By Rebecca Lee
As a boat obsessed person who fancied a holiday at home with a difference, I decided to take the plunge and booked a girly getaway, a River Shannon cruise. After hearing from a friend about just how easy it is to hire and steer your own private cruiser along Ireland’s longest most beautiful river, we packed our bags, stuck on our sailor hats and excitedly headed to Banagher marina, West Offaly in search of both adventure and a spot of relaxation.
As cruise virgins my friends Ciara, Lucinda and I decided to book our trip through the very experienced people at Carrickcraft. We took comfort in the fact that the cruise hire company have been supplying boats of all shapes and sizes to holidaymakers for the past 35 years. Unsure as to how three girls would fare at cruising a 34 foot ship, I booked four nights on Carrickcraft’s Kilkenny Class cruiser. Our stunning boat consisted of two bedrooms, two ensuites, a living room with a convertible bed, a well equipped kitchen and most importantly for three women, a sundeck!
Captain Bex on the decks!
Our decision to set sail wasn’t made lightly as we had a number of factors working against us. First of all due to friends cancelling we only had three people to steer a six person boat, none of us had operated a cruiser before and last but not least my two friends can’t swim! Still we castaway our concerns, running through our planned route with a Carrickcraft rep, watching a safety video that would shiver any amateurs timbers and embarking on a quick ‘testdrive’ before raising any anchors. I was pleased to find that steering the boat and following our navigation guide which we were given was relatively easy, even if we did do a few accidental 360 turns and cause a few killer waves for passers-by.
Wanting to stay near base on our first night in case there were any problems, our first port of call was the very beautiful Clonmacnoise. As you can’t cruise once darkness falls we mistakenly moored here overnight which meant we were faced with lots of fields and plenty of cows. Safe to say we had our own private party similar to the one featured in THAT caravan episode of Father Ted. It is certainly worth visiting the monastic site there during the day if on a cruiser, just don’t ever moor there at night.
Due to my posse being on average of 30 years of age we wanted to have it all- nice restaurants, things to do and see and good bars and nightclubs. Therefore at first light, we cruised from Clonmacnoise to Athlone Marina the following day which was a further two hours away. I was delighted to find I took to the role of Captain like a duck to water on the second day and myself and the girls looked like true pros, waving at each cruiser that sailed by. Athlone Marina was impressively large with plenty of spots to moor our boat, the only scary part was trying to fit it into jetty spaces without colliding with others or experiencing man overboard (which luckily we didn’t have to!)
Myself and my friend Lucinda on deck
We were relieved to find that apart from just having electricity ports for the crucial hair straightener (low voltage means most won’t work on board) Athlone has plenty to offer for people of all ages. We went shopping, had a spot of dinner and partied in the newly refurbished Karma Nightclub (www.karma.ie) which we were delighted to discover was an absolute hive of activity with stags and hen parties. Safe to say we were in cruise ship heaven.
Rough river heads on us the next day and sun beaming, on our third day we cruised to Hodson Bay for a spot of people watching and lunch in the famous Hodson Bay Hotel. In addition to being easy to moor in, it proved a great spot for sunbathing and there were plenty of water activities available for people of all ages.
Following our pit stop at Hodson Bay, we sailed back to Athlone for another funfilled night in the town’s pubs and clubs.
With checkout being 10am on a Saturday, we chose to cruise back to Bannagher for our one last hurrah. Banagher marina was fairly idyllic and the streets although quaint were dotted with a handful of cruiser friendly pubs, JJ Hough’s was particularly pleasant as traditional live music poured out the doors and onto the street.
Overall our River Shannon cruise truly was a breakaway that the girls and I will never forget. As three young girls who were amateur sailors we managed to conquer cruising and were welcomed with rounds of applause at most ports of call. Between the beautiful scenery, sunshine, nature and the feeling of being free and adventurous, a cruise along the Shannon is something everyone must do at least once in their lives, if not to work like a captain but to play like a pirate.
As featured in The Sunday World