We have checked the “LeBox” on canal cruises


Our boat prior to departure from Hesse, France

Our boat prior to departure from Hesse, France

Keeping Jon company up in the driver's seat, where he spent many hours!

Keeping Jon company up in the driver’s seat, where he spent many hours!


I think the idea of the canal cruise arose out of Jon and my reading One Year Off, by David Elliott Cohen, where the Cohens casually meandered about France and Italy in their canal boat for a month!  It sounded like the perfect way to slow down, and enjoy a permanent residence while also taking in many different rural cities at a leisurely pace.  I scoured the internet for canal boat companies, but kept coming back to the same one – LeBoat.  For some reason, my search terms weren’t turning up many other companies, but later on the canal, I realized there are several including LocaBoat, Navig France, EuropeAfloat and others.  According to LeBoat’s online catalog, a one-week cruise would more than break our budget.  But Jon seemed excited about the cruise and urged me to book it.  I finally settled on a region bordering France and Germany, and a one-way route that would take us from Boofzheim through Salzburg to Hesse.  

Jon and Maggie with Marek, our driver from Prague. We had fun racing across Germany with him on the autobahn

Jon and Maggie with Marek, our driver from Prague. We had fun racing across Germany with him on the autobahn

A few weeks before our departure from Seattle, we received the disappointing news that another boater had damaged the Alzwiller lift and the boat we had rented was stuck on the Hesse side of the lift, so our only option would be to cruise “out and back” from Hesse in France.  Puzzling out how to get the six of us from Prague to rural Hesse deserves an entire post, but in a nutshell: we struck out on buses, trains AND rental cars prior to hiring a driver at the very last possible moment.  Good natured and careful, Marek drove us in a 9 passenger van, for about 8 hours or so (including a stop in Nuremberg to check out the Nuremberg Palace of Justice memorium).  

On August 10th, we spent the night on the boat in port prior to receiving our “orientation” and heading out the next morning for our big cruise on the 43-foot Majestic II.  You can glean a few highlights (and lowlights) from the week by reviewing our Top and Bottom 6 things about Canal Crusing.

First the not-so-good stuff:

Each lock was remote controlled by a signal about 100 meters prior to the lock. Once in the lock you had to reach over to the sie of the lock and push up on a pole to get the gates to close behind you. Once the water was at the right level, the forward gates open and you cruised out.

Each lock was remote controlled by a signal about 100 meters prior to the lock. Once in the lock you had to reach over to the sie of the lock and push up on a pole to get the gates to close behind you. Once the water was at the right level, the forward gates open and you cruised out.

  1. Lock Fatigue – While the locks were a novelty and fun challenge at first, they soon became monotonous.  We navigated 54 locks on our cruise, averaging about 15 minutes per lock!  Jon and David devised a fitness program to combat all this wait time by striving to do 10 push-ups and 40 crunches at each lock.  As if people on shore didn’t have enough reasons to stare at us already.
  2. Fear of impending arrest and angry Frenchman!  Jon had finally hopped off the boat at one of the locks on our return trip to get a jog in (along with the kids on bikes).  A kilometer or so later, I encountered a tight spot.  There was a construction crew working on a bridge over the canal, so they had tightened up the ‘passable area’ to a space along the right side of the canal that just barely fit one boat.  On the other side of the bridge, there was a HUGE canal barge/boat that was stuck after failing to make it through.  I waited for him to retreat and they motioned me ahead.  I made it all the way through and was stopped beside the big boat as he moved ahead again to make space for me to get behind him, but then he impatiently motioned for me to move all the way past his boat so I maybe went a little too fast as I navigated the last bit.  I cleared his boat on the left,  and had to kind of swing left to avoid the worker’s boats parked along the right side of the canal.  As I straightened out, the tail end of our boat bumped up against one of the worker’s boats (which was completely protected by exercise-ball sized buoys) and his boat rocked a bit.  The worker immediately started yelling at me in…French? German?  I wasn’t sure, but I haltingly apologized with a “je suis desole” and then pretty much hightailed it out of there (keep in mind our top speed is less than 5 mph).  Jon was watching helplessly from the shore (so much for his relaxing workout).  A few Km later, along the opposite shore, the irate frenchman comes bouncing along in a small car and laying on the horn.  I stopped, he shouted and spitted more obscenities at me and threw in POLICE a few times and I waited while he took down our boating ID and then I continued on as he drove off.  Well, having only understood a few choice phrases that he shouted at me, I was not really sure what was going to happen, but later in the day we were waved down by the VNF (Vessel Navigation of France – the authorities in charge of the locks and canals) flashing lights and all, and out of the car climbs this crazy Frenchman again – still shouting at me!  The VNF spoke only German, so it was a huge episode of pantomiming and me saying “je ne comprendes pas”.  I kept asking if the boat was damaged and that seemed to be irrelevant -the guy was just mad and needed to vent some more.  So, I apologized some more and then there was a phone call and eventually they drove away without saying any more.  So we continued on, still uncertain of what, if anything was going to become of it.  I’m still a little jumpy about it – every once in a while I think I see that guy eyeing me across the grocery store or walking down the street here in Austria!
  3. Dish duty THREE times each day – this was a downer for the kids, but a “plus” for me.  The kids devised a schedule for breakfast, lunch and dinner dishes and cleaned up after each meal.  I’m happy to say that a couple of countries later, this routine has held fast.

    I can't believe they shipped us off without a fly-swatter!

