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East Channel Cruising; Dover Straits to Selsey Bill & Pte Barfleur

Some of the most dense commercial traffic in the world passes through this region. Heavy ferry traffic from Dover to French ports weaves through the main traffic routes (video, 30 secs). All is managed through TSS, Smaller boats must keep clear of TSS, or only cross in the approved manner. Tidal ranges limit access to many harbours, so most all weather harbours are also busy commercial ports. They all have good provision for leisure traffic, but many have strict traffic control for entry and exit (Dover video) .

See Channel Overall for general information which applies to all Channel regions.

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UK Ports and Harbours - Selsey Bill to Ramsgate  (West to East)

This is a 100nm coast of passage, much easier going east with the prevailing winds than going west. Eastward, it's possible to carry a flood tide from Solent to Dungeness (the tidal watershed between the Channel and North Sea) then carry the ebb past Dover, to N Foreland. Westward, the longest passage will be from Folkestone anchorage to Eastbourne, about 38nm. Against any wind, conditions will be very choppy. Tacking sailboats must keep clear of the heavily trafficked TSS just offshore. Streams are stronger off Selsey Bill and Beachy Head. Selsey has the dangerous offshore Owers Shoal to avoid, though there's an inside fair weather short cut - the Looe channel. Just west of Beachy Head there are overfalls in rough weather. The tidal range, between 5.5 and 7m at springs, closes several small intermediate ports below half tide. Ferries shuttle to France from Newhaven and Dover. Port signals must be obeyed along this coast.

Littlehampton. Offshore shallows limit access to the river Arun, but otherwise this is a good stop for boats on passage. Once inside, the town is well worth a visit for its old centre, friendly yacht clubs, pubs and restaurants.  Visitor berths afloat are alongside pontoons, often rafted up. Grounding berths are available for twin keelers. There's a motor boat marina about half a mile up river.

Shoreham. Mainly a commercial harbour, Shoreham is accessible in most conditions, dredged to 1.9m. West inside the entrance is the river Adur, with commercial wharves and quite strong tidal streams. East leads to lock gates with traffic signals; inside are visitor's berths.

Brighton. Massive 24 hour marina, full service, good quality, which can handle all comers up to 3m draft and 30m LOA. It's  one mile E of town centre, but located in its own leisure complex and hypermarket. All mod cons on the spot.

Newhaven. A commercial harbour (obey signals!) with a recently extended marina, accessible in all weathers and tides

Eastbourne. Sovereign harbour, a substantial marina with good facilities, 2nm NE of Eastbourne. Sectored light entrance from E, good for night-time arrival. Big locks lead to berths, gates open half hourly 24 hours.

Rye. If you have time, and can take the ground, a delightful small town to visit about 2nm up a drying river. Small fishing fleet about 1mn short of the town. Harbour info.

Folkestone. Drying harbour for vessels that can take the ground, entry exposed to east. Ferrys no longer use the quay, which provides adequate shelter in westerly winds to create an anchorage at all states of the tide.  A useful stop on the way west, with plenty of shops, pubs and restaurants.

Dover. Hectic ferry traffic. Obey port signals. Otherwise, entry possible in all conditions. A tidal harbour for visitors and 2 good value locked marinas available for 8 hours around high tide. Within easy reach of good town centre amenities

Ramsgate is a ferry port, and a port of refuge in all but easterly gales, available all tides. Yachts are welcome, but shallow areas limit parts of the outer yacht harbour at low water. Inner locked marinas for longer stays. Easy access to a pleasant town centre.East Channel Map

French Ports and Harbours; Dunkerque to Pte Barfleur (NE to W)

From Dunkerque to Le Havre is a 150nm coast of passage with good provision for visitors, but only limited ports accessible in all conditions. This coast provides good access to the inland waterways of Europe, and inland routes through to the Mediterranean. Ports with restricted tidal access are not more than 20nm apart, often with good marinas accessible through locks around high tide. West of Le Havre is a quiet cruising area, better sheltered, with more ports and marinas, and fascinating relics of the WW2 D-day landings.

Dunkerque to Cap Gris Nez

From Dunkerque to Cap Gris Nez, tidal streams run strongly along the shore, which has shifting offshore shoals of sand running parallel to the coast. Off the main ports, channels inside the shoals are well buoyed. There's busy ferry traffic here, and the TSS lie just 5nm offshore between Calais and Boulogne

Dunkerque. A major town and port about the size of Southampton, accessible in any conditions, with shallow areas among the offshore shoals. Two marinas readily accessible for visitors, and two more locked in for longer stays. Good fish market, war museum. (more detail, & canals)

Gravelines & River Aa. Well worth a visit to see the old walled town. Drying approaches to a locked in marina, accessble 90 minutes each side of high water, but not in brisk northerlies! (more details)

Calais. Busy ferry port, accessible for small boats in most conditions except very strong northerlies. Shallow offshore shoals running parallel to the shore. Locked in marina accessible around high water. Waiting buoys outside. Mast down access to French inland waterways (more details)

Cap Gris Nez to Cap d'Antifer

South from Cap Gris Nez to Cap d'Antifer, about 100nm, is usually a lee shore, not comfortable in stronger westerlies. Boulogne and Dieppe, some 53nm apart, are the only ports of refuge. A shallow, sandy coastline makes access to other ports tidal. Spring tidal ranges reach about 8.5m.

