Dunkerque + Canal de Bourbourg : Cruising in Detail

Information about the 21km of canal from Dunkerque (Dunkirk) to the canal junction with the Canal de Colme (Grand Gabarit route) and the River Aa.

Dunkerque is too well-known to need much comment; it is the third largest French port and it is close to the UK (Dover or Ramsgate are the usual nearest departure ports). 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 marinas at Dunkerque (see below), 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 3 locks (ecluses) although only one (excluding the harbour area locks) up to the junction with the Canal de Colme.
  • VNF contact telephone numbers 03 28 58 71 10 (Dunkerque).
  • Using a pilot-guide book is strongly recommended: Breil Guides or Fluviacarte (Navicarte) Guides.

PK0 – Dunkerque

(above – photo Waterdog also below) The large Sea Lock leading from the Outer Harbour area into the inner docks and harbours. Page head photo by Olivier Bayart

Dunkerque has a choice of marina areas(see map left) – the three ‘bassin’ marinas are managed by the Port (03 28 63 23 00):

  • A – Bassin Grand Large – with a full range of facilities including a technical / boatyard area.

  • B – The YCMDN Yacht Club Mer du Nord, recommended (03 28 66 79 90), also with good facilities. – Through a lock –

  • C – The Bassin du Commerce, spectacular position, the centre of town.

  • D – The Bassin de la Marine, more limited facilities

Access to the Canal Basin is either via the large sea lock Ecluse Trystram and into Darse #1 (photo below), or from the Bassin de la Marine (D on the map) through a lift bridge and also into the Darse. From there, a lock provides access into the square canal basin and thence into the canal network. Call up on VHF Ch 73 to make all arrangements.

The VNF office is by the square canal basin, leading south is a short branch to a T-junction.

Canal de Bergues

Turn left (east) to the Canal de Bergues and the Canal de Furnes. Then right on to the Canal de Beurges. This is a straight canal to the ancient town of Bergues about 8km away – a ‘there and back trip’ but worth the visit. Good moorings (4 boats, rafting out possible) obtain jeton/key from tourist office (03 28 68 71 06) in the town square (5min) for water and electricity. The town is medieval and fortified, lovely square, back streets with all shops, wine/beer cave – and the Au Clocher restaurant.

Straight ahead onto the Canal de Bourbourg to the first lock (ecluse) Jeu de Mail – VHF Ch22. The canal skirts the southern industrial areas of Dunkerque – not exactly picturesque.

PK10 Canal de Colme (liaison de Dunkerque-Escaut) Junction

Turn left (south) to proceed towards Paris or the Mediterranean. After 1.5km the Canal de Bourbourg heads quietly west through Bourbourg, which is pretty and has a small pontoon Halte with water and electricity (03 28 65 83 83), to its junction with the River Aa.

Click here for information about the liaison de Dunkerque-Escaut (Grand Gabarit) route.