New carbon-free ferry service sets sail from Dover – and we’re onboard

A new ferry connecting England and France will significantly reduce the CO2 emissions from crossing the Channel. Positive News tests it

Wer-thump. The bow of a yacht slaps against the turquoise waves, the spray from the English Channel falling down on the deck. We’re in the middle of the Strait of Dover, the busiest international seaway in the world.

From the shore, the water had seemed calm, but out here now – crossing what is effectively a motorway of massive cargo ships and a round-the-clock Dover to Calais ferry service – the sea feels much choppier.

“This is a slight to moderate sea state,” says captain Jim Duerden, meaning the waves are between 50cm and 250cm in height. In the sailing world, it’s relatively calm.

Still, the bow of Mago Merlino, the 12m-long sailing catamaran we’re currently riding, continues to dip back into the waves. It’s completely exhilarating.

But this crossing isn’t just for fun. We’re nosing our way to Boulogne-sur-Mer in France on a brand new ferry crossing service set up by SailLink.

Duerden and Andrew Simons, the founder of the company, are currently at pilot stage. They have spent two years traveling back and forth between England and France, testing the route and streamlining procedures for passengers. Their goal is to launch a green sailing boat service in 2023.

I want to focus on the sailing experience, and for passengersto be able go home and say they’ve actually learned something

“I’m not trying to be a competitor with the ferries – I can’t take a lorry,” says Simons, who dreamed up the idea of creating an adventurous, green travel option between the two countries. “I want to focus on foot passengers and cyclists, the cultural connection between the hearts of the ports, the sailing experience, the real closeness to the ocean, and [for passengers] to be able to go back home and say [they’ve] actually learned something as well.”

This crossing definitely ticks all those boxes. Passengers are encouraged to help out should they wish – there are ropes to be pulled, sails to be hoisted, tacking to be done. You can even learn how to helm. The feedback so far is positive.

“We’ve had a bit of a mixed bag of passengers, some local who have come across for a few days, and some who are really trying to [travel]It goes much further. We’ve even had commuters,” says Simons.


Captain Jim Duerden riding on the Mago Merlino as it travels to France. Image by Daniel Fahey

François Loeuillette was one of the first passengers to use the service. Local to Boulogne–sur-Mer he was using SailLink for cross-channel travel, and was heading to London for the night. He then returned home via the car ferry.

“I like to travel between France and Britain and I wanted to try this new mode of travel as it’s positive and green,” he says. Did he enjoy the crossing? “Yes, very much.”

The Dover to Boulogne-sur-Mer route is expected to run from Easter through October, although the exact details are yet to be revealed. A second route between Ramsgate to Dunkirk is planned for 2024. In 2025, a more difficult Newhaven-to-Dieppe crossing will be in place.


Passengers are encouraged to help out should they wish — so we joined in. Image by Daniel Fahey

The daily ferry service will use a new high-performance catamaran, specifically designed to cross the Channel as fast as possible. The catamaran can hold up to 12 passengers and departures will be synchronized with tides to maximize speed. Crossings can take anywhere from three to four hours depending on the weather conditions.

Simons was a boatbuilder as well as an environmental scientist. He has previously worked with companies such as FairtransportThe Dutch company, which transports organic and traditional-made goods by yacht, is a. As their boats don’t have engines, the trips are carbon-free.

SailLink aims to be carbon-free but the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, (MCA), requires commercial yachts with diesel engines to have one. The catamaran is equipped with a solar-powered electric motor and a diesel engine. 

I wanted to try this new mode of travel as it’s positive and green

“I’m hoping – and Andy’s hoping – that his boat will be [100 per cent sustainable], with two electric engines,” says Duerden.

“It’s not that we can’t do it, it’s more the commercial aspect of it because you’ve got to be able to get yourself out of trouble with engines… The MCA, who we’re all governed by, won’t allow us to have two electric motors at the moment [but] I think that will change,” he adds.

Sailing is one of most eco-friendly travel options. It emits less than 1g CO2 per passenger, per mile. Comparatively, a flight short-haul emits approximately 156g while a ferry passenger foot emits 19g.

Ticket prices start at £85 per crossing. The yacht may have to use its engine if conditions are not favorable. There may be delays or changes in the schedule due to weather conditions. However, SailLink works with local ferry operators so that passengers can cross the Channel even if they cannot sail.

“This should become a normal type of public transport between one country and another,” says Simons, “that’s all this is.”

Main image: Nici Wegener / SailLink 2022


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