Posted by: oldsalt1942 | August 3, 2009

Cruising Europe’s Canals

While the canals of Holland came about by building a country from the sea, France and England have a centuries-long history with canals, resulting in boats  developed specifically for use on these waterways. France has the peniche and in England it’s the narrow boat. Essentially they are long, slim and low-slung with shallow draft.

A French Peniche

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An English Narrowboat

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Today most of those boats have been adapted to a live-aboard lifestyle rather than being used for commerce. While many, in both countries, have been renovated and serve as someone’s home, dozens are used as bed and breakfast hotels. There are also thriving fleets for charter. A simple Google search will give you more hits than you can deal with in a week and the site links will provide you with great pictures of the interiors of the vessels.

I’ve done the Erie Canal from its Lake Erie entrance at Tonawanda all the way to the Hudson River and it was one of my most memorable cruises in a long nautical career. What makes canal cruising so enjoyable is that it’s SLOW. You get to watch the countryside pass by rather than blasting from one location to another with the noisy scream of an engine and a trailing cloud of exhaust fumes. On the western third of the Erie Canal the speed limit is 6 miles an hour (try doing THAT in your car) and when you get into the Mohawk River portion, which is absolutely lovely, you can boost it up to 10 mph. They don’t need police boats to make sure you don’t speed, either. When you leave a lock, and there are 34 of them on the trip, the lockmaster phones ahead to the next lock giving them your vessel’s name and time of departure from the lock. If you exceed the speed limit the lock gates simply won’t be opened until the time you were supposed to arrive had you not exceeded the speed limit. And you will be reprimanded for your misdeeds as part of the lock-through. Should you do it again they can refuse to let you enter the lock for anywhere between a couple of hours to a full day.

Anyone interested in a tranquil vacation on the water should look into chartering one of these boats. And if you decide to cruise on the Forth and Clyde and Union canals in Scotland you can have the unique experience of being lifted (or lowered) from one to the other on the Falkirk Wheel instead of a simple lock.

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