During the long summer days, if you’re in town, the heat can soon get overpowering. The air is oppressive, the Underground turns into an oven and there are so many nasty smells wafting around that sitting outside on a café terrace just isn’t enough to make up for the heat and discomfort. That’s when you realise there’s nothing else for it: you have to head for the open country, roam in the meadows, get on your bike, and leave the city behind. Once you’ve made up your mind to get away, you have to decide how to do it. Why not get together with a group of friends, escape to the canal and cruise along like a happy crew of sailors? After a bit of research on the web, I chose Locaboat because of its clear website, friendly advisers and elegant boats. As for our destination, I’ve never been a particular fan of crowded places. What I go for is nature, peace and quiet, getting back to the simple life; so I didn’t hesitate to choose Burgundy, or to be more precise, Corbigny.
When the day of departure came, a Friday evening, I was actually a bit apprehensive. I wondered whether taking the controls of a boat when I’d never done any kind of boating before might not be a little reckless. Locaboat’s advisers assured me that it was not, so in the end I agreed to take the plunge. Before setting off, we got organised; bit of shopping that we mustn’t forget: coffee and something to eat for the first evening. It was just as well we did, because you only had to look at Google Maps to see that you had about as much chance of finding a shop still open after nine o’clock at night as you would of meeting a unicorn in the middle of the desert! Once everything was ready, the adventure could begin.
After the first night on our self-drive boat, any doubts we might have had were over. The boats provided by Locaboat are cosy and comfortable. You soon get your bearings, move in and feel at home. Early in the morning, the manager of the base came to say hello and asked us to complete a few formalities so that I could officially become the skipper for a weekend. Once we’d signed the contract and asked all the questions we had, the time came for our training. With the anchor aweigh and the engine running, the base manager took time to explain it all to us. Thirty minutes steering the boat under his supervision, then we were back to the quayside, he disembarked, and then we were off on our adventure. There’s a phrase that came to mind at that moment: ‘Oh Captain, my Captain’, the canal is ours!
It took just an hour’s cruising and two or three locks for us to really feel relaxed. Despite a dubious weather forecast, our weekend in Burgundy turned out to be delightful. Our aim had been to reach Tannay so that we could sample some of its wines and food. We had to agree that we had been a bit over-ambitious. Although boating is really enjoyable, unless we had gone at it non-stop for five hours a day, we didn’t stand a chance of getting to that village. So we gave up on the idea. To anyone thinking of giving this kind of adventure a try, here’s my one piece of advice: take time to stop, to look at the animals and other wildlife. In the end, the art of cruising in a Pénichette® is to go with the flow.