Speed Bony Boat
Boat-building is big business in Bordeaux and the nearby Bassin d’arcachon. The region is a hub for the industry, with 170 companies based here, employing more than 1600 people
since the year 300 Bc, Bordeaux has Been an important Outpost Of trade along europe’s atlantic
coast. During the 18th and early 19th century, the city came to prominence as the second largest port in the world, growing rich on the profits of her trade in slaves, cereals, sugar and wine. Some of the best examples of ships of the period to set sail on the Atlantic were crafted in the city’s shipyards. By the late 18th century, France was at war with Britain, and her navy demanded the very fastest and lightest sailing boats available. The Bordelais, built in 1798, was a military vessel which fought in three campaigns against the British, until her capture in the open Atlantic.
In the mid 19th century, Lucien Arman, an illustrious Bordelais ship-builder, pioneered the construction of the French clipper – a lighter, smaller version of the clipper invented in America in the 1840s. He also invented the composite hull, made from a mixture of wood and iron, rendering large steamers lighter and more aqua-dynamic. He was made commander of the Legion of Honour by Napoleon III for his contribution to the Second Empire.
Dubourdieu: Small is Beautiful
Gujan Mestras is a quiet oyster port on the Bassin d’arcachon. It is home to one of the oldest boat-yards in the region, the Chantier Dubourdieu. The company’s 218 year-evolution is a tale of one family’s creative and flexible thinking. In 1800 a young carpenter called Louis Dubourdieu began specialising in tilloles, small fishing boats. He and his sons, grandsons and great-grandsons after him, produced 12-16 custom-built fishing vessels a year until 1909, when Emile Dubourdieu turned out the first petrol-powered pinasse, or motor-boat. This model, and later a gasoline-fuelled version quickly became a hit with local fishermen. Arcachon’s Ville d’hiver then suddenly became the playground of a rich international coterie who came to take the sea air to clear their lungs of tuberculosis. The presence of the jetset inspired Emile to produce a luxury version of the pinasse using expensive varnished woods, copper and polished brass.
This motorboat was updated in 1990 by Jean-pierre Dubourdieu. The Classic Express, a sleek, modern design employing stratified wood, which was snapped up by the likes of Philippe Starck. In 2000 the company was bought by Emmanuel and Béatrice Martin who now supply the international market with the bespoke luxury motorboats made from cashew and teak. In addition, Dubordieu make pleasure yachts and were recently awarded the contract to make a shuttle boat, the Batcub 3, a new form of public transport on the Garonne River in Bordeaux. Their slogan is ‘modernity is tradition on the go’.
CNB: Big is Beautiful
Bordeaux’s ship-building industry was vigorous for centuries, but started to spiral into decline in 1986 when a vast shipyard, the Chantiers du Sud-ouest was closed down. The following year, a young, dishevelled German addressed the Conseil Général of the Gironde with a bid to buy the shipyard on the Quai de Brazza. He may not have looked the part, but the former professional football player wasn’t short of a penny. Nor was he short on ideas.
Dieter Gust had developed a passion for life on the ocean wave sailing charter yachts in the Caribbean. He re-opened the shipyard with a handful of artisans, hell-bent on producing the finest sail boats in the world. CNB (Construction Navale Bordeaux) was born. Within a year the small team were hard at work on the Ecureuil 2, built for skipper Titouan Lamazou, who went on to win the Vendée Globe single-handed race around the world in it. Next, the company begun a long-term collaboration with Argentinian designer-architect German Frers. Their luxury yachts started to fly off the shelves and CNB expanded to 50 employees in its first two years. Just four years after it launched, 56% of
CNB’S shares were bought by Bénéteau, the world’s biggest name in yacht construction. The parent company swiftly entrusted the building of its Lagoon catamarans to CNB.
During the 1990s, CNB diversified into motorboats, but still found time to dedicate to world-class sporting yachts. Dieter Gust still speaks with pride and delight about the complete refurbishment carried out by his company of the yacht, La Poste, just before it competed in The Whitbread, a round-the-world sailing race.
From the mid-90s onwards, CNB set its course firmly on breaking records for the longest or the fastest super-yacht the world had ever seen. In 1994, the Victoria T slipped onto the Garonne at the Quai de Brazza, measuring a superb 33 metres. Why so long? Well, apparently her future owner wanted to accommodate a salt-water hot tub on the aft-deck! In 1998, CNB collaborated once again with German Frers on a 29 metre-long beauty boasting three large cabins. Always, ahead of the curve, in ’99 the company turned out a 32 metre yacht, innovating the use of carbon-composite technology. In 2007, the ‘Bordeaux 60’, a sporty, robust family yacht designed in collaboration with naval architect, Phillipe Briand, hit the water.
Business has always boomed at CNB, but who are their clients? Surely the James Bond villains of the world? Well, CNB won’t let on, other than to let it be known that the kind of millionaires and world-class sportsmen who buy their products insist on complete discretion!
Chantier Nicolas, a Labour of Love
In a picturesque setting on the treefringed right bank of the Garonne stands an elegant timber building set within a spacious boatyard. The Chantier Nicolas, established in 1982, specialises in the repair of vintage motorboats dating from the early 20th century, including Riva, Pedrazzini, Hacker Craft and Chris Craft. The three specialist artisans in charge warn clients that restoration of their cherished boats is a lengthy procedure; 3000 hours is the average time it takes to restore a classic motorboat to its true glory!
Clients from all over the world will pay whatever it costs to transport their beloved boats to this Bordeaux shipyard. And you don’t have to be a motorboat enthusiast to appreciate a well-restored motorboat. It’s impossible not to drool over the sleek curves and gleaming mahogany or chestnut surfaces of one of these early-20th century beauties. Smooth leather-seats are re-upholstered in the traditional colours - vibrant red, racing green or tan. Typically a lot of the wood will need to be replaced, hulls and decks must be re-varnished, hardware re-chromed, instruments on the dashboard taken apart, fixed and re-mounted, to say nothing of the actual mechanics of engine-repair.
When it comes to boat-building, Bordeaux is truly open for business. In 2013, the city’s harbour, the Bassins à Flot were extensively over-hauled. There are now three types of dry dock which can accommodate tall and large vessels. This has led to a jobs boost, as skilled workers have been recruited to maintain the yachts anchored here. At the nearby Port of Bordeaux, 1600 ships dock annually, requiring the services of over 100 companies.
Left page: ‘Grand Bleu Vintage’.
Above: CNB as seen by a drone. At left: Catamaran Lagoon at CNB.
Construction of a hull at CNB 2.