Lille - Canal de la Lys - Douai - Lille

After being in Lille for 4 weeks and Lawrence working offshore for 2 of them, we were ready to get moving again and see some of France. The locals said that ‘Canal de Lys’ was a smaller, less commercial waterway and very pretty, so that was the choice for this cruise. We would go north to the Lys, west along it to ‘Aire sur le Lys’ and then south to Douai. We had a tanker deliver domestic gasoil before we left Lille so I had to re-plumb the tanks so that engine supply was completely separate from domestic boiler and generator supply. The French police or customs could fine us for road duty on the capacity of all our tanks if they found we could use French white gazoil in our engine. That would hurt!


Just an hour’s steam along the Canal de la Deûle from Lille and the countryside begins after the industry of the big city, Wambrechies is a ‘port de plaisance’ with water and electricity but costs €18 per night. A very pretty small town though, with parks and gardens to walk the dog and café bars. The town clock clangs a tune every 30 minutes, but thankfully, only from 7am until 10pm every day.

Head north from Lille

North of Wambrechies the canal really opens up into countryside and wide open canal until the junction with the Canal de la Lys, right is the Belgium border but we turn left to stay in France.

We entered the ‘Canal de la Lys’ and the sides came right in with tight bends. We wondered how we would cope if we met a commercial barge head on at a bend but guessed they would be going slowly too! The canal is only big enough for Freycinet size barges and we met one of these at a tight bend before Armentières. It was nearly stopped, having seen our bow come around the corner, so we had to go hard astern and swing around, passing him with about 4 ft between the boats. A cheery wave though and off we went. Our speed was also right down because of the restricted depth and width of the canal. We used our normal engine revs of 1200rpm but found our speed was down by 2 knots! This was due to the displaced water having to stream around the hull to fill the hole behind us. It also added up to higher diesel use per km.


Narrow bend on the Canal de la Lys.


Our first stop was Armentières where there was a port de plaisance, again it was a bit full and too small for Waterdog. We tied up to a quay near town and went for a stroll. The town seemed typical with a huge church and town hall, both being cleaned and renovated. A cold beer in a café with the dog barking at passers by and then back to the barge. In the morning we found that one of our ropes had been thrown off the bollard, the first time this had happened to us. We resolved to double wrap them in future and moved on.

Automatic lock

The Freycinet locks were much smaller than we had used before and with 20cm to spare on each side they seemed a real tight squeeze as we approached. This one was operated by a remote that we had been issued and you ‘zapped’ a sensor as you approached. Once in the lock you ‘zapped’ another sensor and the lock operated.


Merville was another small town with nice park land. We had trouble on the approach to the lock as weed from the shallow canal bed kept being sucked into the engine intake. I had to keep stopping the engine and clearing the strainer to save the engine from over heating. This happened about 5 times before we tied up for the evening opposite the local Lidl supermarket and wino bench. We couldn’t get alongside due to a sloping bank so it was a boarding plank and some good balancing for us to get ashore. At least there were bollards to moor to and still conditions as we rested on the bottom.

Narrow and weedy

From Merville the canal was overhung on at least one side with silvery leaved trees and there would definitely be no passing, well at least not at normal speed. I emptied the engine strainer at every stop and found it to be full of weed every time.

Tilly lookout

Nice hot days and Tilly keeping a look out.

Tilly lookout

She was a big help!

Tilly not lookout

Until she got tired!

Lunch in the lock

Waterdog just about fills the Freycinet locks for width but has 12m to spare in length. At St. Venant the lock keeper was away for lunch so told us to stay in the lock to wait. We gave the dog a walk and had lunch.