We reach Lake Ontario and the Saint Lawrence Seaway. Visiting the Wooden Boat Museum, Boldt & Singer Castles.
84 Days Looping
1,355.9 Nautical Miles Total (1,560.3 Statute Miles)
84.9 Nautical Miles This Week
8.4 Hours Underway This Week
8.4 NMph Average Speed
1 Locks This Week, 29 Total Locks
Monday – July 1st – 1 NM – To: Oswego, NY
We had spent Sunday night on the wall between locks 7 and 8 in Oswego. In the morning we moved to the Oswego Marina. We cast off the wall at 9:00 and went the 1/4 mile to Lock 8. Our last lock on the Oswego canal, it was a quick 8-foot drop, and then a short 1/4 mile to the marina. From the lock, we could see the expanse of Lake Ontario directly ahead of us. By 9:30 we were all tied up and settled in our slip.
I decided to wash down the boat as we had picked up a lot of mud and slime going through the locks, so broke out the hose and brush. While I was cleaning, a boat with an elderly couple stopped at the fuel dock to get some gas. The gentleman stepped off his boat and stumbled dropping the line. The boat started to quickly drift away from the dock. They tried to catch it with a boat hook, but the end fell off. Next, the lady tried to drive the boat back to the dock, but it was quickly obvious that she had never driven the boat before, as she went to full throttle, and almost went out of the marina. As the boat was drifting toward our side of the marina, another boater ran past and I grabbed a boat hook and joined him at the far wall where she was heading. We jumped up on the wall, and caught the boat, holding it until the dockmaster brought the owner around on a golf cart so that he could get back aboard and return to the fuel dock. That was our excitement for the day!
Brenda worked on getting our prescriptions transferred to a local pharmacy. With her retirement, we had to get private health insurance, and it didn’t start until July 1st, so we couldn’t get our prescriptions filled until then. We would be in Canada for the next 2 months, so we needed to get a 60 day supply. Blue Cross SC, would only do a 30 day supply unless we used their mailorder pharmacy which takes 5 days to process, so that wasn’t an option. In the end we had to do two re-fills a day apart to satisfy the insurance. So we ordered our first batch of prescriptions and on Monday afternoon. We took an Uber up to the Pharmacy, which was about 3 miles away in the shopping center district. Then we could pick up the second batch on Tuesday. When we got to the Rite-Aid Pharmacy, they had to order one of Brenda’s prescriptions, so we could not get the first of that one until Tuesday, which meant that our early departure on Wednesday was put on hold as we had to wait 24 hours to get the second month filled.
After getting the prescriptions, we walked across the street to a grocery store and did a bit of food shopping, then called Uber to go back to the boat, put away the groceries, and Brenda made a pasta salad for dinner.
Tuesday – July 2nd – 0 NM – In: Oswego, NY
On Tuesday we had to wait until 3:00 before our second round of prescriptions would be ready, so we did some sightseeing. We walked up to Fort Ontario a star-shaped fort built in 1755 during the French & Indian War, it also played a role in the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, and more recently, it was a refugee camp during World War 2 for 982 Jewish Refugees brought to the US from the concentration camps. Through its early history, it was captured, destroyed, and rebuilt several times. It has been restored to its War of 1812 state, and the buildings are a museum showing the history of the fort with many artifacts. It was an interesting history lesson.
After visiting the fort, we walked down a rails-to-trails path that cuts through downtown Oswego, then goes over the canal and river to the other side of town. One part of the trail goes through a tunnel that passes under the city hall, it then goes out onto the railroad bridge across the canal and river which gave us a great view of locks 7 & 8 and the wall where we spent our first night in Oswego.
When we got out of the tunnel, there was a small bakery/deli and we stopped for lunch. We ran into our fellow Loopers from Aisling Gheal who had been out sight-seeing as well. We chatted with them for a while, and they invited us over to their boat in the evening for some “Irish Music”. After lunch, we crossed the river on the railroad bridge and went down a steep set of stairs to a park that follows the river from the railroad bridge all the way to the harbor on the far bank. It was a nice walk of about a mile, and we recrossed just above Lock 8 and watched a powerboat go through.
In the afternoon, I got out my bike and rode the 2 miles (uphill both ways) to Rite-Aid to pick up the prescriptions. While I was gone, Brenda played with the local groundhog and ducks.