Boulogne. Available in all conditions, and well worth a visit to explore the old town above the harbour.  A major fishing port with visiting berths available at all tides, and a further locked in marina for longer stays. Reported as a smelly harbour in light winds

Etaples. An attractive small town for seafood addicts. Access only around high water; suitable only for shoal draft boats which can take the ground. Ignore the once famed Le Touquet south of the estuary, its past glory is now well faded.

The Somme River. Entry to the Somme is through a shallow, weaving tidal channel to St Valery-sur Somme, a charming small town with a locked in (more details)

Le Tréport. Drying approaches to a locked in fishing harbour with plenty of visitors' berths. Berths for larger vessels. Maritime museum.

Dieppe. A lively city and ferry port, safe to enter in all conditions. Modern marina, a bit choppy in strong NE winds. Good facilities, with visitor's berths accessible at all tides and a shore hard with lift out.

St Valéry en Caux. An attractive small town, rebuilt post war around its estuary. This has been  converted to a large, locked in marina with good facilities. Approach after half tide, waiting buoys just outside the marina.

Fécamp. A good marina, accessible at all except the lowest tides, with very good facilities. Not accessible in strong onshore weather.  A lock leads to an inner basin. Visit the Bénédictine museum at the monastery, and the fishing museum, dedicated to the long distance fishing fleet which used to operate from here.

Baie de Seine - Cap d'Antifer to Pte de Barfleur

This 50nm wide bight was the site of the WW2 D-day landings. The towns in the area suffered heavy damage, and have largely been re-built. Several relics remain, and some excellent museums tell the story, not only of the landings, but the lead up to the war and its aftermath. Delightful small towns add interest, and on the whole this bay is well worth a 9 day cruise from UK and back. Just 2nm S of Cap d'Antifer is a large breakwater sheltering a tanker facility, with a buoyed approach channel. Cross this channel west of buoys A18 and A17. There are strong tidal streams off Pte Barfleur, running up to 5kts

The Seine Estuary and River. Well, of course, this is the route to Paris, via Rouen. For good detailed information about the journey, see French Waterways Seine to Paris.

  • Le Havre is a major port handling supertankers and container ships on a grand scale. The port approach channel may only be crossed at right angles, west of the LH7 and 8 buoys marking the channel. A deep water marina with visitors berths accessible in all weathers is just north of the channel as you enter the estuary. It has good yacht facilities. Ferries to Portsmouth. (more)
  • Rouen, accessible mast up, is largely re-constructed. It re-lives the Joan of Arc story, and has been re-modelled effectively to make it an interesting visit.
  • Honfleur. A "must see" - a truly beautiful port about 7nm up the Seine on the southern bank. There's a lock off the Seine which leads to the outer port, and a lifting bridge leads to the inner basin which is the centre of this small medieval town. Look out for the tiny jazz bar just west of the lifting bridge; some good players perform here. Restaurant quality is very variable; some sell "position" with big turnover but poor quality. (more of the same!)

Deauville/Trouville. These once very chic seaside resorts still retain a lot of buzz, and are worth a visit. Two marinas with locks on the Deauville side (SW) are accessible above half tide. First on the right is Port Deauville, modern, with smart apartments attached. Further in is Bassin des yachts, close to town centre and the bridge to Trouville with its magnificent fish market and matching restaurants. 

Dives has a 1nm drying approach to a large yacht harbour whose lock gates open above half tide.

Ouistrehamm/Caen. Ouistrehamm is a ferry port accessible at all tides, and in all conditions except strong northerly sector winds. Once inside, shelter is good, and there's a locked in marina, plus further canal access all the way to a further marina in Caen. Both towns suffered much damage during and after the Normandy landings in 1944. The Mémorial de Caen is a superb museum on the northern outskirts of Caen, a "must visit" for anyone interested in WW2 history. English and French labeling; allow at least 4 hours for the museum tour.

Courseuilles is a rather neat little up market holiday resort, which has a fairly large marina. Visitors berths are available. Access is possible 2hrs each side of high water. This was the WW2 D-day beach "Juno"

Arromanches. Just a fair weather anchorage today, but surrounded by the remnants of "Port Winston", the temporary Mulberry harbour which supplied the Allies re-occupying France in Summer 1944. The D-Day Museum (English & French; allow at least 2 hours) explains the whole sequence of design, construction and use of the Mulberry harbour, together with the resulting campaign on shore, which destroyed so many towns and villages along this coast.

Port en Bessin. A fishing port with a drying outer harbour, which accepts visitors. The locked basin opens two hours each side of high water. You'll need a ladder to climb the quayside. Good fish markets.

Grancamp-Maisy is a small resort with a fishing fleet on the east entrance of Baie du Grand Vey (the 3nm x 3nm shallow tidal estuary leading to Isigny and Carentan). Approach to the locked harbour is possible for a couple of hours each side of high tides.

Isigny, accessible only to shallow draft vessels which can take the ground.

Carentan is a busy little town, a good visit. But it can't be reached in neap tides by vessels drawing 2m or more. Very good marina, safe to leave a boat for a period.

St Vaast is an excellent modern marina with all facilities, drying hards, shipyard, and a fishing fleet. The drying approaches are safe in most weather conditions - once there's enough water.  Lock gates open over the top half of the tide. The town is well geared to visiting yachtsmen, and has a good Saturday market.

Barfleur. A fishing village with a drying harbour, unchanged by tourism. Berths suitable for a keel yacht to dry out leaning on the NW wall are possible, but not suitable in NE or E winds. Ladders reach the quay top. Strong tidal streams across the entrance. 


Last revised July 2017


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