France Cruise Day 1



Two charter boats explore France in a week-long cruise along the Canal du Marne au Rhin in Alsace, France. >See full FRANCE CANAL CRUISE SERIES

Chesapeake Flotillas, our Chesapeake MD based charter company, planned a week-long cruise along the Canal du Marne au Rhin in Alsace, France. There were two boats of 10 people each, and for virtually everyone participating this was a totally new adventure! Most of those on the trip were sailors, but motoring in the narrow confines of a canal is a different experience.

I wanted to avoid Paris and its environs based on events of the last year and prior experience with Parisians. I also wanted to not go too deep into France to avoid overly complicated travel arrangements for my clients. Many of the canal boat charters are round trip affairs where you leave from and return to the same charter base. This can limit you to only seeing 2 or 3 towns in the week of cruising. I planned a one-way charter between two bases to give us an opportunity to see more of the Alsace region of France.

The Alsace region had once been a part of Germany so many of the place names were Germanic: Lutzelbourg, Hochfelden, Strasbourg, Boofzheim, and Schwindratzheim. Every restaurant featured at least one dish with charcroute (sauerkraut). This was going to be a trip with a little bit of France, a little bit of Germany, and a lot of oohs and aahs!

Day 1 Arrival

France Cruise transportationOne of the first challenges for me as trip leader was getting everyone to the charter base in Hesse, France – located in north-eastern France.

There were people flying in to Paris. There were people staying overnight in Sarrebourg. There were 6 people flying overnight on the flight to Frankfurt with me. Le Boat helped by arranging taxis for some people from Sarrebourg which was about 6 km away.

I had requested a 15-person minibus to get my traveling companions and me to Hesse, about a 3 hour ride from Frankfurt, Germany. What came to pick up my group was a 30 person highway coach!

leboat chartersWe arrived at the Le Boat charter base about 12:30 pm. They were closed for lunch until 2PM. I used the time to introduce myself to the travelers I had not yet met in person. That was nearly half the people on the trip. (Chesapeake Flotillas is a virtual business where nearly all of my contacts are made via email, Facebook, or otherwise online.)

I thoroughly enjoyed everyone I was meeting. I was more excited about our journey then before!

Finally the doors to the office reopened. Three or four charter groups surged in to deal with paperwork and deposits. Once I had my turn, the process was quick and easy. We had to leave a fuel deposit and a deposit for the cellular WiFi router that we were renting for the week.

So far there were no language issues. While I am more fluent in French than any of the other languages to which we have been exposed to on our various adventures, I am not very practiced at it. Next I was to meet one of the other Le Boat team members for the boat checkout.

charter boatsI have previously written about the use of checklists – I have a 7-page checklist that I use when I charter sailboats but the process for checking out these canal boats was almost alarmingly brief. Stove and propane tanks, DC inverter (for limited AC power while underway), and starting the engine. If it took 15 minutes, that was a lot.

Some charterers were taken out into the canal for a lesson in handling the boats. I assume that my credentials spared me that use of my time. That being said, we did find that these boats handle unlike anything I have ever attempted to pilot. My advice to novice charterers is to take the on-water session before you go. You will find it EXTREMELY useful when navigating the Tunnels at Niderville and working into and out of the locks.

Meanwhile, Chef Theresa and her helper Donna taxied back into Sarrebourg to do our initial provisioning for the week. I knew the job was in good hands. We had already surveyed the crew for preferences and allergies before the trip. Theresa has gotten very good at managing quantities.

French canalOur plan was to eat dinners ashore every night except one. I mean…it IS France after all! Where else will you find good food if not in France? Tuesday night, we planned to stop alongside the canal in the middle of the Brumath Forest. This would be the closest experience to anchoring out in a quiet cove on the Chesapeake!

After a while, all but one of our crew had arrived. We finally decided to grab dinner at the only local restaurant that was just around the corner from the charter base. I believe our group of 19 Americans fully overwhelmed the small bistro. There were significant language challenges and ordering food in France is done very differently than it is in the US. Both of these challenges caused some problems which would recur later in the trip as well. Travelling is about experiencing a different culture and not trying to put that culture into an American context.

My meal had not yet arrived but the last member of our party had found a taxi at the train station in Sarrebourg and was on her way to Hesse. I left the restaurant to meet her and to help her get situated on board. I got her gear on board and then directed her to the restaurant to meet the others.

leboat charter boatJet lag was catching up with me. I had been awake for 33 hours. (I do NOT sleep in moving vehicles except boats!) I grabbed a shower in the shore heads. Then I lay down in my bunk waiting for the rest of the crew to return from dinner. We had an early morning departure planned and I really wanted to get some sleep. Eventually they returned with tales of slow service in the restaurant. I got up long enough to say good night and then I crashed hard.

All in all it had been a good first day and I was looking forward to starting our excursion. This would be a totally new experience!

Capt. Rob Chichester offers domestic and offshore sailing vacations and crewed yacht charters through Chesapeake Flotillas, LLC. Training and yacht relocation services are also available. For more information on any of this, visit www.chesapeakeflotillas.com.

Two charter boats explore France in a week-long cruise along the Canal du Marne au Rhin in Alsace, France. >See full FRANCE CANAL CRUISE SERIES

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Capt. Rob is an engineer and owner & operator of Chesapeake Flotillas offering charters, instruction, and vessel relocation. A USCG Licensed Master, Capt. Rob has planned and executed flotilla cruises all over the Chesapeake Bay, Europe, and the Caribbean. Rob holds a 200-Ton Master's license with Auxiliary Sail and Assistance Towing endorsements. He also is certified by the American Sailing Association to teach Basic Keelboat Sailing, Basic Coastal Cruising, and Bareboat Chartering. A self-proclaimed sailor & poet, he operates a 41-foot sloop Bay Poet based out of Rock Hall, MD.

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