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Cruising a la Française

Parlez-vous bateaux a voiles? Sailors the world over are captivated by the newset vessels to hit the water each winter at the Paris boat show
If you can resist the colorful awnings and neon trim of countless cafes, bistros, restaurants, and other shops lining the way, the Paris boat show awaits you each year. We managed to break the spell of pastry shop windows to maneuver our way through the gigantic halls at the Paris Expo, housing the 40th Salon Nautique Internationale de Paris (

It's worth the airfare to see the offerings of many of the world's leading manufacturers of clothing, sails, electronics, outboard engines (including one diesel), smart regulators, generators, refrigerators, new sailing vessels and inflatables—and just about anything else that's boat related. The exhibitors run into the thousands. Don't let a lack of French stop you from going. Many brochures and flyers are available in English, and the larger manufacturers' representatives even speak the American version! Here are some of the highlights of this year's show:

The Beneteau Clipper 473 and the Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 43 offer dual helms to improve steering visibility and facilitate cockpit movement. The interiors' clean, curvy lines define the most modern of touches. Each was fitted with easily accessible cold-plate refrigeration units. We looked for a baguette holder—after all, this is France—on both boats without success. Beneteau's chief once ordered one installed on his boat after finding his baguette broken one morning. But we did find the boats fully outfitted with just about every known electronic device. The manufacturers have also installed the gauges you need to know when it's time to run that 150-amp alternator you so capably installed yourself.

The offerings from X-Yachts in particular caught the author's eye.
For the retrofitter, the show offered vast displays of gauges, my favorite thing to add to my boats. I love the look of a boat with all the necessary dials, and a few more just for show. In addition to the usual weather gauges, manufacturers (including many whose products you can order right here on SailNet) showed the many ways we now have of measuring 12-volt consumption—a must for cruisers.

One yacht we visited had three steering stations. The two rudders of X-Yacht's X-73 are controlled from either the pilot-house wheel, or the port or starboard cockpit wheel. I spent quite some time figuring out how they routed the autopilot and looking for the valve(s) they used to switch the flow of hydraulic oil from one station to another. What I really wanted was an explanation of how those valves know which steering station you're using without being told!

Well represented at the show were the charter companies, offering sailboats by the score in the Atlantic, the Caribbean, and the Mediterranean. For those wanting to rest the sails, other charter companies offer the old-world charm of the European rivers and canals. Each of the many exhibits we visited offered at least some information in English. Much of the French was decipherable. Some vendors thoughtfully provided cruising time tables, greatly facilitating planning for those unfamiliar with the waters.

Europe presents old world charm, and the opportunity to cruise its many waterways should not be missed.
The inland charter companies are often specific to an area, although a few do offer a variety of locations, such as Locaboat ( Some companies have innovative vessels, such as Rive de France, which has just come out with an all-electric boat. The batteries last all day at seven km per hour. There is only one boat for rent now, but if it proves popular, there may be more of these less- polluting boats on the canals.

For those planning a longer stay with their own boat—unstep that mast and you can go most places—I strongly suggest that you outfit your boat from the US, and take plenty of spares with you. There are several reasons to do so. First, prices are often cheaper; secondly, US sales tax is considerably less than the European VAT, no matter what state you're in; third, you have easier access to warranty repairs and replacements; and fourth, you may speak English better than European languages. Even though many people in Europe speak English, the specialized vocabulary of sailing often makes communication more difficult.

A number of charter companies can make your dream of sailing the inland lakes and waterways of Europe a reality.
Once you are outfitted, check out the Association National des Plaisanciers en Eaux Intérieures (The National Association of Inland Pleasure Boaters). The Association provides members with contacts in most towns and cities along the waterways. They offer a special group-rate boat insurance policy. You can fly their pennant, guaranteed to assure any passing water police of your fine character and excellent boating skills. If you have any questions along the way, like "Who can I hire to retrieve the Camembert I just dropped into the bilge?" you can give them a call on your little French mobile phone at 02 40 72 03 43 (the country code for France is 33), no website yet; or write to 6 rue Léo LaGrange, 44240 La Chapelle, France. The folks in the booth gave us a 30-minute update on what's happening in France, how to cross international borders on your boat (no check-in required once your boat has entered the European Community), the various fees for using the inland waterways of France, and how to install your own built-in baguette holder.

European Cruising Resources

If you're considering a trip to France, or any part of Europe, here are a few useful online resources to consider using for background information and on-site assistance: French Federation of Marinas The official website of the Paris boatshow, which offered WebTV for the first time this year. Check out new products, photos of the day, and something most of us never get to see: the setting up of a boat show. is the website of one of Europe's best multimedia providers of meteorological information.

For further information on blue-water chartering: (catamarans only) Stardust Yacht Charters Sunsail Moorings Yacht Charters GPSC Charters

Suggested Reading:

Local Fishing Laws by Sue and Larry

Strange Contraptions in Foreign Boats by Gary Kirkpatrick

The Waterways of Holland by Gary Kirkpatrick

Buying Guide: Headsail Sheet Lead Systems


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