Setting off on an Emerald Star short cruise from Carrick-on-Shannon, Leitrim, for Lough Key Forest Country Park, near Boyle in Co Roscommon, it became clear within moments that a boating holiday cannot run by the clock.
It takes up to three hours to coast the picture postcard route compared to the 15 minutes it would have been by road to complete the 15km journey.
But what would have been the fun in that? Taking the steering wheel for the first time, the nerves started to kick in as I realised I was now the captain Yeats in charge of this vast boat, the 44 foot luxury the Horizon 3.
This beauty would cost me €250,000 to replace and considering I’m a nautical novice, it seemed somewhat of gamble to place control in my hands. I donned my sailor’s cap and secured my life jacket, just in case.
However, within 15 minutes I’d already gained confidence and felt quite capable of steering the giant boat under a rather narrow bridge opening – a challenge that should be taken with some caution and perhaps it’s not a move recommended when trying to find a cup holder, as I did.
When getting to grips with skippering this majestic boat, it’s important to realise it rotates across the water at a much slower pace than a car and thus steering is at a snail’s pace in comparison and the body only reacts moments later.
As the three-cabin vehicle glided its way through the waters, the wildlife on the Shannon seemed to gain a sense of mischief. Swans, ducks and herons all played the most unnerving game of chicken with the bow, just leaping out of the way in the nick of time. While close by, horses lay down in the sunlight on fields either side.
Apart from the occasional playful creature, there are few distractions on the Shannon. Unless you count the brightness of the sun glistening off the water and the breeze through your hair, as irritants, it seems this could this be one of the ultimate forms of mindfulness.
After an hour as captain, I allowed one of my party to take over steering as I indulged in some relaxation, sipping tea and winding down on a sunbed on deck.
Scenes from ‘80s pop classic Rio by Duran Duran flashed through my mind, so I chose some retro classics on the boat’s impressive sound system for the ultimate escapism.
Then after a quick change in my modestly sized cabin, complete with en-suite – and I was ready for my evening ahead with a bit of a change of pace.
The Horizon 3 is easily docked without much fuss at Lough Key and as I watched another keen sailor take on the task, I was reminded of my first time parking in Tesco all those years ago. It literally doesn’t seem much more difficult than position, reverse, oh and to watch not to whack into any huge, expensive boats nearby.
A short journey by taxi took my party to the opulent four star Kilronan Castle in Roscommon, where we were welcomed by Gothic grandeur and a sumptuous seven-course tasting menu. If you have the time and cash in your pocket, I highly recommend.
The elegant surroundings complimented by huge fireplaces and beautiful chandeliers, tempted me to ditch the boat and sample a cosy bed in one of the 84 rooms for the night but I was quickly reminded of the adventure that awaits – a night on the glorious Horizon 3 and feeling like a kid again – so, I slipped into a cab back to my waterway home.
The sound of seagulls and lapping waves were my alarm bell in the morning and it was time for a little dry land fun in the shape of Bodaborg – a Swedish concept indoor challenge game rather similar to TV game show, Crystal Maze.
Based at Lough Key, the indoor centre offers players the chance to open up a host of mystery rooms where a choice of mental and physical challenges await.
This activity is probably best suited to families or a group of friends but by the end of crawling through tunnels and putting my general knowledge to the test, I was more than ready to try something else.
A historical segway tour of the Rockingham estate on Lough Key offered more than enough adventure and intrigue as my party soared through acres of woodland marvelling as we managed to conquer the terrain.
Tales of how the King family lived a life of opulence in the 1800s as a powerful landowning dynasty who suffered repeated fires before eventually taking the hint and leaving the area proved interesting, as I milled my way through grassland on what has to be one of the coolest modes of transport going.
Lough Key was a great spot for relaxation and innocent fun for a day but I was more than ready to nip back onto the boat to set sail once again for Carrick and finally a night on the tiles in the stag and hen capital of Ireland, making cocktails with one the most welcoming barmen in town at the Barrelstore, a trendy ‘cocktail den’ where just about every drink imaginable seems to be on offer. Still, making your drinks does help you avoid drinking too many and hence there was no hangover.
The final evening was topped off with a delicious seven-course meal at George’s Terrace, a restaurant with delicious food and fantastic views of the Shannon. If you’re so inclined, there’s even a cookery school here available if you plan to stay for more than a day or two.
Sadly though goodbye is never easy and clearly my heart has been won by the sea and the luxury boat that had become my home for a weekend but all good things must come to an end though I’d love to get back on deck as soon as my diary allows.
A short break on the Horizon 3 will set you back €150, fuel is €1.65 a litre and there are a host of European cruises on offer for a heftier price tag.
No experience is necessary to drive the boat though anyone taking the captain’s seat must be an adult and prepared to stump up damage protection with a credit card.
For more information log onto www.emeraldstar.ie