Dunkirk port and canals
Information about the 14.5km long Canal de Furnes, the 8km long Canal de Bergues and the 21km long Canal de Bourbourg
Dunkirk is the preferred port of entry to French waterways for most boaters crossing the Channel from England or coming from other countries via the North Sea. See under ‘Dunkirk as entry port’ the description of the approach through the port and and its Canal de Jonction to the three ‘Dunkirk canals’. These lead out from the port in three directions : (1) the Canal de Furnes runs along the coast east to the Belgian border, a distance of 14.5km (and the beautiful town of Furnes or Veurne is only 7.5km beyond the border); (2) the Canal de Bergues extends for just over 8km south to the small town of Bergues, where it used to connect with the Canal de la Colme, but this waterway fell into disuse in the 1960s ; (3) the Canal de Bourbourg provides a 21km link from the Canal de Junction through to the river Aa. Formerly a key link between the port and its hinterland, extending to the Paris region, it was superseded in the 1960s by the high-capacity Liaison Dunkerque-Escaut, with the exception of the 1.6km section that was upgraded and incorporated into the latter waterway between the Colme diversion canal (dérivation de la Colme), PK 9.3, and the Mardyck diversion canal (dérivation de Mardyck), PK 10.9. For further details see under the Liaison Dunkerque-Escaut. For convenience the distances on all three canals are given starting from Dunkirk.
History – The Canal de Furnes is part of the complex network of wateringues (drainage channels) established since the Middle Ages. It was navigated prior to 1634. The canalisation was initiated by the Spanish, then rulers of Flanders, in 1669. The single lock was lengthened to 44m around 1818. Yet, the square lock at Jeu du Mail in Dunkerque, which gives access to the canal, was only 36 m long. The canal’s present depth was negotiated with Belgium in 1890.
The Canal de Bergues is one of the oldest canals in Flanders, its course being shown on a map dating from the 9th century. The town itself, heavily fortified by Vauban in the late 17th century, is the main attraction for boats, which moor in a dramatic location just outside the fortified walls. The site acquired worldwide fame in 2008 as the location for the cult film Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis. The local dialect and out-of-tune belfry chimes contributed to making Bergues a destination for tourists from near and far. Restoration of the Canal de la Colme would increase the number of visiting boats, but there is opposition from the authority that manages all the local drainage canals.
Work on the Canal de Bourbourg started in 1679, the Dunkerque to the Aa river. The present locks were built between 1846 and 1855, then enlarged to the Freycinet gauge. The lock ‘du jeu du Mail’ in Dunkerque is a curiosity. It was rebuilt to European Class IV standards around 1960, but there is no high-capacity link to the port basins downstream, only a Freycinet tide-lock. The high-capacity link is now through the dérivation de Mardyck, part of the Dunkerque-Escaut waterway.
Dunkirk as entry port – The plan shows the slightly tortuous route into the canals from the outer harbour of Dunkirk. Call up on VHF 73 to make arrangements with the harbourmaster. If the port will allow, leave the main ship lock (Trystram) to the right, to proceed through the more interesting old basins of the port, passing or using the services of four separate ports de plaisance. A passage north from the corner of the Bassin de la Marine leads back into the commercial basins of the port, here Darse n° 1. Turn left here to approach the barge lock that leads into the Canal de l’Île Jeanty (photo at bottom of page). From this point, an expansive basin where péniches used to congregate, it is south to the Canal de Jonction. This is where the ‘inland’ adventure begins, VNF’s Canal de Bourbourg being straight ahead. Turning left, the Canal de Jonction (part of the port of Dunkirk) leads to the Canal de Bergues and Canal de Furnes.
De- (or re-)masting will benefit from some preparatory work. The marinas at Dunkerque, whilst helpful and able to provide craneage, may not be as familiar with the techniques as the yards at Honfleur or Le Havre, so they cannot be relied on to know and do everything required. It might be advisable to talk to an experienced yard in your home country 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.
Key Waterway Dimensions
- Max Beam: 5.05m
- Max Height: 3.20m
- Max Draught: 1.80m
Once on the VNF network, navigation is straightforward. Encounters with commercial traffic will be limited to the port of Dunkirk and the Canal de Bourbourg, especially the section incorporated in the Liaison Dunkerque-Escaut. The very infrequent movements on the other canals can lead to problems with weed and invasive species such as the water hyacinth.
Locks – There are no locks on the Canal de Bergues, and only one lock on the Canal de Furnes, situated at the entrance from the Canal de Jonction. Authorised dimensions are 38.50 by 5.05m. There are three locks on the Canal de Bourbourg. The one at Jeu de Mail in Dunkerque (see plan) is 110 by 12m. The other two, situated on the section between the upgraded length and the river Aa have dimensions of 38.50 by 5.20m.
Draught – The maximum authorised draught is 2.20m in Dunkirk and along the Canal de Bourbourg to PK 10.9 and 3.00m on the upgraded length incorporated in the Liaison Dunkerque-Escaut, otherwise 1.80m.
