Solar Boat Club on the French Riviera – the seaZen Experience
Whenever I fly into Nice Airport, which is right on the sea, I’m constantly in awe of the boats on the water. You see numerous sailboats, kayaks, catamarans, power boats, and of course, the yachts. And next comes the thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to have a boat to go out on whenever I want and appreciate the beautiful shoreline?’ Sure. Who wouldn’t?
I’ve actually considered buying a boat to putter around in. Then the reality of the costs of having a boat come to light. You can get a small, ‘no-bells-or-whistles’ boat that will accommodate six people for about €7-10,000, but then you have to consider another €2-3,000 to moor it each year, and that might not even be in the town where you live. Some people moor their boats in Italy because it’s cheaper, but then you have to schlep there every time you want to use it. Then there is the issue of having to get a boat license, the boat maintenance costs, insurance, plus the expensive and polluting petrol. It all leads to a major headache in my book, and boats, unlike property, do not appreciate in value, so my practical self would never justify the expense. But I’d still love to be able to go out on the sea on occasion.
Rent a boat on the French Riviera without a licence
As of recent, there are a few boat rental companies on the Cote d’Azur that will allow you to rent a boat for the day without having a boat license, which is a good and bad idea. It’s great for tourists who want the experience of being on the sea without a skipper or a license, and then again, you may get those who don’t respect the general rule of no drinking while navigating. It’s hard to resist the Rosé wine when you’re in such a lovely setting, but for safety of others and the boat itself, it’s an absolute no-no.
One company in particular, the Dark Pelican, operating out of Villefrance Sur Mer and Saint-Jean Cap-Ferrat, offers boat rentals for those without a license, with a license and offers skipper services, so you basically show up and everything is taken care of. They have two boats to rent without a license that can accommodate 5 people, and it will cost €190-210 for a full day, including petrol. So, get a group of friends together, and for €40 a person you can enjoy a day out.
To be honest, I’d prefer the ability to sail more frequently, cheaply and eco-friendly, and the petrol-propelled boats just don’t tick all the boxes.
I did, however, find a company called seaZen that offers a self-driving, solar-powered option, along with a training session to get you started. Great! I was intrigued to discover more, so I signed up for one of their training sessions.
Eco Friendly, solar-powered seaZen boating
seaZen, a brand new company owned by Guillaume Jacquet-Lagreze, is based out of Beaulieu sur Mer, just a 20-minute ride on Bus 100 leaving from the port in Nice. It’s an upscale, 100% solar-powered, self-driving catamaran and they offer an interesting Click & Go boat membership program. It’s kind of like renting an electric car. You pay a first time membership fee, then you pay per use. Aside from this, you will also provide a refundable deposit, which I understand, given the value of the boat. It’s a great way to have access to a boat pretty much when you want without the hassles of boat ownership.
With seaZen, you are required to take a one-hour training course, and in my opinion, one-hour isn’t sufficient, particularly if you are awe-struck just being on a boat in the Mediterranean near Cap Ferrat, the backyard of some of the world’s most rich and famous! You are bound to forget some of the instructions and it’s an expensive boat, so you really need your head screwed on!
Here are some of the things you will learn going through the training session:
How to turn on the solar electricity;
Lower/raise the motors;
How to navigate both rudders independently, which is imperative for turning in a circle on the spot and backing up;
How to monitor the battery life, because you need to come back with 85% charge;
How to navigate, which can be a challenge in and of itself in the harbor with other boats around. The steering is somewhat sensitive, and I found myself frequently looking at the rudders to be sure I was going in the right direction;
How to anchor, and where – Not on the grassy seabed floor. It takes 100 years for the grass to grow back, so only anchor on the sand!;
How to adjust to the direction of the wind;
What the different bouys mean;
How to tap into the onboard Bluetooth radio so you can play your favorite Spotify playlist;
Etiquette of where to navigate and how fast or slow;
How to pull into your slip;
How to clean it after use; and
How to lock it up!
It’s quite a lot to take in but what a fantastic zen experience. There is no noise from the motors so you can forget you are moving or even have the boat turned on. It was such a luxury to be out in the sea navigating slowly with no noise around except for the sound of the sea. It was a smooth ride and we lucked out with calm seas. It accommodates up to 8 people.
The boat also has 2 USB ports and a cigarette lighter plug to keep your gadgets charged. And I found the Bluetooth ability pretty cool to make the atmosphere even more personal with your own music.
On the first few voyages you stay between Beaulieu and Cap Ferrat. A popular anchoring spot is in front of David Niven’s salmon-pink villa. The actor lived there from the early 60s until his death in 1983. It’s officially known as Villa Socoglio, or La Fleur du Cap, and was once owned by Charlie Chaplin. It’s a very cool spot to linger in front of and take a dip. The sea is somewhat shallow here and very clear. You can spend time snorkeling around to see the fish and plankton. We did see a few jellyfish and last week there were some dolphins in this area. So you never know what you’ll see.
You can rent morning sessions, afternoon sessions, full day, or evenings. But you can only go out in the evening/night once you’ve taken the boat out 10 times already. Again, I get it. The night is a different setting all together. And if you get in a bind, you simply contact seaZen and someone will come and rescue you. All very well thought out.
Another benefit of being a member of the club is the Click & Go feature. Again like an electric car, you reserve your spot online, and complete a check in survey when you arrive. This is incase there are damages not caused by you. Again, like you’d check a rental car before leaving the lot. You then go directly to pick up the boat. Once you are a member, you’ll receive your own set of magnetic power keys, plus a code that unlocks the boat.
While this is might not be an option for tourists coming for a couple days, it is actually a great option for locals who want a classy, eco-friendly boat club membership without worrying about all the details of boat ownership.
There is a refundable deposit required and club membership is €110. Your membership will remain active so long as you sail at least once every six months. Kind of like a pilot. You need to fly so many hours in a certain amount of time to maintain your license.
Once you are a member, boat rentals start from €165 depending on whether it’s an ‘after work’ slot, a morning, afternoon or full day. As a member, you’ll receive a 50% savings off the one-time rental fee. If you have 8 people on board, that is €21 per person for a day out on the Mediterranean. A great deal for a super sea experience.