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Holiday Hotspots: Push the boat out for an Irish holiday with a difference.

Byline: JIM GALLAGHER

BORED with Benidorm? Tired of Torremolinos?

Have you had enough of tattooed lager louts to last you a lifetime?

Does the thought of sitting at a packed airport waiting for a delayed flight fill you full of dread?

Do you ever pine for a peaceful quiet holiday at home in Ireland but perhaps get put off by the thought of five mile traffic tail-backs at the peak of summer?

Well, there is one Irish company that might have the answer for you.

It's called Emerald Star - and it provides blissful holidays on the water for independent travellers.

I spent several days sailing on the Shannon in one of their luxury cruisers - and it's a holiday I will never forget.

Just to set things straight I am not a boaty person. Some people would drive 300 miles just to spend a few hours on the water. But not me.

I've been on a couple of yachts for a day but could never really understand the appeal..

That all changed with a vessel called the Caprice on the Shannon. It was a beautiful, sleek machine with every mod con.

But what was most surprising to me was just how relaxing it can be to slide through the water at your own speed surrounded on both sides by lovely hillsand scenery.

My friends and I decided we were born for this after just a couple of hours.

There was no stress, no rush, no crowds, no hassle. We could simply go where we wanted whenever we wanted.

We could stop off for a spot of sight-seeing, a pint or a bite to eat.

But of course, you never have to leave the boat if you don't want to because everything you need is on board.

The modern kitchens are as well stocked as the kitchen back home. The lounge area is large and comfortable and ingeniously designed so that everything slots back into its place once you have finished with it.

But it was sleeping on the cruiser in comfort which made the holiday different.

There is something special about falling asleep listening to the lapping of water against the hull of a boat.

The cabins were cute and comfortable. And always having beds at our disposal meant there was no desperate search for hotels late at night - a normal part of my independent holidays.

Sailing along the broad and majestic Shannon the thought of traffic, noise and crowds soon disappeared.

My favourite was Lough Derg which is so wide it is like being out at sea.

The waterways can get a bit busy in the peak summer months but when you are travelling on these giant loughs the nearest boats to us were just dots on the horizon.

We picked up our boat in Portumna but there are other starting points at Carrick-on-Shannon and Belturbet.

For a non-sailor it was surprising to see just how many different boats there were to suit every size of family or group of friends and every pocket.

After the formalities and paper work and a short video to show passengers what they can expect over the next few days, an official takes you on board to show you how everything works.

Giant

The thing they don't tell you about these boats is that everyone wants to steer.

You have all heard about boys and their toys.

Well the Caprice was a giant toy for grown-ups and we all wanted to play.

The women were happy to leave it to us, preferring instead to sit on deck soaking up the sun, watching the world go by.

But for the boys this was a whole new adventure and we all wanted to get our hands on that power lever.

Coming in and out of ports turned out to be fun because a boat does not respond to controls like a car and turning is much more gradual.

But we all got the hang of it and prided ourselves on our new found expertise.

We stopped off in some gorgeous little towns for walks and sight seeing. And although we ate in pubs and restaurants in the evening, we always had lunch on board.

Terryglass was very picturesque. So too was Mountshannon with its tiny quaint walled harbour.

Killaloe was a gem, a lovely historic and scenic town packed with pubs and restaurants n and surrounded by hills for walking.

Ports have lots of moorings and you simply tie up to one of them and jump on land.

Prices for Emerald Star's 200 cruisers vary according to size and season.

Some small boats are designed for three people while large ones hold up to ten.

The smaller ones cost from e650 a week in low season (March, September) to e1,000 in July.

A new Elite class of boat for up to 10 people with everything from champagne reception to embroidered towelling costs from e1840-e3500 a week.

My own boat, the luxury Caprice range, which can hold six, ranges from e1320-e2000 per week.

Emerald Star can be contacted at Carrick-on-Shannon, Co Leitrim on 078 20234.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The People (London, England)
Date:Feb 2, 2003
Words:849
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