SHIP! It’s a game we started when my husband retired nine years ago. It’s nothing original. We actually got the idea from our friends Stu and Helve Clough.
Grenellian, Katie duBon says her three boys used to play a similar game when they were growing up, only instead of calling out, “Ship,” they called out, “Big Boat” as ship sometimes sounded like…well, you know.
Situated as we are on the northeast corner of Grenell, we have a three and a half minute window to view ships on the St. Lawrence Seaway. A ship moving up river (toward the lakes) first appears just beyond the yellow boathouse off of Coast Avenue of Thousand Island Park, passes in front of Rock Island Lighthouse, then behind a small island named Castle Francis and ultimately disappears behind Pullman Island. A ship moving down river (toward Montreal and the sea) first appears from behind Pullman and disappears behind T.I. Park.
Sometimes on still days, we can hear the far off rumbling of engines long before we see the ship. But it’s not enough to hear the ship. You have to see the ship. (Rule #1)
Sometimes we will hear a ship while at the Richard’s cottage. They are two cottages to the south of us and they have no view of the Seaway. The sound of a ship will send us running—yes running—toward our point in hopes of seeing and calling, “Ship!” first. Our neighbors stand slackjaw, mouths agape, astounded at our childishness. All I have to say is, they better step out of the way or they might get run down, especially if it’s near the end of the month. In our on-going ship contest, whoever sees the most ships in a day, wins the day. Whoever wins the most days, wins the month. If it’s near the end of the month and the score is tied, look out! There might be a little shoving or a few elbows thrown. Ships are one point. Coast Guard cutters and barges are a half a point. (Rule #2)
One year we went into the end of July at a tie. Our anniversary is the last day of July, which would have meant a fiercely competitive day. Our son recommended that we not play on that day and resolve to end the month in a tie instead of fighting for a victory on our anniversary. We did, but we didn’t like it much. After that day, we came up with a new way of scoring for the next year. We decided to record the number ships we saw each day and if the month ended in a tie, who ever saw the most ships during the month would win the month. Ending in a tie was for sissies. The new scoring scheme was a great anniversary present to each other.
For our anniversary the next year, our daughter created a write on/wipe off Ship Tally, which we keep on the refrigerator.
The game isn’t restricted to our small 3 ½ minute window, but extends to wherever else we are on the river. My favorite is seeing a ship coming under the Thousand Islands Bridge, headed up river just as we are arriving at the marina for the first time in the season.
“SHIP!” It’s a great way to start the season. Ahead by one point.
Sometimes it’s hard to see ships at night. Some ships are lit up like Christmas trees, but others just have two lights: a light on the bow and a light on the stern These ships are like dark, silent shadows, passing through the night. They are discernable more by the lights they block on the mainland and islands on the other side of the channel than the light they give off.
Sometimes in the fog, we will hear a ship, but have to look very hard to see the ship. I look closely hoping to see a mast moving above the fog. Because if you call ship and there is no ship…there is a one ship deduction. (RULE #3)
Some days are big ships days. We might see as many as 15. Other days are low ship days and we might not see any. Because our eyes are always scanning the seaway, we have seen some amazing sights over the years: cruise ships, naval vessels, barges towing weird apparatus, three-mast schooners and in the September of 2005, I saw the Staten Island Ferry. I had to get the binoculars, because I didn’t trust my eyes.. But yup, that’s what it was. The Staten Island Ferry heading downriver. What was it doing in the St. Lawrence Seaway? After a little online research, I learned that the ferry was built in Wisconsin and was en route to the Big Apple.
When guests see how competitive we are about our ship game, they ask what we win. Gary and I share a puzzled look. “What is the prize,” they’ll press. Prize? We play for bragging rights. What could be better than that?
One night late in May, we took a boat ride down to Clayton with our friends, the Cloughs, to see the steam yacht Cangarda. En route Gary saw a ship and called it. “I called it first,” Helve says. But we reminded her that this is our game and anyone else calling ship doesn’t count. It’s between the two of us. Gary got that one. But never mind. The next day I saw 7 ships and Gary only saw one barge. Not only did I win the day, but I won the month of May. One month down and three more to go!
By Lynn E. McElfresh
Lynn McElfresh is a regular contributor to TI Life. In fact this article is number 25! She often writes about her favorite Grenell Island and island life. We have learned a great deal over the past year from her musings, from moving pianos to island weddings or from plumbing problems to meeting old friends and taking nature walks. Last month she introduced Ospreys! This month she teaches us a new game! To see all of Lynn’s island experiences, search TI Life under Lynn E. McElfresh.
All photographs courtesy of Lynn and Gary McElfresh.