When reading other’s sailing blogs Calais has always felt a distant city by looking at the end of the Baltic Sea. It really felt like an achievement by arriving on own boat to the harbour of Calais. At the same time we marked again a new country into our logbook. France is already the 12th country we have been sailing so far.
The North Sea turns into the English Channel a little eastwards from Calais. The Channel is at its narrowest near Calais where the width is only 32 kilometres. This area is called the Dover strait. There are busy ferry traffic between Calais and Dover. Also the English Channel is one of the busiest waterways in the world. Every day 400 ships are passing here.
There are many sandbanks in the front of the port of Calais
where the water depth can be just half a metre. Thus the vessels arriving from east and also from Dover must make a 3.5 mile detour to the west before approaching the harbour. We were arriving just at the time of a high water. Another sailing boat in front of us took a shortcut over the sandbanks, so we were brave enough to turn at the buoy CA6 towards the harbour as well. Andrus carefully steered us forward and there were at least six metres of water all the way.
The traffic lights of the port were showing a green-white-green that meant we needed to ask from Calais Port Control the permission to enter the harbour area on VHF channel 17. They let us know the next opening time for the bridge. They also mentioned that we could use the mooring buoy during the waiting and the mooring on the north wall is not allowed. We later understood this ban in the harbour when we noticed that the ground had collapsed on the north pier.
There are about 10 mooring buoys in front of the marina and they can be used without payment for waiting the next high tide. It is possible to stay for a longer time but then somebody from the port will arrive to collect the harbour fee. We only were there waiting for a half an hour until the yellow light notified that the bridge is opening in ten minutes.
There are no more lock at the entrance of Calais marina because it went broken a few years ago. Now there is however a sill and an openable road bridge. The marina can only be accessed five times an every high water: 2h and 1h before, at the high water, 1.25h and 2.5h after the high water. We planned our arrival at the high water but by taking a shortcut we arrived an hour earlier. We were laughing later when she had already been made fast and we were relaxing after a day at sea, suddenly a heavy shower poured down. It would have been just at our estimated arrival time but this time we avoided this blessing and just enjoyed the sound of the rain inside the boat.
The visitors pontoons are in the front of the marina. It is however worthwhile to look at a little further because there are still some visitors berths more before the local boat pontoons are located. We found a good finger pontoon even if near the entrance other boats were already rafting up.
This was the first marina for us where was a friendly notice on the pontoon that the boat’s registration papers and passports should be taken to the marina office. When the harbour office was opened next morning it was interesting to present a registration written fully in Finnish. I commented to Andrus that “no problem, I suppose that there are for sure only French language in French registration papers”. After wondering our papers for some time the harbourmaster notified that all is in order.
On Wednesday it was a shopping time. We took the bus to one of the three big shopping centres in Calais. There are many shops and businesses around Cité Europe. The Eurostar train tunnel under the English Channel is located just six kilometres to the west from Calais. The proximity of the train station has grown the whole shopping world near to the train station.
Our day passed quickly. Hands full of bags we thought to still have a dinner in the shopping mall before taking the bus back. After all it was in the timetable that the last bus will leave at 9:10pm back to Calais. We were standing and waiting at the bus stop, neither there was nobody else there. We had just missed the second lastest bus by five minutes. In our minds there were still hope for the bus to arrive but the bus was nowhere to be seen. No worry, we thought we’ll find a hotel or some other pedestrians or something and thus we went for a walk around the streets of the area. There were absolutely nobody, no hotels, no pubs or anything else. Only closed offices and a lonely hospital. Even the reception of the hospital was closed. We were stunned. Only the cars were passing and entering to the highway ramps.
It was nearly at ten o’clock when we finally stopped one car and they kindly ordered a taxi for us. The taxi order must have been into so unclear address that the 5 to 10 minute promised waiting time stretched to half an hour and there was still no taxi. It started to be dark outside, so we decided to walk back towards the mall where we had previously passed the police station. Maybe there is still somebody working there. Just as we were arriving to the yard of the police station, the police car left the garage. We quickly run to the car before they left as well and asked if they could help us on ordering the taxi. They wanted to have a confirmation that we really are going back to our own boat in the Calais harbour. “Yes, Yes for sure” I tried to be convincing. Suddenly one of the four policemen told that “Jump on then”. When we were climbing to the back seat of the police car we felt happy but ashamed at the same time. We got a ride back to the boat in a darkening night of Calais. We lost completely the faith in the French bus schedules! On the other hand we made a two hours walk in a totally new surroundings 🙂 We would like to send a huge and warm thanks to the French policemen for a safe ride back to Suwena.
There is a 59 metres tall lighthouse of Calais just next to the harbour. Its characteristics are black upper part and the octagonal tower. We climbed up all the 271 steps to the business end of the light. It is amazing that the bulb is rated only for 250 watts but because of the lens the light reaches 23.5 nautical miles to the sea.
From the terrace of the lighthouse opens an amazing view. In the good weather it is possible to see the cliffs of Dover. However there was so much moisture in the air during our visit that we could not see the English coast. At a times the lighthouse guard had to stay both the days and nights up near the lamp maintaining the light. It must have been cold when the wind was howling around the stone lighthouse. Nowadays everything is controlled by computers. Only the spirit of history and the ghost of the lighthouse are still living there.
The Calais Port Control looks after the harbour but it has also an important part in the life of the lighthouse. They notify the lighthouse about the weather conditions because the lighthouse is very popular destination especially among the school kids. When the wind reaches 50 km/h or 14 m/s the children are not allowed to climb up to the terrace any more. When the wind reaches 75 km/h or 21 m/s the tower will be closed from adult visitors as well. That’s because the wind speed doubles up in the lighthouse.
On Friday after the lighthouse visit we had an aim to take the bus to explore the high coast of the Côte d’Opale in Normandy. The opal coast are located between Calais and Boulogne-Sur-Mer. However we stayed in lighthouse for too long. We noticed that again we could only take the last bus back from the coast to Calais. This time we did not try our luck with the French bus schedules. Something must be left for another visit to Calais as well. On Saturday the voyage of Suwena continues and our next destination is Dieppe.