It is one of the most storied rivers in the world. A lifeblood connecting central England through London and out to the world through the English Channel. It is the Thames River, and beyond the Big Smoke flows past majestic castles and midlevel towns, bucolic landscapes, and untouched woodlands. A boating adventure at a languid pace allows guests to explore these hallowed waters while taking in the vistas as well as visiting the quaint towns and fascinating landmarks along the way. The ideal way to explore the Thames is with Le Boat, the quintessential yacht rental company that allows boaters to take their own sweet time to enjoy all that this incredible river has to offer.
It’s not really yachting per se as there is no crew to navigate or to serve the guests on board. Nor is it a cruise, as the yacht is completely private with no other passengers or the need to stay on a strict itinerary. It is that sweet spot in between with a yacht for you and your group’s exclusive use and the freedom to go where you want, stop when you want, do what you want while staying as long as you want. What makes it even more sublime is that you have first-rate accommodation at your disposal with all the creature comforts and amenities one would have in a top-notch apartment.
For most who have never driven a boat before, don’t let that concern you either. This is epitome of slow travel on inland cruising adventure where the boats saunter along at a uber-relaxing pace. There is no need for any type of special license and before setting off and the Le Boat crew provides a full briefing on the boat and a short (but thorough) training on how to navigate the river. When sailing with Le Boat, the journey is so much more delicious than the destination. The eight-day trip is the best way to explore the Thames, leaving from the Le Boat marina in Chertsey and terminating at their second marina in Benson.
All Aboard with Le Boat
When it comes to self-drive river yachting, Le Boat is in a class of its own. Although the name may sound French, the company is based in West Sussex, England, and has been renting yachts for river cruising for over 50 years. Since their early days of boating throughout France’s waterways, Le Boat has grown to 36 departure bases in Europe and is now in Canada. France remains their most popular destination with 18 locations to explore, including Burgundy, the Aquitaine, and the UNESCO-listed Canal du Midi.
Today Le Boat has a fleet of 912 boats with more than 100,000 passengers per year making them the largest self-drive boating operator in Europe and North America. Their fleet ranges in size from boats ideal for two persons to their Horizon 5 yacht that can accommodate 12 passengers. Cruises can be arranged for short weekend breaks of three nights up to 21 nights to thoroughly explore the riverways. Their staff throughout the process is professional, helpful, friendly and are extremely responsive should anything arise where assistance is required along the way.
Cruising on the Le Boat Horizon 3
Le Boat yachts cater to the size of the group and their budget. The Horizon is their newest and custom-built line, ideally suited for river cruising. The river yachts are long and flat in order to safely pass under the numerous bridges although, at times, it is surprisingly close so passengers need to mind their heads and other parts accordingly.
The Horizon 3 has two decks and a length of 44’ ‘by 14’ providing spacious indoor and outdoor areas to move around, relax, or share time together. Most of the navigating is done from the top deck although there is a wheel station indoors as well. The fresh air and unobstructed views from the top deck make time behind the wheel all the more enjoyable.
There are plenty of seating areas as well as a cushioned sunbathing area. Toward the rear of the top deck is an outdoor lounge area, perfect for any meal of the day but especially in the evening and for sundowners as the sun begins to set. For the extra sunny days, there is a Bimini top to provide shade as well as a built-in propane barbeque for grilling outdoors. The river yacht is also equipped with a multimedia sound system with outdoor speakers so you can listen to your music while navigating, while dining or while having a swim in the river.
The first deck offers a stylish décor with comfortable furnishings and feels more like a holiday home than your typical boat. The saloon is wide open and well-lit with a large table with bench seating. Throughout the indoor area, there is air conditioning as well as heat when needed.
On the opposite side of the lounge is a fully equipped kitchen with a propane stovetop and oven, as well as all of the kitchen utensils, appliances, and do-dads needed to prepare a gourmet meal. There are two refrigerators, ample size for a full week’s supplies — although it’s easy to find a grocery store and restock at the towns you find along the way. Even better, your group will want to visit the morning markets, such as in Henley on the Thames, an ideal place to pick up a warm loaf of bread, freshly picked fruits and veg, or a wedge of artisan cheese.
The Horizon 3 has plenty of space for a family or up to three couples traveling together. Each of the three cabins has its own en suite bathroom with toilet and shower. The spacious master covers the bow of the boat with a comfortable bed, the equivalent size of a king-sized bed. There are windows for letting in light or air as well as ceiling windows for more natural airflow. The master bathroom has a toilet and sink on one side and, on the opposite side of the cabin, there is a separate shower with good pressure and hot water. Towels and bed linens are provided as well and there is plenty of storage space. As shared, it really has all the amenities and comforts of an upmarket holiday apartment.
Captaining Your Yacht
Forget all that you’ve thought of regarding chartering a boat. No need to hire a captain and crew or extensive training and licenses to learn how to drive yourself. Instead, Le Boat makes it simple, a short training session for first-timers on how to conduct the boat, boat facilities, and safety lessons, and you’re off on your own. Along the Thames, the speed limit is eight knots (about 5 mph) so no need to worry about speeding boats, or even your own as the controls have been regulated to move the boat along within the restrictions.
Most will be surprised at how relatively simple driving the boat is. Steering the boat takes a little getting used to but after a few hours, first-timers will quickly get the hang of it. The yachts are equipped with front and rear thrusters that push the boat left and right as needed to moor, navigate, or maneuver through the locks.
And if you are concerned about passing through the numerous locks along the way, don’t be. That part of the process is actually quite enjoyable; a place to say hello and chit-chat with other boaters. The congenial lockkeepers staff most of the locks and are quick to help tie up the boat or give instructions. All are very friendly and patient, knowing that many passing through are first-time boaters. It takes about 20 minutes to get through the lock.
The gates behind the boat close as the water fills or releases, so you’ll have to wait until the boat is at the right level to pass through to the next section of the river. The time is easily spent admiring the beautiful lock houses, built over 100 years ago yet perfectly maintained with their colorful flower beds and well-coiffed gardens. It is absolutely fascinating to watch and even more exciting to do the process on your own should the lock not be manned as you pass through. The instructions are quite straightforward and easy to master.
This concludes our part one of our adventure on the Thames with Le Boat.