Boating in France: How We Got Started


A number of people have asked us how we came to be boating on the canals and rivers of Europe.

Joan and Neil aboard the Estate

Joan and Neil aboard the Estate

Here is the short version:

In 1970 we visited Amsterdam.  There I saw the live-aboard canal barges, and said to myself ”That looks like a really fun way to live!”  During the next 25 years, whenever we traveled in Europe, I looked for the canals and the barges tied up along the banks, and it still looked like fun.  In 1996, acquaintances told us about their recent second honeymoon aboard a rented canal boat in southern France, and gave us a couple of brochures. One thing led to another and in the summer of 1997 we rented a small (25’ long) boat for one week on the Sarthe river in western France, near Angers.

That was so much fun, we rented again in 1998, this time for a week in northern France, near Sarrebourg.  Then we did it again in 1999 in central France, south of Auxerre.  Each year we enjoyed it more and the third time was the charm, as they say: we decided to buy our own boat and spend a lot more time boating.

At this point, most folks hearing our tale say, “But of course you had boating experience before all this, right?”  Nope. Three weeks experience and we were off to buy a boat.



In the Fall of 2000, we spent two weeks looking at boats in Holland and France, aided by the internet listings by dealers. We looked at over 30 boats, and learned a lot about what we wanted and even more about what we didn’t, but we didn’t find a boat we liked enough to buy.  We came home and spent the winter reading about boats and boat-buying, and thinking about what we had seen.  Then, in the spring of 2001 we rented a small vacation house on a lake in Holland (off-season it was very reasonable) and a car and started our search again.

This time we found “our” boat after only a week’s looking.  Joan said: “This is it.”  I said: “Too easy.  We need to look some more.” We did, but she was right.  We made an offer, it was accepted, the contract was written up in both Dutch and English, and we were soon the proud, and a bit stunned, owners of a 36’ motor cruiser.  (See picture.)

All boats are compromises – each person must decide what they need and what they can give up to get it.  We started out looking for a barge and chose a motor cruiser.  In a future blog, I’ll discuss why and have some pictures of the wide variety of boats seen on the canals.

For over ten years, Neil and Joan have been spending their summers cruising the canals and rivers of Western Europe aboard their Dutch motor-cruiser, the “Estate.”  

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  1. says

    My husband and I are leaving tomorrow to boat on the Seille and Saone for a week. This will be our fourth boating vacation – previously we boated in Ireland, Holland and Belgium. We also have a boat where we live in the US. You are living my dream – owning a boat in Europe and spending summers boating around different areas! Thanks for writing about it!

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