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Ditch the ferry: This sailboat service offers tourists a sustainable way across the English Channel

SailLink will initially run across the channel between Dover, UK, and Boulogne-sur-Mer, France.
SailLink will initially run across the channel between Dover, UK, and Boulogne-sur-Mer, France.   -   Copyright  SailLink   -  
By Angela Symons

A new catamaran ferry service launching next month will offer sustainable travel between the UK and France.

With a pilot scheme starting in September, SailLink will initially run across the channel between Dover and Boulogne-sur-Mer.

Aimed at foot passengers and cyclists, the 12-person service is set to make British and French coastal towns more accessible for tourists. Using small vessels, it will access marinas close to cultural centres rather than dropping passengers at out-of-town vehicle terminals.

How much will the cross-channel catamaran service cost?

During the pilot phase, between 10 and 18 September 2022, SailLink tickets are priced at £85 (€100) one way and £150 (€180) return for adults. Children will be charged £60 (€70) single and £110 (€130) return, while bicycles cost an additional £15 (€20) and £25 (€30).

The journey from Dover to Boulogne-sur-Mer will take approximately four hours, with boarding and disembarking times no longer than 30 minutes at each side. Border checks carried out by mobile agents. A full daily service is set to launch in Spring 2023.

When weather conditions could make a specific crossing “uncomfortable”, the company will work with the vehicle ferry operators to carry its passengers and maintain their travel itineraries

A greener alternative to large ferries

SailLink will use purpose-built, fast commercial sailing catamarans. The vessels are fitted with electric propulsion for port access, which the company says will provide a quiet, clean and regenerative form of auxiliary power. In the first year, the service will offer just one return crossing per day.

Founded by boatbuilder, sailor and environmental scientist Andrew Simons and RYA catamaran sailing instructor Jim Duerden, the service aims to make sustainable travel more accessible.

“We’ve received enthusiastic support from both the Port of Dover and port authority at Boulogne-Sur-Mer and greatly look forward to the launch in September,” Simons said in a press release published by the port.

Christian Pryce, Chief Commercial Officer at the Port of Dover, added, “We’re excited to play a part in this innovative project with SailLink, which ties their vision to deliver sustainable and active travel across the Channel in with the Port’s ambitions to become an entirely Green Shipping Corridor.”

To encourage budding ecologists, SailLink will invite passengers to help with marine sampling and observations for the company's research partners during the journey. Passengers will also have the option of joining in with the sailing.

Which routes will SailLink service?

Targeting attractive French coastal destinations, the service will begin with a single route between Dover and Boulogne-sur-Mer. 

Famed for its white cliffs, Dover is a major town in southeastern England with a fascinating wartime history. Boulogne-sur-Mer is a major fishing port on the north coast of France. It boasts a sandy beach and fortified old town as well as the largest sea-life aquarium in Europe. 

By 2024, the company hopes to launch a second route between Ramsgate and Dunkirk. If all goes to plan, a third route between Newhaven and Dieppe could set sail in 2025.

The SailLink routes are designed according to the prevailing winds and tidal streams as well as the accessibility and suitability of the ports. Other factors considered include visitor attractions and onward connections via public transport and cycling routes.