Finally, France

It’s taken a while.. Day 3

Ok, so we’re only a couple of days behind our original plan – but according to Andrew’s clever chart, we are in fact ahead of ourselves… go figure!undefined

So it was that on a bright and breezy Friday 21 June we slipped our berth at Dover Marina, called Port Control on channel 74, gave our intended destination as Dunkirk (Dunkerque) and were given permission to proceed out of the western channel. The entrance was now dominated by a large cruise ship, that towered over us as we tidied away the ropes and fenders.

Storm in a teacup

The exit out of Dover was almost as exciting as our entrance the day before. The wind was up and the sea state confused, added to which we were not alone when trying to hoist our main sail in these tricky conditions. There were other yachts too, who had chosen the same window of opportunity to slip out of Dover to continue their journeys too. Oh, and did we mention the numerous passenger ferries who ploughed their way in and out with monotonous regularity, bearing down on us at speed?

This sea state was soon over, like a storm in a teacup, Suzanne helmed, as Dover and the famous white cliffs slowly receded into the distance, and the far shores of France hove into view. The tide was with us, and the wind too, meaning we were making great progress at a steady 6 – 7 knots. However we did get hit by the occasional spray – the worst of which hit, just was we were tucking into our lunchtime baguettes – extra salt with that?

And so to France

We waved mid channel as we passed first a German and then a Dutch flagged yacht going in the opposite direction, also make fast progress. Clearly we’d all chosen the same waypoints, to make sure we crossed the traffic separation scheme at the right 90 degree angle. Another boat wasn’t and had Dover coast guard issue first a warning and then a penalty, and call them out as a warning to other shipping as they were failing to stick to this most basic of safety measures to avoid collisions at sea. Doh!

Raising our French courtesy flag

At 4pm, having raised our first courtesy flag, we sailed past Calais, and started to pick off the buoys that guided us through the safe water channel towards our destination. As the sun shone down, Andrew took off his sailing gear, and was down to t-shirt and sunscreen (ok and trousers). As we settled into the rhythm of sailing up the coast of France towards Dunkerque, we began to read ‘The Riddle of the Sands’ by Erskine Childers aloud. Clearly a book of its age, hence with some excrutiating sentences – but we still think will be a great read, as we near the coastal area in which it is set. It certainly helped to pass the time.

Arrival into Dunkerque/Dunkirk

In the distance we could see a pall of smog hanging in the air, and as we neared we realised that there was an industrial complex further up the coast, which then transpired was the main port of Dunkirk. This didn’t bode well. However, our minds were soon taken off that, when we realised that the yacht we had been following for several miles, was in fact within our reach, and then unbelievably, we passed – with only our main sail up – and they with both their main and gib up. How smug did we feel! We hadn’t even been trying to catch them up! We made the most of that feeling, as we’re sure that it wont happen again!

We dropped our mainsail outside the entrance to the harbour, and then followed the signs for the La Grande Large marina. There were no visitor berths left, but luckily, although the office was closed, we were pointed in the direction of a free resident’s berth. Although clearly for a smaller boat, we berthed, with the help of a neighbouring Moody 45 ‘Ginger Lily’, also a British couple, but travelling in the opposite direction. We were in and squared away by 1940 – with a dinner of red thai curry already bubbling in the wok!

We checked in the next day at the marina office on the first floor of a bright red building. Great facilities on the ground floor, with key card access. Friendliness and cleanliness can’t be faulted.

Marina office at La Grande Large

Daily stats

We sailed 45 nautical miles, and were underway for 7 hours and 40 minutes, with an average speed of 5.9 knots, with only 1.2 hours of engine, motoring out of and into the harbours, and used a gallon of fuel. You can see our route on the AIS map below.

Our route from Dover to Dunkirk/Dunkerque

Actually it’s alright

The original industrial appearance on our approach to Dunkirk by sea, and discovering that it is twinned with Middlesborough – meant our expectations weren’t too high.

However we spent the next day walking about 8 miles around the area, along the infamous breakwater where British, French and Belgian troops made their escape in 1940, into the old part of town, and out to the beach, to enjoy ice cream and the free music festival. Of course, our very first stop was the nearest boulangerie to buy french bread and pastries for breakfast.

It is a town of many contrasts, that celebrates its past and the future, has an interesting mix of architecture, shops, restaurants and an open and welcoming population. Plus they have free buses, which we took advantage of, when all the walking finally got too much. This would be a great place to bring a bike – but as Andrew’s wouldn’t fit into the car, we’ve only brought mine…. Unlike our berth mate Belgian, who managed to ram into the back of our boat when berthing, without fenders – because he had chosen to put bikes in his locker and had left the fenders behind…. as you do… if you’re Belgian…

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