Never accuse a Loire sailor of being an inland mariner - navigating the royal river in a toue, the traditional local boat, takes a lot of know-how.
"There are no precise and maintained channels - the Loire is a river in perpetual movement, you have to slalom between the sandbanks, the gravel pits, and find the currents - it's a complicated business" explains Christian Lequin, captain of the Kairos, one of the boats belonging to the association.
"Toues" - also called "futreaux" - are large flat-bottomed boats, once used to transport goods when the Loire was a major commercial highway. They went upstream by wind power (when blowing in the right direction from the Atlantic, and came back down with the current.
When the wind dropped the boats were pulled by horses, with ropes stretched to the banks. The last Loire merchant ship, belonging to the Poulain chocolate factory, sailed until 1914, before being replaced by road and rail. The traffic connected Nantes in the estuary to the city of Orleans.
The future of the Toues
Four boats were built in Montlivault by the Kairos association, a project intended "to be renewed to build others," and are today successfully used for tourism in the port of Chambord!
Today, ferry crossings are mainly confined to the July and August tourist season. The last commercial ferry crossing took place in 1958, and the oldest characters in the village still remember it well "Being halfway between the two bridges of Blois and Muides-sur-Loire, we could cut 20 km out of a foot or bike journey" says Christian Lequin.
Boats also sail from St Dyé-sur-Loire all year round for sightseeing trips lasting between one and two hours - book at the Maison de la Loire.
One night in a toue cabanée
For those who wish to linger on the river, the association offers nights in a "toue cabanée", equipped with four beds, a small bathroom with solar shower and dry toilets, as well as a kitchen corner.
Watching the river is a joy of contemplation, with its plant life, beavers and coypus, terns, herons, seagulls and egrets, at dawn and dusk. The boat stays at the dock during your stay, a charming river port. Reservations are possible from April to October.
While operating the boat across the river, your guide may well tell you some fascinating facts about the history of his trade. You'll hear for example, that though only four hundred metres separate the banks, working the currents means that the trip is often over one kilometre long!
At the quayside, visit the new Maison de la Loire at Saint-Dyé-sur-Loire, where you can retrace the history of the river and the men who contributed to its wealth, perpetuating old traditions, continuing with the ferrymen of today.
Continuing your visit on the Blois side of the river, the Observatoire Loire is 300 square metres of fascinating models and exhibits about the life of the river Loire.
The river also leads you to Chaumont-sur-Loire where the Millière Raboton society will be delighted to take you on a walk or a camping trip.