, l/b (private quay)
PK 115.8 Confluence of Ardanavy , l/b
PK 116.5 Former quay (Urcuit) l/b
PK 118.0 Entrance to Lahonce arm, l/b
PK 119.8 Lahonce boat harbour (Port de Plaisance de l’Aiguette) l/b, 100 berths, water, electricity, €3.90-7.70, village 1800m
PK 119.8 Downstream entrance to Lahonce arm, l/b
PK 124.0 Quay (Mouguerre) l/b
PK 124.4 Motorway bridge (A63)
PK 125.5 Road bridge (Saint-Frédéric, N117)
PK 125.7 Railway and road bridge (Eiffel)
PK 126.6 Bayonne bridge (Pont Saint-Esprit), quays d/s, town centre l/b
PK 126.7 Confluence of Nive, l/b (moorings for Bayonne)
PK 127.5 Pontoon moorings r/b
PK 127.6 Bridge (Henri Grenet, ring road)
PK 130.7 Boucau port (Port de la Cale), small town r/b
PK 132.1 Anglet (Port du Brise-Lames), boat harbour l/b, 40 berths, night €26.60, fuel, water, electricity, showers €2), crane 25t, slipway, repairs, restaurant
PK 133.3 Semaphore (Tour des Signaux) l/b, limit of sea
PK 0.0 Confluence with Adour (PK 101)
PK 2.1 Sames quay l/b, stables
PK 3.0 Railway bridge
PK 3.9 Hastingues quay and village l/b
PK 6.8 Municipal boat harbour in basin l/b
PK 7.0 Bridge (A641)
PK 8.0 Peyrehorade bridge, quay d/s r/b, municipal boat harbour in basin reopening 2010, village r/b
PK 9.4 Confluence of Gave de Pau and Gave d’Oloron, head of navigation
Bidouze and Lihoury
PK 0.0 Confluence with Adour (PK 103), bridge (D261)
PK 0.7 Railway bridge
PK 1.1 Motorway bridge (A64)
PK 1.7 Guiche bridge, quay d/s l/b, small village
PK 6.2 Former quay (Cassous) l/b
PK 11.4 Bidache bridge, mooring l, b, village 600m l/b
PK 14.7 Confluence of Lihoury, l/b (navigation continues on Lihoury)
PK 15.5 Bridge (D936), weir (barrage de la Baignade), head of navigation, Bidache 200m l/b
Aran or Joyeuse
PK 0.0 Confluence with Adour (PK 111), bridge (D261)
PK 4.3 Railway bridge, quay u/s r/b
PK 6.2 Bridge (Larroque), head of navigation, former quay (Bardos) d/s l/b
PK 0.0 Confluence with Adour (PK 116), bridge (D261)
PK 2.0 Private quay (Hayet) r/b
PK 2.4 Railway bridge, head of navigation
PK 0.0 Confluence with Adour, Bayonne (PK 127)
PK 0.3 Bridge (Pont Mayou)
PK 0.4 Bridge (Pont Marengo)
PK 0.6 Bridge (Pont Pannecau)
PK 0.7 Bridge (Pont du Génie), quay l/b, town centre l/b
PK 0.9 Bridge (ring road)
PK 1.4 Railway bridge
PK 2.1 Footbridge (Pont Blanc)
PK 3.9 Motorway bridge (A63)
PK 9.5 Footbridge
PK 11.1 Quay (Compaïto) r/b, Villefranque 2000m r/b
PK 12.3 Weir (Haïtze), head of navigation