Tuesday, October 7, 2008

1000 Islands 2008: An excellent two weeks on the water

As the first days of autumn begin to colour the landscape, as illustrated with a photo from the Murray Canal . . .

. . . we speed home to Frenchman's Bay across a flat Lake Ontario, our faithful Yamaha 100 twins kicking up a perfect wake at 24 knots.

We're sorry to see an excellent two weeks on the water end. Already, we're talking about next season with At Last!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

The launch and rescue of Eddie

When we purchased our TomCat from Ed Devlin of Long Island, one of the many items we received with the boat was a hand-made paper mache dish in the shape of a colourful fish. Ed's wife is an artist and she fashioned the dish to hold fruit. We kept the dish and it became a catch-all, a temporary one, as we felt a smaller, more compact arrangement eventually would suit our needs. When we installed a teak rack for dishes and whatnot in the galley, there no longer was a place for the fish. Thus, the plan to launch it so it might eventually find a home among the fishes of Lake Ontario. The problem was we started calling the fish Eddie as the days of the launch approached, and there was a tinge of sadness in our hearts as we prepared to set Eddie free.

But a plan is a plan so the Captain gently lowered Eddie into the water on the last day of our 1000 Islands cruise.

As Eddie drifted away, all was silent aboard the TomCat. Finally, the Admiral choked back a tear, "This is so sad." Mumbled the Captain, "What if Eddie is our good luck charm?"

And so it came to pass that we turned the boat around and rescued Eddie. He will sail with us all our days on At Last!

Lovely sights, strange sights

Remember, a click on any image in our blog will open it up for a larger view. Here's a gorgeous lighthouse home on a point in the St. Lawrence River west of Clayton, New York. It was an overcast and blustery day, thus, the wind streaks the choppy water.

OK, whatever turns your clock, skipper. This unusual sailboat we met on the approach to Trenton, Ontario. She is Melodeon out of Halifax.

Our last overnight of the cruise was at the Fraser Park Marina at the mouth of the Trent River and start of the Trent-Severn Waterway which we might explore next season.

Craig Carter, whose family has operated the municipally-owned maria for 11 years, is a friendly and helpful dockmaster. With a supermarket and liquor store within easy walking distance, it's a great place to provision if you're starting the Trent-Severn. Both diesel and gasoline are available.

The joys of off-season cruising: 1000 Islands Cruise Day 11

We stopped again at Confederation Basin Marina in Kingston on our way home. It was soooooo nice to have the place entirely to ourselves.

And we had a chance to shop again at the nearby open-air market that dates back to 1801, this time scoring excellent Wilson Farms honey and a braid of Ontario hardneck garlic grown by a woman named Titia that should keep us happy until spring.

Due to windy conditions, we decide to stay an extra day in Kingston. We fear the Admiral is coming down with a cold, another good reason to take it easy.

It's decidedly cooler this week, with overnights around 5C, thus, the Captain heads out to find a second heater for the boat, an electric model for use when we're plugged into shore power.

During a happy hour, the crew dances in the warm cabin to Etta James singing At Last.

Dinner is Alexandria Bay’s Virginia ham with asparagus and potatoes. Dessert is the last piece of the triangle iced butter cream brownie from Bella’s Cafe in Clayton.

On the day before, Day 10, after 26.7 miles in two hours brought us from Clayton to Kingston, lunch was the Admiral’s version of a grilled sandwich made with Clayton cheddar cheese loaf slices, rosemary flavoured roast beef and cheddar cheese. A nap is required after such a rich lunch, but, hey, we're on vacation.

On our first night in Kingston, we ate at Ta-Ke Sushi Japanese/Korean Restaurant. We had miso soup, yakitori chicken, shrimp/veggie tempura, hamachi sushi and udon noodles with chicken. This is only the second time in 10 days that we have eaten out.

The happy crew of At Last!

The Admiral complains she looks like an Eskimo in the photo, but it illustrates how well she was prepared for cooler weather and the highly unlikely eventuality of having to abandon ship.

The Captain, meanwhile, is nattily attired in a Daytona Bike Week T-shirt and a pair of Patagonia fleece pants that date back to a sail around Cape Horn in 1989.

Even admirals need a nap when cruising the smooth waters of the Bay of Quinte.

What a gift for a child!

Oh, to be one or two years old again!

We spotted this lovely rocker at the Antique Boat Museum in Clayton, New York. It's made by elves at Guidecraft USA.

Rainy day in Clayton: 1000 Islands Cruise Day 9

What do you do when the weather socks you in for the day at Clayton, New York?

First, you dock the boat under a roof at Islander Marina and Lodge. Then, you head for the famed Antique Boat Museum across the street. It's an amazing place that easily can preoccupy you for a whole afternoon.

