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Day 13 Ghyvelde to Dunkirk

In the morning we noticed that the lights were now switched on at the bridge, human life had returned in France! We were soon approached by the bridge operator who asked to see our papers! Here we go again we thought. However, this time we were told that we could go through the bridge, but we needed to obtain a French licence once in Dunkirk. We set of for Dunkirk at 10.00. There was another bridge not much further along the canal, and we could see that it was the same bridge operator, he had travelled up to the next bridge in his van to open it for us.  

We managed to get to Dunkirk at 11.00. We stopped outside an automatic lock. But we could not find a way to open it. The sign read ‘ to open the lock pull the little chain’……but where was the little chain? We looked everywhere on the banks, on the doors of the locks, along the jetty where we had moored up, but nothing. Martin clambered up the bank to have a better look, and whilst he was away, another boat arrived with a Belgian couple on it. They had been through the lock before last year. But although they were familiar with how to operate the lock once in it, they couldn’t figure out how to open it either. Martin in the meantime had walked to the other side of the lock where he found an English boat, they had been waiting for three days to go through the lock!

Eventually the doors opened and the English boat came through. We eventually managed to get through with the Belgian couple, and we were finally through that lock at 13.00, two hours at one lock was the longest we had waited so far. 

We motored on to the VNF office to obtain our licence. Of course, they had shut for lunch at 12.00, and didn’t open again until 14.00. So we moored up and ate our lunch. After obtaining a one day licence we set off for the marina in search of fuel and water. We made our way along the canal, Dunkirk seemed grey and grim. There was a lot of graffiti on the bridges, and homeless people sat sheltering below seemingly oblivious to the big brown rats that were scurrying amongst them.

We had another automatic lock to go through, and again there seemed to be no instructions on how to use it. Again we waited what seemed like an age, with no response on the VHF radio. We eventually got through the lock by waiting for someone to come through from the other side.  It was now about 18.00 as we entered the lock, and Martin had to climb a vertical ladder about twenty feet from the water level to secure the boat.

We had one more bridge and one more lock before we reached the marina. Martin tried several times to the bridge operator on the hand held VHF radio, with no response. He then decided to try the ship’s radio instead. Meanwhile, I googled the French equivalent for ‘we would like to pass through Pier no. 2 bridge please’ Martin then suggested that I had a go on the radio speaking in French, and hey presto they answered. We were told that the bridge would open at 18.30 and that we would be able to enter the lock straight after. We realised then, that our next lock would be at Teddington, and the next bridge would be the QE2 bridge on the Thames.

Once in the marina, we filled up the diesel tanks (356 litres!!). We then moored up for the night. We attempted to eat at the restaurant on the marina, but unfortunately, we were a bit too late. So we walked about 500 metres along the beaches of Dunkirk and found a small restaurant still willing to serve food (to be honest it was only 20.45). After a superb fish dish and a huge dessert, we retired for the evening. Amazingly, it had taken 8 1/2 hours from when we reached the first lock at Dunkirk to mooring up for the evening at the marina.  

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