Coming off a busy season of yacht racing in the Med, we were in desperate need of some R and R. The challenge for us is that we love boating, but because we are associated with, and thus always racing yachts, it’s hard to find a boating trip that feels like a holiday, and offers enough of a challenge to a yacht racing skipper. But our Le Boat holiday did just that!
A smooth start
We had a 5 day gap between regattas and decided to arrange a holiday with Hylton’s parents in France. Hylton and I had always wanted to do a canal boating holiday with Le Boat, and this seemed like the right time to do it. We found an option that suited our dates and needs, sailing out of Brittany where Hylton’s parents stay. It had been almost 3 years since we had seen eachother, and almost as long since they had left their area for a holiday. To say we were all excited, is an understatement.
As we came straight from Palma off the back of the Multihull Cup, we asked them to do a grocery shop to ensure that we had the basics and more to see us through for the first few days.
We received a thorough briefing via email with regards to insurance options, levies and extra costs, as well as what facilities were on board our luxury Horizon 3. We watched an introductory video, which outlined the various protocols and instructions with regards to manning a Le Boat craft.
It was an hours drive from their place in Guégon through the beautiful, French countryside to the Le Boat base at Messac.
On arrival, we had a briefing from the desk clerk, and were provided with a full folder of boat documents we would need to present to the Capitainerie of each Marina. There was also a chart book with additional info on each river way and canal for navigation.
Anyone can do it
The best thing about a Le Boat charter is that you don’t require a skippers ticket to helm. I was added as the co-skipper, and Hylton was the skipper, but in effect we all took turns to helm the boat, it really was that easy.
After loading our goods, and a quick run-through of all the systems on board with the base manager, we docked off and headed out to our first lock. We were most excited to have front and stern bow thrusters – this was such luxury for us.
He gave us a brief lesson on manouevering the boat, how to enter the lock and what the protocols are for entering and leaving locks. He jumped off and walked back to the base, confident that we had gotten our first lock right. I have to say, we were a little nervous to go through our first one, but it turned out to be very easy and we soon had our systems and people on station on the bow and stern for easy passages throughout. The friendly lock-keepers assist by taking your lines for you and help you to cast off when you are done. Most of the locks we entered were opened and closed by a remote control used by the lock-keepers.
I learnt something – I always thought that canal boating was the general term used to describe these types of holidays. However, in our area specifically, there was only one canal to traverse, which we didn’t have time to enter – we stuck to the Villaine River.
The need for speed
We were concerned as to how Hylton would cope with being on a boat with a top speed of 9kms per hour max, compared to being on a racing yacht doing 25 knots. It was certainly an adjustment, however he relaxed into a steady and relaxed rhythm quite quickly and soon started to enjoy the slower pace.
The Horizon 3 – well equipped
The Horizon 3 was perfectly equipped. We had two fridges below in the galley, and an additional plug- in fridge box on the fly-bridge for drinks, next to the gas barbecue.
There was a well-appointed galley with everything one could hope for, a gas hob, an electric oven and a microwave. We are coffee ‘snobs’ so were pleasantly surprised to see that a coffee plunger was supplied, which was perfect for our morning coffee needs.
The Horizon has 3 cabins en-suite, which was a perfect size for the 4 of us. Hylton and I took the forward cabin and his dad and Di took a smaller cabin each. I think the cabin configuration is perfect for a couple with either children or teenagers. The main en-suite is extremely spacious with a separate head and shower. All the cabins had plenty of ventilation and sun visors.
We had booked bicycles, which were so worth it. Peddling into town or exploring the surrounding towns and forests was just wonderful.
Another bonus is the swim platform at the back of the boat, this makes it much easier to step up to a jetty instead of jumping down from the boat’s deck to attend to mooring lines. One one occasion we even reversed the boat to the jetty so that Hilton’s dad could step aboard at the same level.
The fly-bridge is where we spent most of our time- the 360 degree view is amazing from there. A Bimini covers 3/4 of the area and it’s the easiest place to helm from, with a full set of controls, including a USB port. Two sun beds have the best view on board, and a full seating area with a large table at the back of the flybridge is where we spent a lot of time playing tile tummy with our sundowner drinks.