In the evening we walked to the restaurant next door to the marina and had a nice dinner. The appetizer was a huge pretzel, filled with hummus and veggies! Excellent!
When we got back from dinner, we heard an Irish jig coming from across the marina. We saw our friends Jeff & Barbie playing their penny whistle and ukulele. I grabbed a bottle of Jameson Irish Whiskey and we walked over and sat with them and their two Dachshunds, Hansel & Gretel. We had a great time listening and talking to them, and other boaters in the marina came out to dance to the music as well!
Wednesday- July 3rd – 36.6 NM – To: Sackets Harbor, NY
Wednesday morning we got the boat ready to go while we waited for the pharmacy to call us that the last prescription was ready to pick up. We got the call around 10:00 and Brenda took an Uber up to pick it up while I finished getting the boat ready to go. As soon as she got back, we cast off, went across the marina to the fuel dock for a pump-out, then headed out of Oswego harbor and into Lake Ontario, our first Great Lake!
The weather was great, warm and just a light haze, but the wind was light and there were almost no waves. As we left Oswego Harbor, we passed the Fort and Lighthouse, then cleared the breakwater into the lake. Because we got a late start, we ran at 20 knots the 30 miles across the lake. For part of the way, we could not see land in any direction. The only point of reference was the plume from the cooling tower at the Nine Mile Point Nuclear Station. The farther we went out into the lake, the deeper the water got. Some points in the lake are over 600 ft deep! We saw 456 ft on our depth finder.
As we reached the eastern shore of Lake Ontario and headed into the 1000 Islands area, we started seeing lots of, well, islands! Many were spectacular with large cliffs and beautiful homes. You could see how high the water was as many of the homes were right at the waterline and had submerged docks. We boated up to within 200 feet of some of the cliffs on the island to get a better look, and we still had over 100 ft of water. The St. Lawrence in this area is very deep, if you drained the water, it would look like a gorge.
Sackets Harbor, NY our port for the night is in a large inlet on the lakeshore, we had to boat in about 12 miles from the lake to reach it. Sackets Harbor was an American stronghold during the War of 1812. It is famous for its shipbuilding and was the site of the Battle of Sackets Harbor when a small group of American farmers and Native Americans fought off a large detachment of British Troops.
After docking the boat and checking in, we took a walk up to the Sackets Harbor Battlefield which was adjacent to the marina. We got there just as they were starting to close, so we didn’t get to take the tour, but we did get to walk around the grounds and read the historic signs showing where the battle took place. The Commander’s house and some other buildings from the period are still standing, however, the actual Fort Site was leveled by subsequent commanders of the fort so that they could have a large lawn for entertaining.
It was very hot and muggy there, in the mid-’80s with humidity about the same so after walking around the battlefield, we went back to the boat to cool down for a few minutes and change into dry shirts. We then walked into town for dinner. The waterfront in town is very flooded with the water about 2 feet over normal. The waterfront park and docks were underwater as well as several docks along the waterfront, and a cow!
We had dinner at “Tin Pan Galley” a beautiful old brick building covered with ivy. Dinner was very good, and we enjoyed it until the owner of the restaurant came out and started singing. He fancies himself an “impressionist” and tries very hard to mimic the singers (Tom Jones, Kenny Rogers, Frank Sinatra, etc. ) but fails miserably. Fortunately, he’s a pretty good guitarist so that made up for it. We’d heard he’s famous for playing two trumpets at once, but we decided to leave before that part of the show so that we didn’t lose our dinners!
After dinner, we stopped for an ice cream cone, and then walked back to the boat and watched the sunset.
Thursday – July 4th – 34.9 NM – To: Clayton, NY
On Independence day we pulled out of Sackets Harbor at around 8:30 and back-tracked down the inlet to the main channel of Lake Ontario, then turned North East and headed up the St. Lawrence River and Seaway. The morning started clear, but it quickly clouded over and by 9:00 we were seeing light rain.
As we approached the St. Lawrence River, we could see huge wind turbines in the distance on the Canadian side. We tried counting them several times and got up into the ’70s but it was hard to see them all. Brenda looked it up and there are 84! Talk about a wind farm!
