Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Was It Built for a Leprechaun?

The fun of world travel is you just never know what will be the next challenge. What kind of problems could you have on an Irish river boat rip? The head (bathroom) in each of the staterooms (cubicles) on the yacht were a real challenge, especially for our elected yacht captain, Tom Boyd of Leavenworth. He complained that he was not a contortionist, and it was impossible for him to stand, shave, or wash his face while having the door closed. Well, we did give him and his wife Mall, the largest stateroom and little did we know that the boat builder made the stateroom bigger at the expense of the head. You would have thought from his agony, that he was 6 foot 5 inches, and 300 pounds!

These kinds of adventures were part of the fun of traveling on a self drive 42 foot yacht on the Shannon River in Ireland. Three or four years ago four couples did the same kind of crazy yachting trip, but on the Rhine Canal in France in the summer. This voyage with three of the same couples (hopefully with only six people there would be more room), was a fall cruise exploring the remote and beautiful middle counties of Ireland. If you are someone who wants to be pampered and spoiled on a luxury river cruise this is not the option for you. With a self drive cruise you and your traveling companions are all the crew there is.

In order to prepare you for such a cruise the company sends you a captain’s manual and then when you arrive at the marina you are given about a half hour of training on the operation of the yacht. The boat company claims you can operate their boats with no prior experience, but it does help if you have some people with some water experience, particularly an understanding of parking a boat at a pier or in a lock. Even with some past boating experience there is a fast learning curve. But by the second day you should be having no problems. The cruise for us was a one way, south to north, cruise on the Shannon. We only had 18 hours of actual cruising time, with the rest of the week filled with villages, biking, eating, enjoying the Irish beverages, exploring, walking, photography and generally having a wonderful time with friends including great laughs at the small problems of life in a confined space.

Everyone on the yacht was assigned a job. Tom Boyd was the captain as he was in the Navy 35 years ago. This certainly made him qualified. Les Cooper from Chelan was the navigator, in charge of keeping track of the river channel and helping avoid parking the boat on the shore. I was assigned the task of being the bow crew and handling the ropes with the lockmasters and securing the yacht to piers and docks. And the three beautiful ladies? Mary Ann Warren, Mall Boyd, and Carol Cooper were excellent galley slaves, making our breakfast, lunch, coffee and tea breaks, shopping for provisions and reading a lot more books than the male crew.

We all flew into Shannon Airport on different flights, but all arrived within a couple of hours of each other. We then took a van to Portumna where we picked up the yacht, a model Elegance which had 3 staterooms, galley, living and dining area, and a flying bridge for outside activities. We rented from the Emerald Star Company which can also be found on the internet under the names of the Crown Blue Line and Connoisseur. Our first night was south of Portumna at Terryglass on Lough (lake) Derg. Then we proceeded north through Banagher, Shannonbridge, Athlone, Lough Ree, and on to Carrick-on-Shannon with a side trip up to Lough Key. We never had any problems finding places to moor at night and we spent two nights in Athlone and two nights in Carrick-on-Shannon. In all there were only 5 locks and two lifting or swinging bridges. All of these had lock or bridge attendants. After we turned in the yacht we were transported back to Shannon Airport. The cost of this kind of vacation is very reasonable as you are dividing the rental between three couples. Check out any of the websites.

Everyday on the river made for new and interesting contacts. In Banagher when we explored the village we found they were having a horse festival in the streets of the town. There were hundreds of horses and ponies being shown for possible purchase. Test runs were being made up and down the main street. You just don’t find a similar event in Central Washington. Throughout the trip the galley slaves just plain refused to use the appliances in the galley, so we of course were out in the villages at various pubs and restaurants for dinner. We found that the cuisine in Ireland is excellent. Even pub food has offerings that would rival many gourmet restaurants. My love is smoked salmon and that was always a starter on every menu.

We all had to experience Irish pubs, sometimes on multiple occasions during a day. This requires just a wee sampling of Irish beer (translate: Guinness) or Irish whiskey (translate Jamesons), which of course was only for medicinal purposes. An ale (known as a bitter) named Smithwicks, became the cough syrup of choice. Speaking Irish English is somewhat of a problem and this ale is pronounced “Smitticks”. For some reason I had trouble grasping this and when I asked for the beer starting with an “S”, the publican, laughingly usually tried to throw me out of the pub. Many of the pubs still had traditional Irish music but with all our huge physical duties as crew on the yacht we never could stay up past 9:30 p.m. to enjoy this aspect of Irish life. As a consolation Mary Ann bought several Irish music CD’s.

Experiencing a do-it-yourself cruise like this makes for great memories with good friends, even when there are little problems. Tom Boyd just has to lose weight or start stooping more!

 (Published in The Good Life magazine December 2007 issue )

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