Novice sailor DAVE FLETT takes his family for a boating holiday on the canals and rivers of France

WITH my family heritage deeply rooted in the Orkney Islands, sailing really should run in the blood.

Much to my wife’s horror, I even inherited my Scottish grandfather’s webbed toes - as strong a sign as any, maybe, that I should feel as much at home on water as I do on land.

Before embarking on a seven-day boating holiday in France, however, my nautical experience largely amounted to a quick paddle in a pedalo or a ride on the pirate ship at Alton Towers.

In truth, I was more Captain Birdseye than Jack Sparrow.

I looked the part in the peaked hat we’d bought especially for the trip – an online bargain at £4.75 - but my actual captain credentials were as iffy as the 1980s advertising legend.

My beard is almost as grey these days too and, on our arrival for the start of our voyage in the idyllic village of Deluz, we were as chilly as his famous frozen fish fingers, with afternoon temperatures an unseasonal 12 degrees Celsius for July.

We soon thawed out though and the rest of the week saw Fahrenheit readings into the hundreds – absolutely glorious weather for messing about on the river.

Nor need we have worried about my lack of a shipping CV – no licence was required to navigate around the rivers and canals of the beautiful Bourgogne-Franche-Comte region that we would be exploring in the most absorbing manner possible.

All that was needed was a quick tutorial from our Gallic guide, including a brief test drive, before I was handed the wheel of our excellent 13-metre Locaboat vessel and tasked with transporting my other half, our eight-year-old daughter and her grandmother all the way to Scey-sur-Saone, which would necessitate, on average, five-and-a-half hours a day of sailing time.

That journey would include negotiating a total of 57 locks – a skill for which there was no opportunity to practice before leaving port.

Instead, we were armed with a series of basic diagrams outlining the supposed correct techniques.

A little daunting at first – the procedure of pulling your boat up or dropping it down to the new water level is mainly common sense although, admittedly, there is a little bit of trial and error involved.

Team work is essential and the manner of that co-operation entirely depends on the nature of your party – some prefer the Roy Keane style of screaming in each other’s faces, whilst others favour the David Beckham approach of captaincy with quiet words of encouragement, fist bumps and back slaps.

Ours was probably a combination of both.

After tackling a few, though, you will start to operate with all the efficiency of a Formula One pitstop team. But be prepared for a few surprises as you undergo this new responsibility together.

I didn’t know, for instance, that my 5ft 2in mother, at 63, possesses a throwing arm to rival Babe Ruth’s in his prime.

Many locks have their own charming quirks, meanwhile, with one on our journey being managed by a farmer, whose animals were all grazing on the bank, as he sold his deliciously-varied produce.

Docking is also a skill that is easily picked up, with controlling your speed the biggest tip for perfect parking.

My first attempt was at the historic city of Besancon, steering the boat into a tight space in front of the gaze of a commercial boat full of diners, as they waited to enter the lock we had just exited. That helped concentrate my mind.

Growing in confidence, we even got the hammer and pegs out and tied ourselves to the bank to eat lunch on deck in a particularly picturesque spot one afternoon, rather than waiting for a quay to fix on the ropes.

Overnight docking costs were also reasonable when compared to the prices we are accustomed to paying for parking a car, let alone a three-bedroomed boat, in this country.

The average charge of 15 Euros included the use of electricity, water and showers.

Electricity can come in particularly useful, particularly after an elementary blunder on our first evening left the engine battery as flat as a crepe after our daughter’s ipad was charged up overnight.

At Besancon, we visited the citadel – a UNESCO world heritage site - that majestically overlooked the canal as we approached the capital of the Doubs department.

Built for Louis XIV by military architect Vaubert in the 17th century, the fortification’s history is retold in the site’s restored chapel right up to the German occupation in World War Two.

An excellent zoo has been added in the grounds of the fortress with highlights the playful tigers and mischievous monkeys, while the Insectarium, full of creepy-crawlies previously unknown to our family, was also fascinating.

Leaving Besancon, we moved on to the slower pace of Ranchot – a typically charming French village boasting a bakers, grocers, art gallery, war monument and little else.

The spot was great for a canal-side bike ride, with our hire cycles having also been organised by Locaboat.

There were also easy pickings for fishing enthusiasts, with myself and my daughter even able to snare a few with a bit of bread and a sieve.

A nearby frog, positioned on a lily pad, was the only sound to be heard as night fell and, soon after dawn broke, we left the peaceful refuge following a quick visit to the boulangerie for freshly-baked croissants and pains aux chocolats.

Indeed, one of the simple pleasures of our break was sampling the gastronomic delights offered by the region.

The pretty old town of Dole was our next destination, full of charcuteries, fromageries, chocolatiers and ice-cream parlours.

Having sailed through a stunning avenue of trees, we docked in front of the house where Louis Pasteur was born – the perfect backdrop for our evening’s stay.

We also paid a visit by bus to the ISIS Aquaparc, which was friendlier than its rather unfortunate name might suggest.

On the water the following day, a real highlight was the tunnel at Thoraise which, in almost theme-park fashion, had a waterfall at each end that automatically switched off just as you were entering or leaving, although just enough still cascaded down one side to give any unsuspecting sailors a shower if they were stood in the wrong place.

Once inside, a light show on the roof proved a real treat as well.

Our biggest mishap of the holiday followed when, perhaps a little dazed by the sunshine, a map-reading blunder, which led to a left turn rather than a right, resulted in a one-and-a-half hour detour that, in turn, precipitated a dash to make our mooring for the night at Auxonne before the locks closed for the night.

We just made it but, as a consequence, only had enough time the next morning to pose for a picture in front of the statue of Napoleon, who went to military school in the small town.

Having left ourselves with more kilometres to cover during the latter stages of our sojourn, our time in Gray was similarly fleeting, although the port was busy and lively.

The small town of Scey-sur-Saone then proved a peaceful final setting to toast one of our most truly memorable family vacations.

Appealing to all three generations, we were all surprised by how spacious our boat –a Europa 600 - felt.

Splitting our time between land and water, meanwhile, made for a contrasting break.

Idyllic riverside cottages added to the beautiful backdrop of our holiday, whilst nature presented itself in the form of various breeds of dragonfly and butterfly, a swan and her cygnets and herds of cows, who lowered their heads to drink from the bank.

There were mod--cons on-board too, with music speakers and a DVD player that allowed us to finally complete our Harry Potter box-set - the fitting choice for such a spell-binding break.


Further information on the Bourgogne-Franche-Comte region can be found at and assistance with holiday plans can be provided by emailing Veronique Beigenger at

For full details on holidays with Locaboat in France, Germany, Holland, Ireland, Italy and Poland, please visit