Headroom – All the fixed bridges leave a clear headroom of 3.20m above the highest navigable water level (3.50m above normal level). There are no bridges on the upgraded section.
Towpath – A metalled public road replaces the former towpath on the south bank from Dunkirk through to Bourbourg lock, then on the north bank through to the Aa. Good towpaths on the other sections of these canals.
Authority – Grand port maritime de Dunkerque
– Terre-plein Guillain, BP 6534, 59386 Dunkerque cedex 1
(Canal de Jonction and Canal de l’Île Jeanty)
VNF – Direction territoriale Nord-Pas de Calais
– Terre-plein de l’Écluse du Jeu de Mail, 59375 Dunkerque
(all three canals)
Canal de Jonction; Canal de l’Île Jeanty to Canal de Furnes
PK 0.0 Junction with the Canal de l’Île Jeanty (north) and Canal de Bourbourg (south) , the former gives access from and to the semi-tidal basins of the port through a lock 700m to the north
PK 0.2 Railway bridge and bridge
PK 0.4 Bridge, Junction with the Canal de Bergues, bridge
PK 0.6 Dunkerque, footbridge boat moorings (pontoon on south bank), town centre 500m
PK 0.8 Bridges
PK 1.0 Bridge
PK 1.1 Bridge, crossing of flood relief channel (no access)
Canal de Furnes, from Dunkirk to Belgian border
PK 1.2 Lock (Furnes), automatic
PK 1.7 Footbridge (Corderies)
PK 2.0 Footbridge and bridge (Dunkerque express road)
PK 2.6 Bridge (Pont Neuf)
PK 2.7 Pipeline crossing
PK 2.9 Road bridge (Maraîchers)
PK 2.9 Railway bridge (Rosendaël)
PK 3.5 Bridge (Chapeau Rouge)
PK 5.9 Bridge (Leffrinckoucke)
PK 7.1 Private basin, 500m branch to the north, serving steelworks
(Usine des Dunes)
PK 7.4 Pipeline crossing
PK 9.7 Zuydcoote lift bridge, village north bank
PK 10.9 Road bridge (D947)
PK 11.6 Ghyvelde lift bridge (automatic), pipeline crossing, village 1200m south, Bray-Dunes 1000m north
PK 13.3 Basin
PK 14.5 Belgian border, connection with Canal de Nieuport à Dunkerque in West Flanders, Belgium (boat harbour in Furnes/Veurne, 8.3 km)
Canal de Bergues, from Dunkirk to Bergues
PK 0.0 Junction with canal de Jonction, PK 0.4 on the Canal de Furnes. Dunkerque boat moorings (base fluviale) 200m to the east
PK 0.0 Bridge (Pont Rouge)
PK 0.4 Footbridge (Batardeau)
PK 0.6 Bridge (Coq)
PK 0.7 Flood relief canal, r/b (not navigable)
PK 1.1 Railway bridge (Coudekerque)
PK 1.3 Bridge (Saint-Georges, downstream or 2nd bridge)
PK 1.4 Bridge (Saint-Georges, upstream or 1st bridge)
PK 1.6 Bridge
PK 1.8 Motorway bridge (A16)
PK 2.4 Mooring east bank
PK 3.1 Bridge (Sept-Planètes), quay u/s l/b, Capelle-la- Grande
PK 4.9 Fort Vallières (historic fort) r/b
PK 7.7 Junction with the Canal de la Haute Colme (disused, except for boat moorings for Bierne 50m up the canal from the junction)
PK 7.9 Bergues basin, boat mooring along quay below town wall, night €7.50, water, water, electricity, restaurant, town centre with all services 300m
PK 8.1 Junction with Canal de la Basse Colme (disused)
Canal de Bourbourg
PK 0.0 Junction with river Aa
PK 0.1 Lock (Le Guindal), bridge
PK 2.8 Site of former railway bridge (industrial siding), quays
PK 3.1 Lift bridge (Maisonneuve), private quays
PK 3.7 Lift bridge (Louis Manier),
PK 3.9 Bourbourg quay and mooring for 2 boats on bypassed section of old canal, water, electricity, slipway, small town r/b
PK 4.0 Lock (Bourbourg)
PK 5.7 Road bridge (D600)
PK 8.3 Coppenaxfort bridge, quay u/s l/b, private quays d/s
PK 9.3 Junction with Liaison Dunkerque-Escaut r/b
PK 10.9 Junction with Mardyck diversion canal (liaison Dunkerque-Escaut), l/b
PK 11.2 Gas pipeline crossing
PK 13.1 Spycker bridge, quay u/s l/b, village 2500m r/b, Grande-Synthe (Dunkerque suburb) 3000 m l/b
PK 14.7 Water pipeline crossing
PK 15.2 Old line rejoins canal, l/b (access to Usine des Deux-Synthes)
PK 15.6 Bridge (N225)
PK 16.0 Petite-Synthe bridge, public quay u/s l/b
PK 18.8 Turning basin l/b, private basin through bridge r/b