Archive for August, 2013

Canoe People

Author: Stephen

The Murray Canal ends at Presqu’ile Bay. I paddled south through the bay to the tip of the Presqu’ile Peninsula, on the other side of which is Lake Ontario. It had been another long day into the wind, and I was glad to find a spot on the lake side of the peninsula to beach the boat and set up camp. I had gotten an early start, and stopped early since the wind was even stronger on the big lake. So I had to time to fix a more complex dinner: instant rice mixed with instant curry. I was just finishing my dinner when a handsome guy carrying a sail bag came sauntering down the beach. He said hi, asked me what I was up to, and then wanted to know all about my trip. “Hey,” he said, “you want to go sailing with me? My boat’s beached on the other side of the peninsula, and I’m just going out for a bit.” I said sure. I put my cooking stuff away while he rigged his boat, and we were on the water 15 minutes later. “Want a beer?” he asked. Same answer I gave him concerning sailing. His name was Andy, and we hit it off immediately. He’s a building designer and carpenter from Toronto, here at the family cottage on Presqu’ile with his mother and two sons for the weekend. In his 40s, he’s traveled throughout North America and Asia, He’s divorced, but he and the kids’ mom share custody, and he has a partner, Sue, that he’s crazy about, The 15-foot Albacore was slowly filling with water — “Must be a bit of a leak somewhere” — the tiller was splinted with tape and a scrap of wood, and the bottom corner of the jib was attached with bit of nylon twine, but it was clear he knew what he was doing, and we had a fine time. We returned to the beach, and he told me he had to cook dinner for his mum and the kids, but did I want to come down in an hour for a drink? I gave him the usual answer. About an hour later, he called my cell and said his boys, James and Jasper, and their friend, William, were on the way to get me. Ten minutes later, a couple of Japanese-Canadian boys and a curly blond boy were leading me to the cottage. When I entered, I was greeted by his appropriately-named mother, Grace, and a table filled with food; they had waited for me to have dinner with them. Salad, wine, and the first chicken I’ve had in 20 years. They all were so interested in my trip! After dinner, Andy took me down the street to a party of his friends. They had all Googled me and knew more about me than I did. It was well past midnight before they led me back to Seaweed. On the way back, Andy’s friend, Pete, stopped at his cottage. He came back out and presented me with a small canoe paddle he’d carved, etched with a pair of loons.


More Military Aid

Author: Stephen

A couple of day after I left Belleville, I beat my way through a heavy headwind into the Trenton Air Force Base Yacht Club. Set on an island in the Bay of Quinte, it’s accessible to the base via a short causeway to the mainland. It was about 1 pm when I arrived, and I had hoped to make it the five miles or so more to the Murray Canal, a route back to the big lake. The wind was only picking up though. I broached the idea of camping there, but the marina supervisor told me that camping was prohibited on military property. I walked around the island, which has a big hill in the middle, and looked at the waves getting bigger and bigger, and came to the conclusion my options were slim. I went back to Seaweed listen to the weather radio, and passed a man talking to some young people at the dock. He asked me where I was traveling. I answered, and he asked if I was staying at the marina that night. I said I had hoped to, but it wasn’t allowed. Without a hesitation, he said that I could stay on his sailboat, which he docked there. He said it would be empty, and I was welcome. He told me his name, Fletch, and gave me his card. He runs the SailAbility program at the marina, which is part of an international program that uses customized sailboats to teach sailing to disabled. He was there that day to prepare a couple of their boats for transport to a big regatta coming up in Halifax. I really hit the big time: a generous person, and a mattress!


Pulled into Belleville Harbour, where the Moira River enters Quinte Bay, about two weeks ago. I only paddled about five miles, after camping near Pointe Anne the night before. I was tired, and the wind was picking up, and I needed a short day. Paddled along the public marina in Victoria Park, which is on a peninsula in the harbor, and saw a couple of men wheeling a power washer out of a shed next to a two story building on the mainland. There were a bunch of small sailboats in the yard which said “Sea Cadets.” I turned a the end of the marina docks, and as I passed the building again, the men were on the dock. I stopped, said hello, told them what I was up to, and asked if I might pitch a tent for the night in their yard. “I don’t know,” the younger of them said, adding something like such decisions were above his pay grade. “We don’t usually do that,” the older man said, “but, that will be ok.” I have found there are two kinds of people in the world, those who say, “We don’t usually do that, so, no,” and those who aren’t afraid to do the unusual.
Turns out the Royal Canadian Sea Cadets are an organization that offers 12-18 year olds, according to the poster in the mess hall, “five phases of training, that involve aspects of sailing, seamanship, marksmanship, drill and music.” The free program Royal Canadian Sea Cadets (RCSC) is a sponsored by the Canadian Forces and the civilian Navy League of Canada. Administered by the Canadian Forces, it’s funded through the Department of National Defence (they spell things funny here), with the civilian partner providing support in the local community. Cadets are civilians, they are not members of the Canadian Forces. Turns out, though, that it is an excellent recruiting tool for the navy, as are similar programs sponsored by the army and Air Force. Half or more of the participants are young women. Anyhow, it’s kind of an usual spot for a peacenik to land, but I’ve enjoyed my time talking with Sheldon, a college student who will be enlisting in the Navy soon, and especially Bill, who retired from the Navy Reserve after 40 years. Bill spends a lot of time now volunteering with the Sea Cadets, riding his bike here from his apartment in town. While I was there, he spent an afternoon, with mixed success, trying to get a power washer up and running so Sheldon could wash the deck. He described himself as “a dyed in the wool conservative,” but, like many Canadians I’ve met who consider themselves conservatives, they are quite supportive of what people in the states consider progressive, such as national healthcare and social welfare programs.