We passed the Tibbets Point Lighthouse and left Lake Ontario and into the St Lawrence Seaway. For the next few days as we travel up the St Lawrence, we’ll be skirting the USA/Canadian border as it pretty much runs right up the middle of the river. We had been seeing a large freighter ahead of us on our radar for an hour or two, then heard them announce on the radio that they were having engine trouble and were anchoring just to the side of the channel. As we rounded a bend, we saw them ahead, quite the big boat!
We followed the channel markers up the river dodging a few rain showers. The shore is lined with beautiful homes, more on the American side than the Canadian. It’s good that the markers for port and starboard have different shapes because some look almost white from all the Cormorant poop.
At 3:30 we pulled into Clayton NY and tied up to the public dock. The weather cleared up some in the afternoon and by the time we got settled in, the sun was out. Our friends on Golden Daze were there, as were several other Loopers. Clayton NY is famous for its Antique Boat Museum, one of the largest collections in the world, and the major reason for our stop there. After settling in and chatting with our friends, we walked up the main street which ends at the dock, and visited the farmers market, then had an early dinner at the Wood Boat Brewery.
We spent the afternoon relaxing and watching the ships go past. There is a large freighter of some type cruising by about every hour or so. The fireworks festivities in Clayton had been on the night before on the 3rd, so we missed them, but Mother Nature gave us a show with yet another fantastic sunset!
Friday – July 5th – 0 NM – In: Clayton, NY
Friday was Wooden Boat Museum day! We started by going to breakfast at a small diner in town, then walked back to the museum. When we purchased our tickets, there was a boat ride in a 30′ Hacker-Craft speed boat “Miss 1000 Island’s II” that was about to leave so we started our tour by heading out for a 45-minute speedy ride around the islands and passed a freighter.
Next on the schedule was a tour of a restored 1903 two-story houseboat “La Duchesse” built by the owner of Boldt Castle to transport guests and as extra bedrooms. The McNally (of Rand-McNally map fame) bought the boat and did the restoration. The boat is fascinating, when Boldt abandoned the castle after his wife died (see next week’s post), the barge was left to rot in a boathouse and it partially sank. The McNally family purchased it for $100 and invested several million in restoration. The interior is mostly mahogany.
After our tour of the houseboat, we spent several hours walking around the various buildings that house the boats. They have over 300 boats in the collection, plus various other interesting artifacts like snowmobiles, ice boats, and motors. There are too many cool boats to show them all. If you ever get a chance to visit the 1000 Islands, make sure to leave a day to visit Clayton NY. It’s well worth the visit! Brenda and I are already talking about taking another trip up here to spend more time. Here is a sample of some of the neater boats we saw.
The afternoon was in the mid 80’s so after the museum, we went back to the boat to cool down for a bit. We then called for the shuttle from the local grocery store, did a bit of shopping, and in the evening walked into town for dinner.
Saturday – July 6th – 12.6 NM – To: Alexandria Bay, NY
We left Clayton on Saturday and headed just a short run up the river to Alexandria Bay. There are tours to Boldt Castle from Clayton, but the better tours are from Alexandria Bay where you can get day trips to both Singer and Boldt castles. Alexandria Bay is much more touristy than Clayton was. We headed out at 8:30 in a light mist. Heavier rains were predicted in the afternoon, so we wanted to get to Alexandria Bay before they started.
We headed out and went past downtown Clayton. We saw our friend on Golden Daze who had left about 15 minutes before us, tied up at a marina getting fuel. We passed probably 50 islands, some large, many that barely made the definition of an “island”, (land exposed 365 days a year and at least 1 tree). Most that are more than a couple of hundred square feet seem to have a house on it!
About halfway to Alexandria Bay, entered the “American Narrows”, where the river channel narrows to only several hundred feet wide. You want to be careful in this section if there are large ships coming through! In the middle of the narrows, we passed under the Thousand Islands Bridge, an impressive span built in the 1930s. It was built and is operated by private international cooperation between the US and Canada. The Thousand Islands Bridge corporation has expanded to do other projects in the area including the restoration of Boldt Castle and other historic landmarks.
