For over a decade I have been regularly travelling between the UK and France, mostly by ferry but also by rail and air. As a paddler I invariably have at least one kayak, often several on the roof, and this can really push the cost up of your cross channel travel.
Without any doubt, one company stands head and shoulders above all the rest when it comes down to ‘pound notes’ DFDS Seaways who operate a service from Dunkerque to Dover have single crossings starting from around £30. This particular route was originally a commercial service for truckers, the original ferries used on this route were quite basic with smokey lounges, but all this has changed with the new ferries now operating. A major advantage for paddlers with this service is the way fares are calculated. Height always adds a premium to the fare, it is common for ferry operators ‘car’ fares to restrict the height to 1.85 metres, but in the case of DFDS their first fares include height up to 2.4 meters. In my case I drive a Mercedes Vito with a Karitec rack and the kayaks arranged to sit flat, this comes in at just under 2.4 meters
To put this into context against other operators, to take my van and kayaks across to the Isle of wight would cost £36 each way traveling mid week in January. For a trip across the Channel using Brittany Ferries from Portsmouth to Caen for the same dates, you will have to part with £278.
Of course, as with everything there are disadvantages, Dunkerque is a long way from Brittany you should allow around 8 hours for the trip but with a couple of drivers the driving will not ‘wipe you out’ Outside of the major bank holiday times, driving on french roads is generally stress free and considerably cheaper than driving in the UK. For those in the South East, Dover Dunkerque will always be the best route, while those in Plymouth are more likely to opt for the Plymouth Roscoff / St Malo route, whilst being more expensive, it cuts out 14hrs of driving and all the fuel costs.
Surprisingly, the ferry cost from the Channel Isles to France is expensive, however it is always possible to paddle across via Les Minquiers and Îles Chausey, or the Ecréhou. The more adventurous may want to try via Alderney.
Taking kayaks aboard as a foot passenger is another option. Its difficult to get information from the ferry companies as generally they have no published policy on this, ( excepting DFDS who cannot take foot passengers due to HM Customs and Immigration regulations)