We were incredibly lucky with the weather. We were mocked by our friends for choosing to go boating in autumn in Brittany – ‘expect lots of rain and fog…’ they chided. Luckily we only had one night of rain and one day of solid cloud cover. It was decidedly cooler than Spain for sure, and some mornings were misty, but by lunch time most days we were in shorts and t-shirts. The saloon area is comfortable and spacious enough, so on the cooler days and nights we were happy to spend the time below. Full curtains in the saloon offer a cosy area on he cooler nights, and they offer good privacy for when you may be moored in a more public area.
A video tour
See the inside of the spacious Horizon 3 in the video below.
We booked a ‘pick-up and return to base’ boat package out of Messac. Initially we were concerned about going the same way twice, but there are enough routing options on offer so that you have the option to see different places. We never spent more than 1 night in the same place so we did get to experience different areas.
Heading south we made our way towards La Roche Bernard ending up at the “end of the road” in Aziel where the final lock opens up to the ocean. We spent nights at St. Anne sur Villaine, Reddon, Aziel in Camoël, Pain Faux and Plagatelle. We spent our first night at St. Anne sur Villaine, finding a pontoon to tie up to outside the village. We took our bikes into town, it was a fair ride, but we were happy to stretch our legs. The town seemed very quiet, but we managed to find a small grocery store that stocked ice for our gin and tonics. Ice blocks aren’t readily available to buy, they will sell you a plastic water bottle frozen solid that you have to break yourself into smaller pieces for your drinks.
The canal guide is full of info and tips, and it clearly outlines where you can find supplies en route so that you can plan your your meals. We had planned to do a combination of eating out and cooking on board, however we found that many restaurants were closed, at odd times and on odd days too. But apparently that is typical of France!
Tips for catering
Rather stock up with groceries, especially basics and a few meals like breakfast, coffee, snacks and braai goods. We found that most often the stores were far away from the marinas and moorings. Although we had bicycles, we still needed to cycle quite far – the areas are often hilly, and often the stores are a good few kilometres away. Besides, there seems to be no system in terms of opening times in France. Each village has their own timing, and they have different opening days. For example, on one day a bakery will be open, and then the next day it will be closed because it’s the turn of the bakery up the road to be open on that day. You can get really caught out.
Many restaurants weren’t open as it was the end of the summer season, and you can forget finding a place open on a Sunday at the end of the season ….
Places like Reddon have many smaller restaurants and bars close to the marina for a light snack. We had a lovely meal at Béganne. We rafted up next to another boat and crossed decks to get to shore. This would have proved too difficult for Hylton’s father so we reversed to the pontoon so that he could step on and off the back swimming platform, whioch worked very well.
Our timing was a little off – many local boats had returned to their moorings for winter berthing, which meant that marinas didn’t have moorings open for overnight stays. For example, Les Roches Bernard was full, which was such a pity. It’s a quaint, little village with extraordinary history set between huge rock faces. The Capitainarie was apologetic but suggested that we spend the night in Aziel, the end of the road as it were – the lock opens up to the sea. We called ahead to book a mooring and managed to get the last one. Luckily Di is fluent in French as English isn’t readily spoken everywhere. We have very limited French, but we tried none the less and it was greatly appreciated. And of course Di handled the advanced conversations.
On arrival at a marina one needs to seek out the Capitainairy (Port Captain) who will give permission to dock for the night. Their offices are often far away from where visitors have to tie up before they are allocated a mooring. This is where the bikes came in very handy.
Overnight fees range from 24-33 euros per night, which bad shared between 4 people. This fee includes charging stations for power and access to water to top up the tanks.
There are jetty’s along the way where you can tie up to – you don’t always need to seek out marina’s. We were lucky that there was place for us when we looked for pontoons, but I would imagine that in high season an open space would be hard to come by.
It’s advisable to get a card for data and calls while in Europe. It’s well- priced. Le Boat offers this service through an arrangement with the service provider, Orange.
Besides the boat insurance costs, which are offered as two different payment options, there is a fuel levy charge. It’s not based on a charge per litre of fuel used, but rather a charge per engine hour. We motored for 32 hours over the 6 day period. You don’t need to motor that far, but we wanted to see as much as possible.
Special Le Boat offer
Don’t miss out on a holiday like this. We really enjoyed every minute of it, and we will be back for sure!