The portal to our magical island world starts in Fishers Landing at Chalks Marina.
I think my heartbeat doubles as soon as we see the blinking yellow light on Route 12, midway between Alex Bay and Clayton. We used to drive straight through— 16 hours from St. Louis, 12 hours from Chicago and later 14 hours from Decatur, Illinois—not willing to waste any of our precious vacation time staying in a motel or traveling at a more leisurely rate. We’d leave late in the evening, drive all night and arrive the middle of the next day.
PJs Motel is there at the blinking light at the intersection of Route 12 and Route 180. Years ago it was called Flo’s. The road is a narrow ribbon of blacktop, running beneath a canopy of trees. It’s not a long road, but it seems no matter what time of the day or night we turn onto it, we meet another car.
This is the River community of Fishers Landing. Even though it is tiny, it serves as a magic portal for not just us, but hundreds of other islanders as well. It’s been that way for decades. Before the bridge, there was a horse ferry that connected mainland New York with Wellesley Island. In the 1920s, “Captain” Clarence Fox operated a motorized ferry from this spot and later Captain Robbins. Today, at the end of the road, stand two River icons: Foxy’s Restaurant and Chalks Marina.
As of this posting, we are 34 days away from our arrival date. I can close my eyes and imagine our arrival. I can hear the crunch of the gravel as the car comes to a stop along the water’s edge. I can smell the River—fresh, crisp and sweet. We’re here!
Our boat is waiting for us in our slip at the end of the dock. We made the call weeks ago and the staff at the Chalks Marina have the boat in the water waiting for us and ready to go.
H. Chalk and Son had been around longer than my husband, Gary, has been coming to the river. Harry Chalk and his wife Hazel opened a marina here in 1945 and passed the business to their son Duane decades later.
Back in the fifties, Gary’s parents didn’t have a boat. When they arrived at the marina, they were ferried to the island in That’s Her, a 1933, 38 ft tour boat built by Captain Robbins. Sometimes, That’s Her was out picking up or delivering islanders and they would cross in the Terry (1948 22-ft Hutchinson utility), piloted by Hazel. Gary always had his fingers crossed that That’s Her would be there. He liked That’s Her better than the Terry, mostly because it was piloted by Harry. Gary loved Harry Chalk, “He reminded me of Popeye.”
Back then, Duane Chalk had been just a teen. Now he was a white haired man with bad knees, ready to retire. So you can imagine the dismay, when we learned a few years ago that H. Chalk and Son Marina was for sale. The news sent ripples though our island community. The most startling of the rumors was that Chalks might sell to a developer who would build condominiums. No more marina?
Where would we “hang our boat,” as my father-in-law used to say? Park our car? The panic prompted one Grenell couple to buy waterfront property on the mainland “just in case” they would need to build a dock to insure access to the River. Or so it was rumored.
There were other worries. Chalks was more than dock space and a place to park our car. Where would we be without Butch to fix our outboards? Lester to find that spare part we so desperately need? Where would we get that mangled prop fixed?
In May of 2009, we got the news from Duane Chalk as we pulled up to the gas pump our first week on the River. He was beaming. It was time to retire. The marina would be sold in June, 2009 to the Foster family: Robert, Lawrence and their sister, Carol J. Guiton. They weren’t newbies to the marina business. They owned another marina in Hammond down river. Robert Foster tried to assure islanders that their magical portal would remain unchanged. “The Chalks have set the bar pretty high. We are going to maintain the same quality service they offered for the past 64 years.” The marina’s name was changed, but not drastically. H. Chalk and Son was renamed Chalk’s Marina and Boat Sales.
While there was a sigh of relief that the property would remain a marina, there was still an uneasiness. Change comes slowly to islanders. Would things really stay the same? Would our boat be in the water waiting for us when we arrived spring of 2010?
As we prepare to head north this spring, there are none of those nagging concerns. Gary has already made the call to Chalks, announcing our arrival time. He’s heard from Linda that there is still ice on the river and the water level is higher than it was last spring, which is a good thing. This season as all the past seasons, our magical island adventure will start at Chalks Marina.
By Lynn E. McElfresh
Lynn McElfresh is a regular contributor to TI Life, This month Lynn has written two reviews. This one is about her favorite marina at Fishers Landing and the second article introduces mural artist, Kelly Curry. As we go to press, the McElfresh family are planning their summer 2011 on Grenell Islands. To see all of Lynn’s island experiences, search TI Life under Lynn E. McElfresh. Lynn’s bio was profiled in August 2009.