Story & Photography By John Wooldridge
Exploring the canals and rivers of France, and
even negotiating the locks, on a self-driven boat
proved to be fun and easy.
Summertime, and the living was easy on the slow-moving Seille River in central France as it wound its way west and south from Branges down to the Saône River. Warm winds blowing across the Seille ruffled the leaves of large stands of trees and carried sweet, heady smells of newly mown hay to my nose. I was beginning to unwind, far from the pressures of work. My wife Peggy and I were on a six-day cruise in the heart of the French countryside, driving a
36-foot Caprice, at that time, one of the newer boats in the Le Boat
fleet of self-drive canal and river boats. We were making a leisurely
6 knots, passing other cruising boats on their way to the Le Boat
base in Branges we recently left, or to the town of Louhans just a
little farther upstream.
Admittedly, this was a different kind of cruising experience for
me, not the coastal or transoceanic passages most of our readers
make. If you crossed the Atlantic and had an interest in cruising into
the continent, you would have no chance to visit the small towns
along the Seille, although the wider Saône offers some interesting
stops, because it is part of the pathway that numerous trawler
owners from the U.K. and points north can take to reach the Med.
But the smaller, purpose-designed boats in the Le Boat fleet, which
number over 1,000 and are poised for inland waterways exploration
at 41 bases all across France, Holland, Belgium, the U.K., and even
in Italy, are undoubtedly the best way to see a country’s interior up
close, in accommodations ranging from luxurious to practical.
Our Caprice featured a raised helm in the saloon, enclosed
against changeable early and late season cruising weather, two air-conditioned private sleeping cabins, two private heads, and a fully-equipped galley. Since it was summer, Peggy and I spent most of
our time on the spacious flybridge, never using the lower helm, and
had a 360-degree view of the fertile fields, distant farmhouses, and
historic structures as we made our way north to Gray, some 22
locks and 418 kilometers to the north.