By Greg Nicoll

It was great to get back on Le Boat this past summer, this time on the historic Thames River. Our vessel was the Royal Mystique, a 43 footer with everything we needed for a week’s cruise in style.

John Burns, an English politician and noted London historian from the late 19th century coined the phrase “The Thames is a liquid history.”

Paul and I seem to love the extremes of cruising – long ocean passages where our skills and stamina are tested followed by lots of gunkholing where we poke along exploring creeks, rivers, cuts and canals to gain insight into the heartland of our destination. Boating began for both of us on the Trent-Severn Waterway in Ontario and after setting sail for foreign ports in 1989 we have travelled through numerous canals including the Erie Canal and Intracoastal Waterway of the USA, the Corinth Canal in Greece,

Completing the Tour of the Six Celtic Nations. Sheryl and Paul Shard continue their sailing adventures with an autumn cruise of the Brittany coast of France aboard their Southerly 49 sailboat, Distant Shores II. It was a chilly and challenging summer aboard our Southerly 49 sailboat, Distant Shores II, exploring the beautiful west coast of Norway as far as 61°N and also the Celtic nations of Ireland, Northern Ireland, Isle of Man, Wales and Scotland including the Shetland and Orkney Isles.

Paul and Sheryl Shard continue their adventures cruising in Scotland aboard their Southerly 49 sailboat, Distant Shores II. The Muckle Flugga light at 60º 51'N 0º53'W marks the most northern point of the United Kingdom. Our quest to reach it aboard our Southerly 49 sailboat, Distant Shores II, took us through some of the United Kingdom's most remote and charming island groups, the Orkney and Shetland Isles. These island groups lie off the north coast of the Scottish mainland; although both are territories of Scotland, the people seem to identify more strongly with their Nordic roots.

Norway and its fjords have always held an appeal for Paul and me not just for the extreme natural beauty but because Norway's fjords helped shape one of the greatest group of seafarers in history, the Vikings, whose history fascinates us. The opportunity to take our own boat to Norway and sail in the fjords on the west coast after visiting Scotland last summer was irresistible. We had to go. Fjords are basically long narrow inlets from the sea. They make land travel difficult since they deeply penetrate the coast making them hard to get around; in Norway most fjords have enormously tall cliff sides, often many hundred of metres high, so they are hard to cross.

Paul and I both have roots in the British Isles so this past summer we decided to spend a season sailing from England to Ireland and Scotland to visit the homeland of our grandparents and catch up with relatives still living there. And since Scotland is not that far from Norway – a 25-hour passage across the North Sea - we worked that in to our itinerary too. This story begins with our return to England last spring and Leg One of the 2011 cruise – the voyage from England to Ireland along the coast of the Celtic and Irish Seas.

Paul and I had always wanted to sail to the countries of Scandinavia so, following a successful shake-down cruise to the Channel Islands and along the south coast of England last spring, we pointed the bows of our new Southerly 49 variable-draft sailboat, Distant Shores II, towards the Baltic Sea. Our 3,200 nm summer voyage to the Baltic would take us from Chichester Harbour in England across the North Sea with stops in Holland and Germany then through the Kiel Canal into the Baltic Sea to explore Denmark and Sweden, then back to England to the Northshore Shipyard in Chichester Habour where Southerly yachts are built.

altThe Mediterranean island nation of Malta is a golden destination for sailors and when you arrive at Grand Harbour at the fortified city of Valletta you realize why. This perfect natural harbour, one of several on the island, has offered shelter to seafarers since ancient times.

Add to this Malta's strategic location in the center of the Mediterranean, 90 km. south of Sicily and 290 km. from the northern coast of Africa, and it's easy to understand why Malta has been conquered and ruled by nearly every major power that has shaped the history of this part of the world from the Stone-Age and Bronze-Age peoples, to Romans and Phoenicians, Arabs, Normans and Carthaginians, Castilians, French and British.

dest-europe-cruising-large“Who wants to go first?” I do, so up I step up to the controls of our 34 ft. Le Boat cabin cruiser. A few minutes earlier, my two friends and I had been eyeing the cruiser eagerly and a touch anxiously from the safety of dry land. It’s our new home for the next week.

In the interests of full disclosure, I’m not a boater. Not from lack of interest, just lack of opportunity.

destinations-europe-chichester_harbour-smallCommissioning a new boat can be exciting, enlightening, challenging, sometimes frightening, often frustrating, but mostly a delightful experience. At least that's how it's been for Paul and me for the last few weeks as we go through the process with our new Southerly 49 sailboat, Distant Shores II, the latest variable-draft cruising boat built by Northshore Yachts in England. We took delivery of our new baby in mid-March at the Northshore Shipyard which is located on beautiful Chichester Harbour on the south coast of England.

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