One of the hundreds of boats on display the museum is La Duchess, a 106-foot house boat of the Gilded Age. She was owned by George Boldt, the wealthy hotelier who conceived and financed Boldt Castle at the turn of the 20th century.

The closest we came to finding a power catamaran at the museum was this inverted-vee runabout.

We were lucky to hook up with Robert Matthews, here showing us the extensive collection of 1000 Islands postcards and souvenirs that he and his wife, Prudence, have donated to the museum.

In the Matthews collection, the Admiral checks out a stereoscope, also known as stereopticons or stereo viewers, one of America's most popular forms of entertainment in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Originally, we planned to head down river to Singer Castle on Dark Island, even though the weather forecast wasn't all that great, but when we telephoned Singer and learned they planned to close for the day due to weather conditions, it was a no-brainer to stay in Clayton. In addition to the Antique Boat Museum, Islander Marina has an excellent lounge complete with a large-screen TV where the Admiral was able to get her Food Network fix and watch the latest dance competition.

During a long walk around town, we discovered fresh produce at Big M, said to be the largest supermarket in the 1000 Islands, and at Clayton Harbour Channel Marker 225 Winery Shop, we loaded up with three bottles of Wagner wine from the Finger Lakes, a Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvingnon, and Merlot.

The hunt for famed Thousand Islands Dressing came to a successful end at the Gold Cup Farms River Rat Cheese Shop, a paradise for cheddar cheese lovers.

One great meal after another

Brownie triangles with creamy icing were a treat we discovered at Bella's Bakery & Cafe in Clayton, New York. Bella's was also the provider of a tasty cheese bread we enjoyed for several days.

In Alexandria Bay, New York, we found local fish--lake perch and walleye pickerel--that made for a mouth-watering fish fry, with garlic herb home-fried potatoes and green beans.

Yes, on a two-burner Wallas kerosene stove, it is possible to pan-fry ribeye steak to perfection.

In fact, we had such success with ribeye that we enjoyed another pair of steaks a few nights later. That's more beef in less than a week than we usually have over several months. But the pan-frying and the sauteeing of onions and mushrooms in butter sure steamed up the small cabin on At Last! as you can see by the fog in the photo.

The next evening we packed on a few more ounces by feasting on Polish sausage, home-fried potatoes and fresh corn on the cob.

We're at the edge of the world!

If you look closely at the Furuno chart plotter low in the photo (Click the image to enlarge it), you'll see we are approaching the end of our Canadian electronic chart and will soon be sailing into the wide blue yonder. Fortunately, we do carry old-fashioned paper charts and, on this cruise, were getting to know the capabilities of the Palm Centro smartphone visible high in the photo. The ActiveCaptain Mobile software we use does include U.S. charts, so we knew where we were at all times with GPS precision.

The instrument between the Centro and the Furuno is our Cetrek autopilot which steers the boat 80 to 90 percent of the time we're cruising.

Traffic on the St. Lawrence River: 1000 Islands Cruise Day 8

Doubleclick the images to get the full effect of boating on the St. Lawrence River.

The chemical carrier looks so large and close because it is so large and close to us in the St. Lawrence River near Alexandria Bay, New York.

Note the free-fall lifeboat launch at the rear of the ship.

Small tugs and larger ones push and pull their loads on the St. Lawrence River.

Here's an ocean-going oil carrier home-ported in Quebec City.

On the short run from Alex Bay to Clayton, we gawked our way down Millionaire’s Row, a series of islands with spectacular homes.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Boldt Castle: 1000 Islands Cruise Day 7

At the turn of the 20th century, George C. Boldt, millionaire proprietor of the world famous Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City, set out to build a full size rhineland castle in Alexandria Bay on picturesque Heart Island. The grandiose structure was to be a display of his love for his wife, Louise.

Beginning in 1900, Boldt's family shared four glorious summers on the island while 300 workers including stonemasons, carpenters, and artists fashioned the six-storey, 120-room castle, complete with tunnels, a powerhouse, Italian gardens, a drawbridge, and a dove cote. Not a single detail or expense was spared.

In 1904, tragedy struck. Boldt telegraphed the island and commanded the workers to immediately "stop all construction." Louise had died suddenly. A broken-hearted Boldt could not imagine his dream castle without his beloved. Boldt never returned to the island, leaving behind the structure as a monument of his love.

For 73 years, the castle and various stone structures were left to the mercy of the wind, rain, ice, snow and vandals. When the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority acquired the property in 1977, it was decided that through the use of all net revenues from the castle operation it would be preserved for the enjoyment of future generations.

Since 1977, millions of dollars have been spent rehabilitating, restoring and improving the Heart Island structures. As a result, Bold Castle is a must-stop on any visit to the 1000 Islands. It's located on the the U.S. side of the St. Lawrence River opposite Alexandia Bay, New York.

The best view of amazing Boldt Castle is from the air.

