Northern France has some of the most varied and challenging cruising waters to be found in Western Europe. The English Channel and Atlantic coasts, together with the offshore islands have such a variety of sailing experiences that it is hardly surprising that France produces some of the world’s most renowned yachtsmen. It is also the place where several of the world’s biggest yacht manufacturers are based.
France is a magnet for yachtsmen from all over Europe
As an open country, it is a natural consequence that France is one of the most open nations for pleasure yachtsmen. France offers extensive marina developments in most of its coastal areas coupled with the country’s reputation for great food. Perhaps, these are the reasons that Northern France continues to be such a magnet for yachtsmen from all over Europe. France´s harbours and marinas are often full to bursting point during the high season.
Northern France requires careful planning due to tides
Starting at the Belgian border from Dunkirk to Cherbourg, the coast of Northern France becomes increasingly low-lying as you pass the famous Normandy beaches. The main harbours of Calais, Boulogne, Dieppe, Le Havre, and Cherbourg are accessible at any state of the tide. However, due to large tidal ranges, most of the smaller harbours in Northern France require careful planning to lock in and out around high water.
Moving west, between Cherbourg and Brest you will find some of the most challenging cruising in France. The tidal ranges can increase by up to 13 meters. Tidal flows and currents can pose grave dangers for the unprepared. For the knowledgeable mariner, the tidal ports of Granville, St Malo, Paimpol and Roscoff provide a unique taste of Brittany that is not available to most land travellers.
The big tidal races through Chenal de Four
The Atlantic coast from Brest to Royan is more forgiving than the coast further north. That is, except for the infamous tidal races through the Chenal de Four and round the Pointe du Raz. The jewels of this fantastic cruising area are the beautiful Atlantic islands of Ile de Groix, Belle Ile, and Ile d’Oléron. Other than a few busy weeks from mid-July to end August, life here is set at a gentle pace; without crowds and with nature in abundance everywhere.
The coast between Royan and the Spanish border is mostly flat and featureless. It has one exception, which is the shallow bay of Arcachon. Most yachtsmen avoid this area and make straight for the French Basque ports of St Jean de Luz and Hendaye.