Modern retirees, with ever-expanding horizons, are seeking bold new experiences and challenges, rather than sedentary vacations. Skippering a cruiser on one of Europe's scenic rivers or canals fits the bill. Cruise industry spokeswoman, Diana Orban, states almost half the American travelers on self-skippered cruises are age 62 and older. Without being physically taxed, even a novice can enjoy self-skippering a comfortable, reliable cruiser. A waterway cruise invites a variety of impromptu activities. The cruisers are equipped with bicycles, dinghies, and deck chairs for exercisers and sun-bathers. A hike or bike ride in a nearby wood, puttering around a village along the way, swimming off the boat, fishing, or just enjoying solitude can be a welcome pause in clock-driven lives. History buffs revel in Ireland, as they explore historic towns and villages and socialize with the locals. We found the Irish to be extremely gracious to tourists.
Our Emerald Isle adventure began with a comfortable flight from Los Angeles to Dublin ready to discover the independence of waterway tourism on the Shannon River. A short drive brought us to Carrick-on-Shannon, a charming village dating back to 1611. A warm welcome was extended by Shain Matthews, the handsome boat builder, and his father, Shawn, a charmer who must have kissed the fabled Blarney Stone. They escorted us to the sleek, Crown Blue Line cruiser, our floating home away from home.
We examined our "petite yacht" and its immaculate quarters that sleep eight to ten, with two modern bathrooms and showers en suite. We viewed a compact, fully equipped, functional galley that the company's concierge can stock with pre-ordered provisions. A spacious dining banquette was upholstered in a subtle grey, navy and pink diamond pattern. Tired from our long flight, the cabin's double bed, piled with large pillows, beckoned invitingly. Closet and storage space was efficient. The cruiser is replete with linens, towels, and a stereo.
Novice pilots receive an introductory briefing on piloting (which is surprisingly simple), plus canal guides and a Captain's Guide. We listened attentively, if a bit nervously, to instruction concerning the waterway locks. They are usually operated by lockkeepers, or open automatically when a cruiser passes; some can be manually operated. We were instructed on the importance of knowing what to tie with a rope and, MORE IMPORTANTLY, being sure to untie the rope when pulling away, so a jetty isn't pulled with the boat. A self-skipper can readily phone the company for assistance, if problems arise. It should be noted that the boat is fully insured. So not to worry! The self-skipper is only responsible for damages up to the amount of the security deposit.
We first-time skippers piloted the boat from the base to Lough Key, across the tranquil Shannon Erne Waterway to Erne Lakes. The Shannon-Erne Waterway links the rivers Shannon and Erne, forming 750 kilometers of cruising waterway and breathtaking scenery. Our first stop on one of Europe's best waterway networks was Moyluarg Tower at Rockingham Estate. Pointing to the tower, a guide related the sad legend of a beautiful girl and her lover. Her father imprisoned her in the tower to separate the lovers, but unhappily, she died there of a broken heart.
We navigated the calm river, singing a medley of "Up a Lazy River" and "When Irish Eyes are Smiling." Shawn Matthews, who had hitched a ride with us, accompanied our off-key renditions on his accordion and told bawdacious tales of Ireland. The area is paradise for bird watchers; we spotted many wildfowl preserves. It's possible to observe white swans, mallards, curlews, herons, comorants, coots, shag, crested grebes, baldcoots, moorhens, widgeon, kingfisher, snipe, ducks, pheasant, and mallards.
Food & Entertainment
Be assured no one will lose weight on this trip. A typical Irish breakfast consists of fried eggs, potato pancakes, bacon, sausage, bread, and beverages. We also enjoyed an Egyptian restaurant with a performance by an Irish belly dancer from Killarney. On another occasion, we dined at a Chinese restaurant, complete with chopsticks, egg roll, and ice cream sundaes. After a busy day of boating and sightseeing, fish and chips in a casual "come as you are" pub was a treat for tired boaters. No menu listed the country's famous corned beef and cabbage, and we were told, perhaps facetiously, that no one in Ireland eats Irish stew. An evening party cruise, hanging out with our Irish friends while imbibing and listening to a Dixieland band, was enjoyable.
Along the Way
In Carrick-on-Shannon, romantics of all ages visit the Costello Memorial Chapel, reputed to be the second smallest church in the world. Edward Costello built and dedicated the chapel to his wife following her death. Two hearts are romantically intertwined on the altar symbolizing their undying love.
We skippered our "yacht" to Battlebridge in the west of Ireland where the l798 skirmish of the Irish rebellion took place. While visiting the historic 100-year-old Bernes pub, we were served delicious soup and sandwiches, accompanied by a "jar" of Guinness ale and hot whiskey. Non-alcoholic beverages were available for non-drinkers.
All too quickly, our four-day excursion was over. Wistfully, we bade our new found Shannon-on-Carrick friends good-bye with "kissie and lovie," as they say. Later, in booming Dublin, we met a young executive who had just teamed with his wife and child and two other families on a self-skippered cruise. He said "it was the best family holiday ever." Sharing expenses made the cruise an inexpensive vacation for these couples.
The quarters, while spacious for a cruiser, are still close; recruit close friends or family for this trip. Self-skippering is perfect for a multi-generational "soft adventure." Heavy Irish rains can dampen the ardor of boaters. Four seasons may occur on any day in Ireland, but spring or summer months are recommended for this trip.
It's not too late to book for 2001. Prices have been rolled back for the millennium, and with a weak Euro/strong dollar the cost of a self-skippering holiday can be a real bargain. For more information on self-skippered cruises in six European countries, fares, early booking and group discounts, contact your travel agent or the following:
Crown Blue Line: 1-888-355-9491
Photos courtesy of Jack White.
Jack and Toni White of Rancho Mirage, California have, for many years, been freelance travel writers specializing in cruise travel. Their articles have appeared in newspapers throughout the United States and Canada, including the Chicago Tribune, Dallas Morning News, and Vancouver Sun. Prestigious Palm Springs Life magazine published their article on filming the movie "Out to Sea" on the Holland America Line Westerdam. They also write regularly for Mature Living and Plus, formerly Senior Life.
Jack graduated from USC as an architect. His background in architecture allows him to review, write, and produce photographs from a unique perspective. Toni attended UCLA after graduating from Hollywood High School where she had been the Feature Editor of the Hollywood High School News, where one of the writers was comedienne Carole Burnett. Toni lived abroad for many years in South America and in the UK and has a familiarity with different cultures that influences her writing. The Whites love to travel and especially want to share their passion for cruising with you.
Toni & Jack White may be reached at: JACNTONI@aol.com.
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