An expert on canal cruising advises beginners

It was back in 1996 that Denis Ravy discovered Locaboat and canal cruises along the Canal du Midi. Every year for almost 20 years, this company boss has faithfully returned to his post at the wheel of a Locaboat. Here he gives us the benefit of his expert tips for a first experience of self-drive boat hire …

If there was one piece of advice I would give to a new skipper, it would be to cut his teeth on the Saône Canal. The water is wide, and more importantly, there are only a few locks. To give you some idea: in a week on the Burgundy Canal, you have to get through nearly 130 locks. But on the Saône Canal, you only come across about 15. That means you can gradually get used to handling the boat and not be put off by your first attempts. Once you’ve done that, you can have a go at routes demanding a bit more technique, although personally, I have to say that I like the Saône Canal anyway. And to prove it, I’m going back there again this summer for a cruise between Besançon and Scey sur Saône. 

Among the other cruises that really made an impression on me, Holland was a great discovery. It’s another place that’s very peaceful and the landscapes, with their windmills and flowers, are wonderful… Also, everyone cruises there, so there’s a really special atmosphere. I loved Ireland as well, but it’s not a place I’d recommend for beginners. You need to have a bit of experience to be able to cruise in rainy weather, or in a storm, when visibility can sometimes be quite limited. On the Shannon or the lakes and rivers, you also need to know how to follow the kind of signage that indicates obstacles such as rocks. But once you’ve got the hang of it, cruising is very satisfying. It leaves you breathless. Like everything else in life, you just have to take it step by step, I think. Having said that, don’t worry! Cruising is easy, and there’s nothing more enjoyable!

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