No, that's not the castle, but merely the powerhouse where electricity originally was generated for the castle.

No, that's not the castle either, but the boathouse. Yes, boathouse.

A small cottage on a tiny adjacent island contrasts sharply with the grand 120-room castle on Heart Island.

The heart theme is repeated over and over again in the decor of the castle. In fact, Boldt had the island shoreline altered so the land form was heart-shaped.

To illustrate the grand scheme of the place, here's the entrance area at the foot of the staircase that ascends six floors.

And if hearts were not enough, Boldt also added harts in prominent design touches.

Even after all these years, it isn't certain whether the castle ceiling was fashioned by Tiffany's or not.

Tom and Mindy travelled from Pennsylvannia to Boldt Castle to be married--last July--but their photographer failed to show up. So they returned to the castle at the time our visit more than two months later to get their wedding photos, using another, more punctual phtographer.

We enjoyed our visit to Alex Bay but, quite honestly, cannot see any reason to recommend the place to anyone else unless they love pubs, bars and tacky souvenir shops. As Boldt Castle has a visitor dock, it is possible to visit the castle without staying in Alex Bay.

That's At Last!, the only visiting yacht at the marina operated by the Riveredge Hotel. Not the best choice for a yacht arriving from Canada, it turns out, as the videophone check-in with U.S. Immigration is a 15-minute hike across town at Lower James Dock, and not at the hotel as we had been told when we telephoned U.S border officialdom. Then, we almost miss the videophone as the sign is posted only facing the water.

But the outing does give us a chance to stroll through the small village. We pick up the local River Rat cheddar cheese, Adrirondack sausage and Croghan bologna, which we devour as appetizers. We are so full after the apps that for dinner we just have a bowl of cream of scallop soup with warm pita dipped in baba ganoush.

But it was nice to have Boldt Castle just across the river from At Last!

En route to Alex Bay, we ran under the 1000 Islands International Bridge in foggy, rainy conditions.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Paradise found at Camelot Island: 1000 Islands Cruise Day 4

We can’t believe our luck! We have the sweetest anchorage anyone could want all to ourselves. It’s a quiet cove on the southeast corner of Camelot Island where we are shielded by rock and forest on three sides, with a view out to the channel and across the U.S. border to Grindstone Island and a palatial summer home. Next to us is Netley Island, a small, private island, where several cottages are nestled among the trees.

In the cove, the water is so still we won’t know we’re sleeping on a boat tonight. The water is so clear the Captain can see the anchor setting in the light sand as the Admiral backs down At Last! (Meaning she has the throttles in reverse to set the anchor.)

The Captain tests the temperature of the water announces tomorrow we might swim. Fat chance, says the Admiral.

Before long, the seductive sound of Zamfir’s pan flute fills the air.

At app time, we open a chilled bottle of Segura Viudas cava brut reserva, given to us by Marty and Annabel at the christening, and treat ourselves to smoked oysters and smoked mussels. As dusk descends, the Captain gets busy in the galley. The plan is to caramelize an onion to sweeten a pile of cremini mushrooms that have been sauteed in garlic butter, and then to smother a nicely marbled ribeye steak that we picked up at the Block & Cleaver in Kingston. Dessert will be down-home-style pecan butter tarts from Wolfe Island Bakery.

What a feast and what a location as light rain patters on the pilothouse roof!

The Admiral bangs away at the Mac to record the latest happenings aboard At Last!

Have we mentioned we are eating well?

During our lay day on the hook at Camelot Island, we spot, to our delight, the name of Attilio Labriola, husband of the Admiral’s childhood friend Ruby, in a newspaper we have with us. Attilio, an interior designer, has been recognized for his work on the Renfrew County Courthouse.

After refueling at Gan (local talk for Gananoque), we encounter a pair of tugs hauling sewage.

On our departure from Kingston, we pass the Royal Military College.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Lay day in Kingston: 1000 Islands Cruise Day 3

At the open-air market in the town square, which first started in 1801, we make out like bandits: fresh raspberries, fresh strawberries, sweet peaches, golden corn-on-the cob, green beans and Ontario garlic. From the Wolfe Island Bakery, we purchase a Red River baguette, wild berry muffins, awesome brownies, pecan tarts, butter tarts, raspberry and blueberry tarts.

Facing the square is the Block & Cleaver, a small butcher shop where we purchase summer sausage, Black Forest ham, a chunk of kolbassa and ribeye steak.

What are you saying, that we cruise to eat? It does sound like it, that’s for sure.

In the evening, we take in a concert at the refurbished Grand Theatre. Renowned Cape Breton fiddler Natalie Mac Master plays like a demon and dances, too, with a five-month bulge in her belly. The audience gasps in amazement when Natalie announces that Nathaniel Smith, the long-haired virtuoso on the cello, is only 14 years old.

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