    I can’t believe they shipped us off without a fly-swatter!

  4. Flies!  We were all over the dishes and kept the boat clean using disinfectant spray but I swear the flies were hatching out and multiplying over the course of the boat trip.  On the 2nd to last night, Jon and David went into Maggie and Viv’s cabin and killed 20+ flies in a 5×8 foot space.  By the last day, I think we had killed and counted over 50 in one battle.
  5. Not being able to swim in the canal.  Before booking the cruise, I vaguely recall a very impassioned review by one person who said that LeBoat flushes the waste water into the canal.  During orientation, I asked about what we do about pumping out our gray or black water and the guy actually told me that it just comes out the side of the boat.  Ew.  Can you imagine?  Of course we warned the kids straight away and soon they made a sport out of trying to see “things” flushed out of the boat.  Apparently this didn’t concern all folks, though.  On our way back to the base at Hesse, we saw a group of 20-somethings on a boat tied up along the canal and they were diving into the water and swimming around, just a few hundred yards past where we had seen a dead animal floating in the water.  Also, all along the canal, people were fishing, and I have to think they probably ate their catch?  Anyhow, it was really hot the week we were cruisng and it was a bummer to be surrounded by so much water and yet not be able to swim.IMG_1152
  6. The need for speed.  Overall, it was just a little too slow for us.   I could actually fast-walk along the shore and keep up just fine with our boat at its top cruising speed.  I was hoping to just see a little more, and as it was, we cruised for about 6 hours/day!  I think a one-way cruise would have been better in this regard.  The other need for speed was in the wi-fi department; it was painful to have all that free time and the inability to get online!

Now for the things we loved about this week:

The kids heading out to explore one of the towns near the canal after we tied up for the night

The kids heading out to explore one of the towns near the canal after we tied up for the night

  1. Peaceful views of the French countryside.  All that was promised and more!  You could tie up along the canal pretty much anywhere you wanted and have your own private luxury boat-camping experience!
  2. The kindness of strangers – We stopped late one evening in a small town (village) called Hestheimer and went in search of groceries.  We reached the store on our bikes just before closing, and just as we went inside, the skies opened and it started to lightening and thunder.  I have never seen rain like that.  As we left the store and stood under the awning debating our strategy for cycling the 2 miles or so back to the boat, the owners came out and offered to drive us in their van. Totally made up for the angry frenchman!  Also, we really enjoyed chatting with people that came to the locks to watch the boats pass through – much the way they do at the Ballard locks at home.

    There was a cement bike/pedestrian path along the entire length of the canal making it easy for one of to jog or the the kids to bike along while we cruised

    There was a cement bike/pedestrian path along the entire length of the canal making it easy for one of to jog or the the kids to bike along while we cruised

  3. Rental bikes rock!! The bikes provided a much needed means of escape from the confines of the boat and canal, and allowed us to easily check out the places where we stopped for the night.
  4. A solid week of homemade meals and no travel days – We took a break from dining out and prepared some simple but good food on the boat, enjoyed either down below at our big dining table, or up on top of the deck!  And, it was very nice not to have to pack up and haul our packs around for an entire week!
A family self-pic of one of our many meals on the boat

A family self-pic of one of our many meals on the boat

5.  Lots of together time inspired some great activities!  We taught the kids card games like Texas hold ’em, Tonk and Cribbage and stayed up late fine-tuning our poker faces.  The kids came up with endless games on the boat and created some great videos on the videostar app.  They also enjoyed cruising around on their bikes or along the shore.  When you are cruising for 6 hours/day, there is a lot of time to just sit and talk.

David's-eye view of our cribbage game

David’s-eye view of our cribbage game

6.  Three. Separate. Bathrooms.  Ironic that our smallest living quarters encountered thus far on the trip (aside from the night train) had three bathrooms and three bedrooms…with doors!  Obviously not spacious, but we were all pretty thrilled to have so many sinks, toilets and showers!

Looking back, it was a fun week and just “different” than the overland travel and city-hopping that we have done over the first few weeks.  I’m glad we experienced it, but if I were to travel that region again, I would probably do it on bikes and try bike-camping!  We turned heads as we stepped off our boat and slung our packs on amidst well-dressed boaters enjoying a final cigarette before disembarking.  As they sped off in their mercedes and convertibles, we awaited our taxi driver who was to take us to the train station in Sarrebourg, a few kilometers away.  It was mid-day on August 17th, and we had no solid plans or bookings prior to our flight out of Vienna on September 1st.P1000784

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  1. MAC

    I really look forward to these updates! Thanks for investing so much time into chronicling your adventures. Take care and enjoy.

  2. Pei

    All the wastes and dead animals in canal reminds me of Thailand… Are you sure you weren’t in Thailand??? Lol

  3. Paul

    Who is that bearded guy? Don’t they have razors over there? Great writing Gretch. Tell everyone Hi.

  4. soomin yoo

    just caught up on your travels- school started and has been crazy since. love the details in your travels. Keep it up!. soomin says hi to maggie from singapore!

  5. Laura McCall

    Have been thoroughly enjoying your blog posts–they are fun to read and learn from. Ashton says she is missing Molly at school and says a big “hello!” to her. Things go on here as usual–enjoy your trip of a lifetime. All will be here when you return. If you are considering any new additions to the second half of your trip, you might consider Burma. Swedagon Pagoda in Yangoon, beautiful people, stunning 12th century temple ruins up north in Pagon, fascinating politics. Best wishes to you all as you continue your journey!

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