Gravelines + River Aa : Cruising in Detail

Information about the 18km of river from Gravelines to the canal junction with the Liaison Dunkerque-Escaut junction near Watten.

Gravelines is not well-known and deserves to be; an historic village port of entry that contrasts with its bigger neighbours Calais and Dunkerque. Two points are worth noting at the outset, firstly that the non-tidal marina basin dries partly, but does so to very soft mud of a depth not to comprise even fin keel yachts; secondly that the river-lock (more accurately, set of flood gates) is old and may not always be operational – telephone the marina/port de plaisance on 03 28 65 45 24 to check all is ok, possibly to book in advance.

De- (or re-) masting will also benefit from some preparatory work. The marina at Gravelines (contact the chandlery – good reports), 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 4.4m, width 5.10m. These are the ‘book’ values and may vary according to conditions. There is one lock (ecluse) open according to request and tide conditions.
  • VNF contact telephone numbers 03 28 58 71 10 (Dunkerque).
  • Using a pilot-guide book is strongly recommended: Breil Guides or Fluviacarte (Navicarte) Guides.

PK28 – Gravelines

In the lower photograph by Jean-Marc Gfp (looking south from the sea-lock) the river entrance is off to the left. Passage up the entrance channel up to Gravelines is quite feasible and straightforward approximately 2hrs either side of HW, although this will depend on draft. Not to be attempted in adverse conditions, including on-shore breezes more than F4. There is 1km of concrete breakwater protected channel through the beaches, then another 3km to the marina entrance itself.

Port de Plaisance: VHF #9 harbour control for the lock gates, telephone 03 28 65 45 24 (reasonable English is spoken), Email port,de,plaisance,gravelines©wanadoo,fr   (port,de,plaisance,gravelines©wanadoo,fr)  The marina offers all services, good restaurant on the quayside and more shops restaurants and bars in the town.

The town itself is historic and because it lay on the border between France and the Spanish Netherlands shows a fortified ‘star’ plan, surrounded by a moat that can nowadays be rowed around. The Spanish Armada anchored off Gravelines in 1588, preparatory to taking on experienced fighting troops and launching an invasion of England, foiled by the (far smaller) Royal Navy’s action using fire-ships that effectively destroyed the Armada and sent it on a calamitous voyage around the British Isles.

PK22 Le Guindal – Junction of the Canal de Bourbourg

The lift bridges between Gravelines and Le Guindal are opened by a travelling eclusier, from Le Guindal onwards they are manned. The Canal de Bourbourg that enters the Aa here has its starting point at Dunkerque; a short detour along it to the pretty village of Bourbourg might be worthwhile; there is a good pontoon.

PK14 Junction of the Canal de Calais

PK10 Watten – Junction with the Liaison Dunkerque-Escaut

Click here to continue the route, along the Liaison Dunkerque-Escaut Grand Gabarit (River Aa, Canal de Neufosse, Canal d’Aire, Canal de la Deule).