Invisible Bordeaux was one of a number of local structures and players who contributed to an innovative project focused on heritage in the a...

Introducing Bordeaux Métropole’s rather lovely local heritage card games


Invisible Bordeaux was one of a number of local structures and players who contributed to an innovative project focused on heritage in the area conducted this year by Bordeaux Métropole in conjunction with Deux Degrés, the publishing house and “agence de médiation” who have already occasionally featured on the blog (and, by the way, I’m a big fan of everything they do). The deliverables were recently unveiled and they consist of two highly desirable sets of cards, one being a “Happy Families” game and the other a classic deck of playing cards.

The twin objective of the project, codenamed “Vous avez une carte à jouer”, was to be able to identify and showcase some familiar and some lesser-known places of interest throughout the metropole, as well as providing a platform for local heritage associations and players to work together and get to know each other. The initiative was launched within the framework of the wider European Atlas World Heritage network aimed at boosting the sustainability of urban heritage (the other participating cities are Edinburgh, Florence, Porto and Santiago de Compostela), and the target was to complete it all in time for Bordeaux’s 2020 World Heritage week events in mid-September.

Above - Panels on display on Place de la Bourse explaining all about the Atlas World Heritage initiative during the city's 2020 World Heritage week.

Initially, the plan drawn up early in 2020 by Bordeaux Métropole and Deux Degrés was to hold meetings and collaborative workshops but - as you may have guessed - the pandemic-induced lockdown forced them to substantially revise their plans. Instead, the whole project shifted online and they conceived interactive maps so that those who wished to take part could locate points of interest and provide the reasoning behind their inclusion.

No less than 60 structures took part, identifying 400 points of interest, a shortlist of which was put to a vote in which 110 participants chose the subjects they thought to be the most significant. Then, by combining those results with other balanced choices to ensure every Bordeaux Métropole town was fairly represented, Deux Degrés got to work on producing the two card games.

Above - Even my hometown of Saint-Aubin-de-Médoc gets its own cards. These two sights are within walking distance of the Invisible Bordeaux household.

The resulting “Happy Families” game is aimed at a younger audience and has gathered points of interest into seven categories… or, indeed, families: nature, industry, water, habitat, monuments, contemporary architecture and châteaux. Each family comprises six members, the corresponding 42 cards featuring illustrations produced by the immensely talented Julianne Huon - whose style has become so synonymous with the distinctive Deux Degrés graphic look and feel over the years - and a brief overview of associated facts and figures. Interestingly, if the cards are laid out face down, they can also be positioned puzzle-like to form a far larger illustration reminiscent of the Bordeaux Métropole landscape.



The standard 52-card game (or rather 54 including the two jokers) provides a highly varied guide to some of the area’s well- and less well-known sights, along with a leaflet so that players can read thumbnail information about each one. The illustrations are the work of the also fabulously talented Jean Mallard. He is a young Paris-based artist with family in the area, but was not necessarily familiar with many of the sights. During a brief post-lockdown window, he was able to spend two days exploring the metropole and taking in the subjects shortlisted for the project. The resulting pictures capture much of that bright-eyed sense of discovery associated with seeing places for the first time. Mallard employed a variety of techniques, although the use of watercolour proves dominant. He also voluntarily kept to a relatively limited palette of colours in order to strike a degree of consistency across the cards. And to inject some life into the pictures, he always ensured there was some kind of human presence represented.

During an event held in September at the Maison Cantonale in the Bastide quarter (which itself features in the deck of cards) to present the finalized project to the network of contributors, both Julianne Huon and Jean Mallard were present to provide a first-hand account of their work, alongside Deux Degrés’ Pierre-Marie Villette and Bordeaux Métropole’s Anne-Laure Moniot. Jean Mallard even brought along the original artwork, i.e. all fifty-plus postcard-sized pieces which showed just how intricate and detailed the individual creations were.


Above - Illustrator Jean Mallard with the original pictures. On the right is his depiction of Stade Chaban-Delmas, included in the card deck under its former name, Parc Lescure.

The two sets have initially been produced as limited runs of just 500 units and were distributed throughout the World Heritage week from a special pop-up installation/mini-exhibition on Place de la Bourse. Beyond that, sets will be provided to libraries throughout the Métropole. Further down the line, a commercially-produced run may take shape… I for one certainly hope so.


Above - The pop-up exhibition on Place de la Bourse.

In the meantime, here at Invisible Bordeaux I am very proud to have been able to contribute to the project, and delighted to have seen some of my submissions (such as Bordeaux’s twin city gardens, Le Haillan’s Parc du Ruisseau, and the lone locomotive left positioned at the former railway station in Saint-Médard-en-Jalles) make it into the final sets of cards, all of which are really rather magnificent.
 


It all goes to show there’s very much an audience for local heritage, or petit patrimoine as they say in French… and it’s great to see Bordeaux Métropole is taking this very seriously as well as looking to bring local heritage players together on projects of the like. Congratulations to everyone involved!


> Deux Degrés website: www.deuxdegres.net

> Ce dossier est également disponible en français !

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An interesting post recently published on social media included a 1970s clip of a hovercraft criss-crossing the Gironde estuary between Lam...

