‘Slowly, slowly with a windy behind,” encouraged our boating instructor, his voice carrying only the slightest hint of distress. We eased back at a snail’s pace but, unsure of how the throttle actually worked, found ourselves unintentionally reversing full pelt towards the wharf. Somehow sense prevailed and we wrestled our vessel forwards in the nick of time, a fender and our pride taking most of the damage. “You didn’t broken the boat, it’s just a debutante failure!” beamed the instructor, who promptly departed.’
Since launching Lodestars Anthology I have promised my mother one story in each issue - a chance for us to meet up somewhere in the world (London is my home while Sydney is hers) and have a little adventure, which we do our best to convince others is actually work. It’s a flawless set up - mainly because she happens to be a rather exceptional photographer, only judges me a little for being unable to drive and accepts wine as payment.
Given the payment method, our antics tend to verge on the ridiculous. And in France, the land of wine and merriment, we outdid ourselves. I had assigned us a story on the Canal du Midi, a 240-kilometre long waterway than winds its way through the country's south, and she’d appointed a crew - two Australian women “not quite in their autumn years but with the temperature dipping alarmingly from summer.”
The best travel tales are those that go a little awry - and I can assure you that when managing a network of locks, ports and open waterways with companions more concerned with the fromage on offer than navigation (thankfully there really is only one route on a canal) you’re reminded just how brilliant it is to give in to moments of madness. To make the odd superfluous 360 degree turn, swap sunnies in slowly filling locks and play damsel in distress when mooring feels a little too difficult and you know that the slightest flail of an arm is all that’s needed to earn the assistance of bemused French harbour masters. We were imperfect sailers, utterly in love with our trusty boat, cheese-besotted crew and the je ne sais quoi of it all. But we survived. In fact, we may have actually thrived - for after a week upon the water I discovered that women d’un certain âge can man helms, tie ropes, navigate waterways and act as the perfect travel companions - even if you’re adventure is a touch more shambolic than expected.
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