Belle Ile is a beautiful large island with 2 main ports. We will focus on the Le Palais Port. The port is quite tight and very busy in the summer. Many ferry boats come and go at speed.
It does not take reservations.
The Port of LE PALAIS consists of 4 basins
The outer harbour, the inner harbour, the water basin and the saline basin
1 – The outer harbour is constantly in water, well sheltered from the winds, except from east to southeast. Mooring on torque buoys, north dike respecting the night moorings of ferries or breakwater: 70 seats, draft up to 2.20 m. Regulated docking and very limited to the Bonnelle Hold.
2 – The outer harbour of beaching, after the channel of the Yser, at the foot of the citadel. Some places along the quays on starboard. No access to the small pontoon. Fairing grille; water at the lock.
3 – The basin afloat, whose entry is regulated by a lock open about 3 hours at high tide at daylight hours. Pedestrian bridge lifted on demand, 90 seats afloat, couple along the docks. Regular priority coaster traffic on starboard platform. Draft up to 2.50 m.
4 – The saline basin , pontoon marina equipped with moorings on buoys; some places available in season
Tél: 02 97 31 42 90
Tel: +33 (0) 2 97 31 42 83
When approaching the port, listen to and warn of its arrival on VHF Canal 9
Tide times maree.info/101
From 6:00 am to 10:00 pm, the lock gates are open approximately 1½ hours before PM at 1:00 am after PM or 2:30 lock (there are no openings for lock at PM from 22:00 to 06:00). (google translation)
Hours (subject to change)
Out of season, until April 1st are the following :
8h30 -12h & 14h – 17h Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday
10h – 12h Wednesday and Saturday.
8h30 – 20h00 continuously
Hmm, not quite a Dickensian ‘it was the best of times; it was the worst of times. …’ but not far off and the berthing experience itself is unlikely to be anyone’s best of times. However, if you can turn a small blind eye to the tourists, then this is still very much a genuine little village with everything to hand. That said, we waited two hours outside to enter the harbour as the bulk cargo vessels were changing over. Once in the harbour, there is then a long queue (and I do mean queue) to get your boat into the “marina”. Once finally there (and for us that was 2.5 hours queuing just to go 500 metres) you may get a front-row seat next to that cargo vessel scooping ballast sand out into dumper trucks, followed by forklift trucks whizzing other cargo around and the sound of crashes of containers being moved about. By front row, I mean you are berthed next to it. The stalls, same cost, means you are to be berthed 20 metres opposite, but you may miss this privilege altogether and be a disappointing 50m away from the action in the upper balcony. This heavy-duty activity went on till 9 pm. Your boat will get very dirty.
Then there is the chaos of rafting. No one knows what a spring line is for and a couple of odd bits of tangled rope fore and aft are all that is expected. Raft till there is no water when busy, and mild collisions just part of the great French school of sailing. If you want sight of a pontoon on Belle Ile, this is your only choice.
The sill time is also small and with commercial vessels in the outer harbour and possible bulk cargo in the inner, those sill times might be very much more restricted for you than your pilot book suggests. The HM has to get all those leaving vessels out first of course, and there is also a lifting footbridge that has to be raised and lowered even during open lock times, restricting your times even more. As you can imagine, if it is busy simply getting in here, then it is a total panic at departure times with most vessels attempting to turn round in the small channel in order to get out- assuming they have managed to extract themselves from any vessels tied to them. Yet everyone seems perfectly happy and that this was the “joli” norm. Maybe I was just getting weary of my boat being damaged. The HM staff though all deserve to be canonised and do their best to get you in even if that means pushing you in with their rib.
So, you might get lucky, and no cargo vessel and a tolerable number of craft. However, you may also wish you didn’t ever enter, and you probably can’t leave now anyway. For days. Once you are rafted in the main area somewhere towards the pontoons you may feel adequately secure from the outer rafting training lessons anyway.
EDIT: in balance, tonight you could not fault anyone’s abilities, though it seemed to me like a very seasoned cruising and performance racing club arriving, looking at the boats. All rather genial this evening, in honesty.
Perhaps in conclusion, in Le Palais you get to see the world of berthing. Honestly, do not be put off, but only come with a good sense of humour and you are up for whatever the experience turns out to be. The island is a must, as a beautiful as its name implies.
Well, the few hundred metres from sea to marina only took an hour plus on this occasion, and again you cannot fault the HM dories, several of them, who are taking access requests from outside the harbour, swivelling you round in the tiny marina, and pushing you into your even tinier berthing space. 50 cm room, bow and stern might be a luxury. They try to berth you against similar departure boats, just to ease the chaos, but you will probably need still to liaise with your neighbour to discuss departure plans. Wishing to avoid being awoken at 6 am to free up the boat inside us, they kindly moved us to a vacant spot. 10 mins later and the rafting began! Let’s hope we all wish to leave at the same time!
I think maybe we had a bad first experience here before…yes it is a bit chaotic, and you will need to exercise your finest position holding skills for an hour plus, possibly in wind a bit of current but everyone else is also here to enjoy themselves too.
Toilets, showers are a walk up above the lock and the far end of the car park, or maybe an even longer walk next to the HM where the main ferry arrives in the outer harbour. No code required.
Do walk up the hill from the drying basins through Porte Vaubun to a rather special small park between the ramparts. On the opposite side is the vast citadel, where you can walk some part before paying to enter the museum etc.
The island is more hilly than the others, so cycling is going to be physical but the buses run about, infrequently out of high season I should add, euro 2.50 a trip but with a bit of planning they can meet your needs. An absolute must is walking south-west of Port Coton for one of the finest coastal walks you could ever hope for. Seems Monet knew a good view when he saw one. Refreshments stop at the two large hotels, so feed up there or take a picnic and a lot of water. About 4 hours along the coast and then cut in towards Bangor for the bus, which is at T junction and not in the village square. Another fine walk though not quite as impressive, from Locmaria towards Le Palais- a few bus pick up options and a more physical walk; 6 hours to Le Palais and only one cafe en route. No shortage of anchorages on view from these walks.
Gavin May kindly provided the above report – 2021