The Gironde estuary hovercraft story and the Pauillac connection

An interesting post recently published on social media included a 1970s clip of a hovercraft criss-crossing the Gironde estuary between Lamarque and Blaye, on the route that is more naturally associated with its small-scale car ferries. This was news to me, and investigating further also enabled me to uncover the significant link between hovercraft and the town of Pauillac. How was this all connected, and where shall we begin?

The natural starting point is the story of one of France’s most emblematic innovators, Jean Bertin (1917-75). Among other breakthroughs, Bertin invented the technique of thrust reversal used by many jet aircraft to slow down upon landing. He was also the man behind the famous failed experimental “Aérotrain” hovertrain concept developed between 1965 and 1977 (which at the time lost out to the TGV high-speed train concept, but is not dissimilar to the hyperloop projects that are currently taking shape).


 Jean Bertin (photo source: Aéroclub Jean Bertin) and his famous failed Aerotrain project. And a combine harvester.

As early as 1955, Bertin founded his own company, Bertin et Cie, and in time created dedicated subsidiaries for his various ventures. He set up one for the Aérotrain project and, in 1965, he formed SEDAM (Société d'Etude et de Développement des Aéroglisseurs Marins), operating out of Marignane, near Marseille, with a manufacturing facility close to Bayonne. SEDAM was similarly driven by air cushion technology, and was specifically focused on the development and production of what would become its “Naviplane” range of amphibious hovercraft.

SEDAM’s first key deliverable was the N300 30-ton hovercraft. Two units were produced, the Baie des Anges, configured to transport cargo, in 1967, with the Croisette coming the following year and designed to carry up to 90 passengers. Both entered into service on the Mediterranean coast, shuttling between Nice airport, Cannes, Saint-Tropez, Monaco and San-Remo in Italy. SEDAM also produced a much smaller model, the N102, designed to carry two crew and 12 passengers. It never achieved any significant success, despite extensive commercial trials in different situations such as in the Mediterranean resort of La Grande Motte, as a means of reaching isolated beaches.


An N300 in Nice (photo source: Reddit) and an N102 somewhere near La Grande Motte (photo source: Le Maxi-Mottain).


And the story goes that in 1971, the Baie des Anges N300 was acquired by the Gironde département and converted in order to be used in conjunction with the existing ferry for the regular Gironde estuary crossing between Blaye and Lamarque, as well as heading to Pauillac and sometimes Bordeaux (to a hoverport reportedly located just by Pont d’Aquitaine). It could carry four vehicles and 38 passengers and it took the hovercraft just five minutes to get from one bank to the other on its primary route. As such it functioned between July 1971 and December 1975, totting up 20,000 crossings and 4,000 operating hours.

Why did the council revert back to a more orthodox 100% ferry service? This is unclear, although three factors could easily be pinpointed. Firstly, the high levels of noise whenever the Naviplane arrived and departed, particularly in the densely-populated town of Blaye, was undoubtedly unpopular with residents. Secondly, the ferry alternative boasted a far greater capacity, able to carry 40 vehicles and 350 passengers. And thirdly, the Baie des Anges became synonymous with a couple of unfortunate incidents. In one, the Naviplane’s front door had not been securely closed and, upon discovering this, the fast-moving craft was brought to a sudden halt by the pilot. The door opened, water flowed in and a luxury Citroën ended up in the estuary. Happily, nobody was hurt. The other, during a night-time crossing, saw the hovercraft colliding with a stationary radar mast approaching Lamarque, causing structural damage to the craft.


Souvenir postcard (source: Aeromed).

This is where the hovercraft landing platform was in Lamarque. It is now home to "La Paillote de Steph".
 
According to some reports, this would appear to be the approximate location towards the base of Pont d'Aquitaine suspension bridge where hovercraft would land in Bordeaux.

Meanwhile, come 1973, SEDAM was struggling to make ends meet but began working on a far more substantial, 260-ton model, the N500, the largest passenger hovercraft of its time, and which was designed to carry up to 400 people, 55 cars and five coaches at speeds of up to 70 knots (around 130 kilometres per hour). Two firm orders were secured for this more ambitious project, from the Gironde département (with a view to the craft operating the Royan-Le Verdon crossing at the mouth of the Gironde estuary), and the SNCF (to be deployed on its English Channel route). There were further commercial leads from elsewhere, such as Canada, and for the route between Nice and Corsica.

Possibly drawn to the invigorating air of the Gironde estuary, in December 1975, SEDAM relocated to Pauillac, operating from a large estuary-side warehouse just to the north of the town. And Pauillac was therefore where work on the N500 commenced, conducted by one Paul Guienne, who had also directed studies on the Aérotrain project. SEDAM began building the two inaugural Naviplanes: N500-1, for the Gironde order, became known as Côte d’Argent, while the SNCF’s N500-2 was originally to be called Côte d’Opale but was subsequently given the name Ingénieur Jean Bertin as a homage to Bertin, who passed away during that period. But it would not be plain sailing for the two N500s…  


The Côte d’Argent’s successful maiden flight took place on the estuary in April 1977, but during minor repair work (ahead of a ministerial visit) being carried out by SEDAM subcontractors the following month, a technician stepped onto a bare lightbulb, which exploded and set alight a spilt bucket of adhesive solvents. The whole craft caught fire and was totally destroyed in under an hour, all this occurring just a few days before it was set to be inaugurated by Prince Charles at a lavish ceremony. This tragic end is detailed, complete with archive photos, here.