As we continued up we exited the narrows, and the houses kept getting fancier and larger. Everyone is trying to outdo each other! As we neared Alexander Bay, we got our first glimpse of Boldt Castle. It was only 9:30 AM and the marina was not responding on the radio, so we assumed that they did not open until 10:00. While we waited we cruised around Boldt Castle and got a look at the boathouse (where the 2 story houseboat sunk). It’s an impressive structure, and to think that from its original construction in the 1900s until 1977 it was just an abandoned ruin!
We kept calling the marina on the radio and still got no response. The marina is part of the “Riveredge Resort”, so we called on the phone and got the front desk. I mentioned that we had a reservation and that no-one was responding on the radio. “Oh, our dockmaster doesn’t work here anymore. I’ll see if I can find someone in maintenance to meet you at the dock”. They did scare up a few guys who had no idea where we were supposed to dock, so we picked a slip that faced the castle and tied up. Just as we were finishing, the skies opened up and it rained hard for the next hour or two. We’re glad we called in when we did!
About noon, the rain stopped so we walked into town which was about 1/2 mile away to see where we would be going in the morning to catch our tour boat, and to find some lunch. We’d been warned that downtown “Alex Bay” as the locals call it, was seedier than Clayton, and they were right. The main street is fairly short, with marinas on each end, and is lined with restaurants, seedy-looking bars, and souvenir shops. Just as we rounded onto Main street, it started raining heavily again, so we ducked into the first restaurant we came to and had lunch. By the time we finished, it had stopped raining, and we walked up and down the main street.
At the far end, we stopped at the other marina in town which was very flooded. We met a fellow Looper who lived in the area and chatted with them a bit. They said that most of their marina was underwater and ruined as the docks had been submerged for weeks. We felt a few raindrops, so we hightailed it back to the marina before it started raining again then spent the rest of the afternoon on the boat, watching the tour boats, cargo ships, and the occasional small cruise ship go past. In the evening, the rain stopped and we had a great sunset over the castle, and as it got dark the castle was lit up! This was one of our more expensive slips at $4.00 per foot, as much as New York City (they can get it right now because of the lack of space due to flooding), but the view was worth it!
Sunday – July 7th – 0 NM – In: Alexandria Bay, NY
Sunday we took a cruise to Singer and Boldt Castles. We left from the ferry dock just across the harbor from the boat at 10:00. The weather was cool but beautiful. We headed up the St. Lawrence river about 10 miles to Singer Castle passing many islands and homes on the way. Singer Castle was the “Hunting Lodge” and summer home of Fredrick Bourne who was the Chairman of the Singer Sewing Machine Company (Thus Singer Castle). It was started in 1905 and took just 2 years to build. It’s patterned after the novel “Woodstock” by Sir Walter Raleigh. and features many secret passages (leading to almost every room as the Bourne’s didn’t want to see their servants).
The castle features all of its original furnishings from the heyday. An interesting side note is that on Fredrick Bournes’ death, he left it to his children, only his two daughters were interested and one ended up living there summers until her death in 1967. Toward the end of her life, the town raised the taxes on the property, so she donated it to a non-profit school to avoid taxes. When the school sold it, a minister purchased it and held church services there once a month in the summer to maintain the tax-free status.
It is now owned by a group of German investors who buy old castles around the world, restore them, and give tours. If you like, you can spend the night there and roam the hidden passages. It’s only $750 for the first two people, then $70 per person for up to 8 people. Includes full dinner and breakfast! Book early, the 2019 and 2020 seasons are already sold out!
From Singer Castle, we re-boarded the tour boat and headed back to Boldt Castle. Boldt Castle is a bit of a different story. Started in 1900 by George Boldt, a German immigrant who managed the Waldorf Astoria for the Vanderbilt family, it was a tribute to his wife Louise. When the castle was 95% done, Louise died and George sent a telegram “Tell the workman to put down their tools and stop construction. Louise is dead”.
The castle was never finished and was left derelict for over 70 years until the Thousand Island Bridge Authority acquired it and started restoration/completion. The castle itself is amazing and beautiful, the sad part is that it’s all recent decoration and assumptions of what the furnishings might have been as the castle was never lived in.
We highly encourage you to add a visit to the 1000 Islands and visit both Boldt Castle and Singer Castle, as well as the Clayton Wooden Boat Museum to your bucket list!
Next Week: CANADA!!!
Tom & Brenda