Author: Ruth
Bouchette Point and a rare phenomenon: calm waters.

Bouchette Point and a rare phenomenon: calm waters.

It’s been two weeks and 174 miles of westward paddling since Stephen left the St. Lawrence River. The usual headwinds and waves interfere with photography, but he texted me a few shots from a recent calm day.

The Lake Ontario coast just east of Toronto.

The Lake Ontario coast just east of Toronto.

In a stroke of great good fortune, Stephen met some kind and generous folks at their weekend cottage last week. One of them, Andy Trotter, lives in Toronto and offered to house Stephen when he paddled into town. Andy also located a spot to dock Seaweed; the Argonaut Rowing Club in West Toronto. It was Stephen’s longest day of paddling on Lake Ontario so far, 24 miles.

Whew! The end of a long paddle.

Whew! The end of a long paddle. (On Argonaut Rowing Club dock)

River Rats

Author: Stephen

Sitting in an old farmhouse at Hidden Harbor, on Point Peninsula, in Jefferson County, New York. A creek through the property was widened at the mouth years ago to make a small harbor, which is where Seaweed has been tied up for the past week. I’m just 10 miles from the St. Lawrence River, but the wind is blowing, and I’m playing the waiting game.

Stephen and Seaweed at Hidden Harbor

Stephen and Seaweed at Hidden Harbor

It’s been a good game so far: There’s coffee in the morning at Judy and Tom’s trailer, and they invited me to join them at a pub for dinner one night last week. Jim, from Pennsylvania, gave me some of the smoked salmon his buddy sent him from Alaska, and there was a pancake breakfast, cooked by marina manager George, at the farmhouse Sunday. A shower and laundry are icing on the cake.

George, Stephen's host and pancake chef.

The sunset strip at Hidden Harbor

Ruth managed to collect five days off from work, and last Friday night hopped in the car and ventured to meet me. With two-hour delays at customs, and creeping Canada Civic Day holiday traffic, she didn’t arrive until around 10 pm Saturday. I don’t know how she found the place. It’s 17 miles from the main road, only connected to the mainland by a narrow isthmus, and pitch black at night. On Sunday, we met her brother, Andy, and his wife, Tina. They drove up from New York City, and it was a one-year reprise, to the day, of when they came to see me in Pt. Abino, on my Lake Erie trip. We stayed a couple of nights in Clayton, a small town on the river, at the Calumet Motel and Decoy Shop.

Tina, Andy and Ruth

On the river.

This is a great location from which to explore what’s known as the Thousand Islands. There are actually 1864 islands in the river, and almost all of them are privately owned. Several companies offer boat tours of the river, and we took a two-hour cruise on a pontoon boat from Clayton to Rock Island. Now a state park, it has a beautifully restored lighthouse and keeper’s house. Along the way, we saw homes ranging from humble to huge, on islands big and small. The river was filled freighters, fishing boats, float planes, yachts and jetskies. Our tour guide kept telling us how lucky we were to have such a rare calm day. Oh well…

Rock Island Light

Rock Island Light

View from above

View from above


After the tour from Clayton, we drove farther downriver to Alexandria Bay, and hopped on a short ferry to Heart Island, home to the ill-fated Boldt Castle. In 1900, George Boldt, general manager of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York and the manager of the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel in Philadelphia, commissioned what was designed to be one of the largest homes in the country. Four years into construction of the six-story castle, as well as four other masonry buildings on the island and a massive boathouse on a nearby island, Boldt’s wife, Louise, suddenly died, and he immediately stopped construction. For more than 70 years the project crumbled. In 1977, the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority acquired Bolt’s islands for $1, with the stipulation that proceeds from visitors go toward restoration of the grounds and buildings. Initially, the concept was to restore the project to the point at which Boldt quit building. The site has since become a major attraction for tourists from both sides of the river, though, and new construction has surpassed the original, and continues.

Before she left Tuesday, Ruth and I visited the Clayton Antique Boat Museum. They have a large collection of glossy runabouts, racers and yachts of the rich and famous.


But there’s also a variety of canoes, small rowboats and day sailors, and an exhibit featuring small boats that have carried intrepid sailors on some amazing long-distance trips, some dating back more than 100 years. Hard to understand why anyone would want to take a trip like that…