Picture showing the aftermath as released by the investigation unit, one of many photos featured on the dedicated Naviplane website.

After an epic voyage from Pauillac to Boulogne-sur-Mer that took 25 hours with countless refueling stops along the Atlantic and Channel coasts, the Ingénieur Jean Bertin entered into service in 1978 with Seaspeed, the SNCF/British Rail joint venture, operating alongside two British SR.N4 “Mountbatten class” hovercraft, and enabling the Channel to be crossed in under 30 minutes (including a record-breaking 22’15” Dover-Calais crossing which was never officially registered because no adjudicators were present!).

In 1981 the Ingénieur Jean Bertin was transferred to Hoverspeed (the result of a merger between Seaspeed and Hoverlloyd) and was widely refurbished in response to demands issued by SNCF, re-entering service for a short period in 1983 before being decommissioned then generally left to rot and be broken up in Boulogne-sur-Mer in October 1985. (More generally, Channel hovercraft services were soon to enter a downward spiral with the opening of the Channel tunnel in 1994. The last cross-Channel hovercraft was withdrawn from service in 2000.) 

The Ingénieur Jean Bertin N500 arriving in Dover. Photo source: Wikipedia


Back in Pauillac, SEDAM was not doing well. The Gironde département had withdrawn its sole order, choosing instead to redirect finances to more urgent requirements (road infrastructure and schools). In addition, the SNCF would also not be providing any further custom, as they had come to regard the British SR.N4 as a superior craft. Towards the end of the 1970s, the company was taken over by the Dubigeon-Normandie shipbuilders, but folded completely in 1983, its final project no doubt being the refurbishment of an N102 which had been purchased many years previously by an Egyptian entrepreneur based in the United Arab Emirates.

Despite the company’s collapse, the Pauillac warehouse still contained the two retired N300 hovercraft and four N102s. An auction was held in May 1983 and a Bordeaux scrap metal merchant purchased the N102s. A restaurant owner acquired the Baie des Anges with the plan of converting it into a restaurant in Pauillac but was not authorized to do so. Plans to sell it on came to nothing so the craft stayed put in the warehouse. The Croisette was bought by a Pauillac scrap metal merchant but it too remained on site. Towards the end of 1983, both were scrapped completely and the SEDAM story came to a quiet end.

So, what remains today of the hovercraft adventures of Pauillac and SEDAM? Well, in Pauillac, the SEDAM warehouse is now used by the Baron Philippe de Rothschild wine company for storage ahead of distributing their produce worldwide. Across the road from the massive hangar and the wide space that is now a car park (where that fateful 1977 fire destroyed N500-1), a large concrete platform serves as a reminder of where the hovercraft were launched on to the estuary. The picture below was taken from that platform, looking back towards the SEDAM hangar.

 Thanks to the ever brilliant IGN Remonter le Temps website, it is possible to see how things used to be. First, here is the scene in 1976, with what appears to be two N102s stationed outside.

And here is the same view in 1977... with a single N500, in all likelihood Ingénieur Jean Bertin.

Of the N102s which ended up in the hands of a Bordeaux scrap metal merchant, in recent years two were recovered from their resting place in Villenave d’Ornon by a group of enthusiasts with a view to renovating and restoring them. That adventure is lovingly detailed here and, to cut a long story short, the two wrecks have been turned into a rejuvenated N102 Naviplane which now sits proudly on permanent display outside the Château de Savigny-lès-Beaune in the Burgundy region of France, as this Google satellite view of the area below right clearly shows!

Left picture source: hangarflying.eu

Finally, while the use of hovercraft to transport large numbers of passengers has faded over the years (although services do still operate on routes such as that connecting Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight), the technology continues to prove its worth in complex military situations or to deal with rough terrain where no other type of craft is capable of operating. And, who knows, it may one day make a comeback, including in Gironde where the subject often comes up as a potentially effective solution to connect central Bordeaux with Blaye and the tip of the estuary!

 

In the meantime, interest in hovercraft has anything but waned. There are many archive clips available on Youtube, there is a fantastic website dedicated to Naviplanes alone, and in this social media age you can even find a Facebook page that talks about nothing other than the Jean Bertin N500 Naviplane!

So get googling, check out naviplane.free.fr and investigate for yourself the weird and wonderful world of hovercraft, the then-futuristic whirr of which was, for a few years in the 1970s, a common sound on the banks of the Gironde estuary! 

 

> Find it on the Invisible Bordeaux map: Former SEDAM hovercraft factory, Pauillac; Bac Lamarque-Blaye ferry port, Lamarque; Bac Blaye-Lamarque ferry port, Blaye.
> Much of the information in this piece was found on the incredible naviplane.free.fr website, which is heavily recommended reading!
> Top photo source: Aeromed
> Cet article est également disponible en français !

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