Calais + Canal de Calais : Cruising in Detail

Information about the 29km of canal from Calais to the canal junction with the River Aa near Watten.

Calais is too well-known to need much comment; the closest port to the UK (Dover or Ramsgate are the usual nearest departure ports) and a more interesting town than car-ferry or Channel Tunnel familiarity might suggest. It is also a convenient point of entry into the French inland waterways network, albeit in its northernmost corner.

De- (or re-) masting will also benefit from some preparatory work. The marina at Calais (contact the chandlery 03.21.96.07.57), whilst helpful and able to provide craneage, may not be as familiar with the techniques as (say) yards at Honfleur or Le Havre, so don’t rely on them knowing and doing, everything. It might be advisable to talk to an experienced UK yard about the practicalities and the sequence – for example, disconnecting electrics; the order in which shrouds and stays and their bottle screws should be loosened and released; how and where the lifting strop on the mast should be attached (to avoid the wrongly balanced mast tipping end over end); and how the mast should actually be unstepped, lifted and laid down. Most probably laid down on your supports, see ‘Masting and Mastering‘.

See also general notes (foot of page).

Basic Information

  • Approximate TE minimum depth 1.80m, TA headroom 3.5m, width 5.10m. These are the ‘book’ values and may vary according to conditions. There are 25 locks (ecluses) open from 09:00 to 12:30 and 13:30 to 18:00.
  • VNF contact telephone numbers 03 28 58 71 10 (Dunkerque), 03 21 34 03 49 (Calais).
  • There are consistent reports of weed problems on the canal – be prepared to inspect your filters regularly and to back-wash the inlets. See ‘All blocked up’ for guidance.
  • Using a pilot-guide book is strongly recommended: Breil Guides or Fluviacarte (Navicarte) Guides.

PK30 – Calais

In the lower photograph (looking east) the marina is in the foreground, harbour entrance off to the left; along the top can be seen (left to right) the sea-lock, the Bassin Carnot and (just visible) the canal lock.

The marina is also entered through a sea-lock, waiting buoys are outside. Port of Calais : VHF #17 harbour control for the lift bridges and lock gates, telephone 03 21 34 55 23, Email calais-marina@nullcalais.cci.fr It is necessary to call harbour control to arrange passing through the lift bridge and sea-lock into the Bassin Carnot, right into the Bassin Arriere and then through the canal lock into the Bassin de la Batellerie. This should be possible approximately 1.5hrs either side of HW, which might guide your arrival time passage plan if you do not need to enter the marina (for example, for de-masting). There are mooring pontoons near the VNF offices at 45 Quai du Val de Meuse (03 21 34 03 49‎) should you need to purchase a vignette, although this is now much easier on-line. They will also arrange for an travelling bridge keeper to open the 6 lifting bridges, transiting the canals out of Calais.

PK26 Coulonge – Branch to Guines

If you wish to explore this short branch to the village of Guines, close to where the Field of the Cloth of Gold meeting between King Henry VIII and Francois I happened in 1520, you will need to inform the eclusier so that bridges can be lifted. It does look like weed might be a problem, as it may be elsewhere on the Canal de Calais. If concerned ask at the VNF office in Calais or talk to the eclusier.

PK21 Les Attaques

Village quayside mooring. After 15km of fairly empty countryside, approaching Hennuin at PK 6.5, announce your arrival on VHF Ch18: the lock keeper will first open the bridge then go to the lock to open that.

PK0 Junction with the River Aa

The junction is near the village of Watten. Turn left (north) towards Gravelines and the Canal de Bourbourg to the pleasant village of Bourbourg and on to Dunkerque. Turn right (south-east) to head along the Liaison Dunkerque-Escaut wide Grand Gabarit route towards Douai, Paris and the Mediterranean.