Renting a Nicols boat departure from Dole in Jura
GENEVA TIMES - AUTOR : Tracy Movigliatti
At the end of June my family rented a boat for a three-day weekend. Starting in the Jura town of Dole, France and leisurely travelling the canals of le Doubs to la Saône, we meandered along charming waterways to the medieval town of Auxonne. Our boat was part of the well-kept fleet available from the Nicols company, which offers self- catering boat voyages in France, Germany and Portugal. No pesky boating permit needed.
Nicols was founded in July 1986 as part of the NADIA group, specialists in the transformation of plastics. Today, Nicols' fleet comprises almost 500 vessels originating from its shipyard in Cholet (Maine et Loire).
We arrived on a Thursday afternoon at Nicols' port office in the the shadow of the collegial church in the Jura's largest metropolis – a whopping 30,000 people strong. Having chosen to take the back roads through the mountains above Nyon instead of the A40 highway from Geneva, our total travelling time was a little over three hours.
Perhaps if we had used the autoroute the trip would have been closer to the 2 hours and 15 minutes estimated by Google Maps. The scenery was beautiful though, and we all felt that we were on holiday before we arrived. Nonetheless, the decision did have consequences: a rather hurried overview of the boat and its mechanical functioning due to the fact that the locks exiting Dole close at 19:00 hrs.
Despite our tardiness the mechanic in charge of our education was cheerful and competent, able to effectively explain the essentials in a reduced timeframe. In addition, my husband, having had the luxury of messing around in boats with friends on Lake Léman in his youth, was an apt pupil. Honestly, if I had been left to my own devices I am not sure how well I would have managed. While no permit is needed, one must not forget that these boats are bigger than the largest gas-guzzling SUV and that their mode of operation is quite a bit different from that of your automobile.
Locks are a primary area of concern for non-boaters — and there is no shortage of them. On our 77 km voyage, we encountered 16! Passing through the locks is an uncomplicated but nonetheless rigorous process, entailing alerting the lock of your arrival — generally automatically, using a remote control provided by the boat company, manoeuvring your vessel into a narrow, potentially hull-damaging passageway, securing your vessel (using some nautical gymnastics), signalling the gates to close and finally unhitching your boat and sailing out of the same tight corridor into open water.
For those without any boating experience it is definitely a learning experience. But the education is fun and by the 3rd or 4th lock the process becomes a fairly comfortable routine. You start feeling like a seasoned sailor. And luckily a member of the dedicated Nicols staff will see you through your first one, staying on board until you have made it safely through before bidding you adieu and leaving you to enjoy your private holiday.
Once we had passed our first écluse (lock) and were safely in the canal and officially on our way, I left my husband to fulfil his duties as captain to further explore what would be home for the next few days. Our boat, an E. Quattro, member of the Estivale series, was marvellously appointed and neatly decorated with an unobtrusive nautical theme.
The living quarters were charming, homey and practical. A great deal of architectural planning has clearly gone into the design of these boats, as every square centimetre is used to advantage, yet there is no sense of clutter. At the very back of the boat (the stern in nautical terms), there were two small side-by-side cabins with connecting washrooms equipped with a toilet and sink. The whole space could be transformed into a shower by firmly closing the door and using the shower head attachment on the sink faucet. There were small recessed closets for hanging delicate items and bookshelves above the bed, as well as additional storage space under the beds. We were supplied with one set of fresh-out-of-the-bag linens per bed.
Up a few steps was the captain's command post. Behind this were located the galley (kitchen) and living area, the latter containing a medium-sized dining table with bench seating. The kitchen was marvellously equipped with everything a cook could possibly need from vegetable peeler to bottle-opener. Perhaps the most attractive feature of this boat was the large aft terrace equipped with patio table and chairs for soaking up the mid-morning sunshine while monitoring the kids in the pool, or enjoying a glass of chilled wine in the evening.
Yes, I did say "pool" — a 700-litre "baby" pool, heated by the boat's motor, can be attached to the stern of the boat. When not in use, the pool area can be transformed into an extended terrace by sliding the hard plastic covers closed. For a mother of exuberant young children, nervous about spending an extended period of time in an enclosed space far away from their familiar supply of toys and games at home, this is a wonderful option.
It was, however, perhaps not as much appreciated by the captain. The contraption (and I) were cursed more than once by my husband, as the addition of the pool significantly affects manoeuvrability, adding weight and length and slowing the vessel's reaction time.
While we were quite happy to stay primarily on the boat with only brief forays into the towns of Choisey and Auxonne — and Carrière for supplies — it is possible to moor it along the way and do some exploring on foot or bike. Nicols will happily rent you bicycles for the duration of your trip.
And for those needing some exercise and time away from the Lilliputian boat quarters there are some lovely biking and walking trails following the canals.
Auxonne, classified as a place of historical interest, was definitely worth the stop, not only because of the impressive ancient fortifications and shady terraces along the quays but also thanks to the kind attentions of one bartender who served us fine Belgian beer on a very hot day, intrigued us with stories about the area and let our children sample his large selection of sirops free of charge.
It was with a sense of sadness that we tidied up and returned what had become our home-away-from-home on Sunday afternoon, and returned to Geneva.
For anyone interested in a new and unique way to explore the natural wonders of France (or elsewhere), I would recommend a cruise with Nicols. Prices for a two-day weekend cruise from Dole start at € 670.00. For more information, visit their website at www.nicols.com.