This article won gold in the Family Travel category for the Travel Media Association of Canada Awards 2019.
It was released more than 1 year ago. Some of the information it contains may no longer be current.
After a long day of travel, the glass of red wine I reach for feels well-deserved.
“You never drank wine,” shouts my mother behind me with a raised eyebrow. I laugh.
She thinks of the last time we walked this path together: Just her, my father and me.
I was 2 years old then.
My parents have often joined my husband, two sons, and me, but it has been more than 40 years since we were only three. And the limited number of distractions means my parents are looking at me more closely than they have for years.
The decision to take her on this trip is a cliché because it’s true: none of us are getting any younger (though you wouldn’t know if you looked at my people). With a family and a career on the go, days often feel like I’m running at warp speed. Selfishly, I long for a more focused time with all of my loved ones, but my parents are high on the list. You were my first tour guides and the inspiration for the roving life I lead. It seems appropriate to break new ground together at least one more time, without external interruptions.
And so I booked this trip for us at Le Boat, a boat charter company that is celebrating 50 years in the European cruise industry this year. Launched in Canada in 2018, it offers non-boaters the opportunity to be the captain and crew of their own ship on the Rideau Canal waterway in Eastern Ontario. Neither my parents nor I have any experience in boating, regardless of whether you have a boating license. But after a 30 minute lesson in which our instructor teaches us the difference between throttle and engines, he calmly offers suggestions if we bump into the dock and double-checks that we know how to put them into reverse . – We’re on our own.
Now it’s just us, with access to 200 miles of lakes, rivers, and canals that stretch from Kingston to Ottawa.
This is not a speedboat. We reach a maximum of about seven kilometers per hour. Children on the bank are literally running away from us (although brakes don’t seem to have a problem engaging a ride). From our starting point at the Le Boat base in Smiths Falls, it will take us approximately five hours to reach our first station in Westport. We could have driven it in 40 minutes. When you’re new and nervous, full throttle feels like Highway 401.
This slow pace is one of the gifts of this trip. The three of us quickly settled into our roles as we wind our way between a fairly well-marked path of green and red buoys. My father finds the captain’s chair and never lets go of it – with the intention of taking responsibility for our safety and wellbeing, as he always has. My job is to navigate with the included map, binoculars and Le Boat guides. My mom is the second friend, which seems to mean she can toggle between playing puzzles on her iPad, relaxing on the comfortable bench inside, and popping up occasionally to snap a few photos.
But she is not entirely off duty either: when it is time to enter a castle or tie up for the night, she takes her position on the back ropes seriously.
Soon we’ll be relaxed enough to take in views of hidden island houses, spot turtles sunbathing on the shores, and snap photos of herons soaring through the air.
The beauty surprises me. The Rideau Canal is the oldest continuously operating canal system in North America, but so far I’ve only seen it in winter when a 7.8 km stretch in central Ottawa becomes the largest naturally frozen ice rink in the world.
At the speed at which we move, you can enjoy the calm waters and tree-lined banks. Father and I get into a rhythm of navigating and steering. Small talk leads to revelations not intended for public articles in major newspapers.
In the evening we celebrate successful docking with board games and adventures in small towns. In Westport we visit the Scheuermann winery to get pizza out of the wood oven. In Perth we walk down the main street and take a quick look at the gardens in front of the Perth Museum. And that first glass of wine becomes a nightly shared event.
We don’t get it right.
At some point, my navigational skills get us off course, and the tell-tale scraping of the bottom of the boat confirms that we are in too shallow water. A speedboating couple catches up with us and helps us correct it. Then it follows us for a while to make sure we are comfortable again.
And then of course there is the natural tension that can arise when three people who don’t spend that much time together do so.
With my parents as my only companions, the regression is instant. My curse-heavy playlist is being pushed aside in favor of more family-friendly songs. And parental advice is instinctively responded to with defensive measures. I’m a middle-aged woman, but somehow my parents react to comments that should roll off my back with teenage annoyance, heavy sighs, and rolling eyes.
If I annoy them, don’t say so, but I do catch them occasionally looking at each other with tight lips and knowing eyes.
I see them making accommodations too. They worry about whether I’m hungry or comfortable and one morning I hear whispered reminders between them, early risers, that they need to be quiet because I am asleep. Nobody wants to wake the baby.
You can’t stop being my parents any more than I can stop asking for consent.
On the one night I retreat from them to the upper deck, I look for ice cream and a round of jenga within 20 minutes. Loneliness ain’t why i’m here
I wanted this trip so I could be with them and I regret every minute that I don’t make the best of it.
And then we just approach the end of our journey. I wonder if my people are feeling as melancholy as I do, reminding my mom that it will be over when we land back in Smith’s Falls this afternoon.
“Wait. I’ll wake up in my own bed tomorrow?” She asks, before mumbling what we’re all thinking. “That sucks.”
Things you need to know:
There are a number of locks along the canal that regulate the water level. All of the locks we drove south to Chaffey’s Lock from Smiths Falls were operated by Parks Canada staff. They do all the heavy lifting and give support and tips for our adventure.
The length of our trip (four days) meant we didn’t have to worry about draining sewage or refilling our water tanks. Places where you can do both are clearly marked in your guide.
On board the boat you will find everything you would find in a holiday home or mobile home. There is a fully functional kitchen, hot water for showers, USB ports and a grill plate on the upper deck. For a small fee, Le Boat staff will provide a cooking starter kit that includes things like oil, salt and pepper, milk, etc.
For all boat models in Canada and Europe, Le Boat offers options for two to 12 people. Our Horizon 4 could technically sleep nine people, but I’d make the most of it on five or six adults to stay comfortable.
Even though you’re alone on the water, a 24-hour emergency number means help is just a phone call away. At our very last lock on the way back we had an engine failure. The people from Le Boat were there within minutes, made us laugh, assured us it would happen from time to time and got us on our way.
Our four bedroom boat was great for having lots of space to relax in, but since the three bedroom model is the same overall size, I would go for it if I did it again. My parents found their bedroom a bit cramped for two adults. The three bedroom option would provide a space that is twice the size.
The cost of renting the boat varies depending on the size of the ship and the length of the trip. However, you can expect to pay just over $ 5,000 for a week-long cruise like ours in August. While Le Boat has agreements with most lock stations that allow free overnight docking, docking fees may apply at stops where there is no agreement.
Heather Greenwood Davis was hosted by Le Boat. This story has not been reviewed or approved. More information can be found at Leboat.ca.
This story originally appeared here: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/travel/article-anchors-aweigh-a-self-guided-boat-trip-along-rideau-canal-is-the-best/
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