I love the Thousand Islands, the scenery is delightful, the water clear and crossing the international border adds some romantic thrill. I, like many of you, enjoy reading the TI Life Magazine and I often wondered how I could contribute a story. Then this past month I had my most recent boat trip through the Thousand Islands which became unforgettable I picked up some of the lessons that I learned and I hope you will find them useful.
Living in Gananoque I take great pleasure from spending time on the river. Mostly short trips with the family to the Islands close, like spending an afternoon at one of the two beaches on Leek (officially Thwartway), where our two year old toddler apparently enjoys himself for hours playing in the sand, while we adults get the chance to indulge in some reading. The other type of trip is what I call „grand tours“, usually through the International Rift and onto Boldt Castle and returning through the narrows, crossing Eel Bay and back to Gananoque.
I had marveled about these trips so much so that when a friend and former colleague from Cologne, Germany, visited, it was sure we would hit the water almost no matter what the weather would be like. It was a bit rainy on that late September day, but the temperature was “tres agreable“ around 20 centigrade.
Out of the Gananoque harbor we took a right turn to pass on the southern side of McDonald Island and turned left before Bostwick to take a quick glimpse into Half-Moon bay where we attended the afternoon church services during the summer. Southbound we passed Jolly Island and two of my favorite buildings, the one on Netley Island and the “Wohnmaschine“ on Niagara. Bouncing between the Canadian and the US side, we entered the rift a good hour later. Having set off at 4.30 and with the sunset around 7, there was enough time for circling Ina Island and recording its current state of decay.
There was plenty of commercial traffic on the channel as we were approaching Boldt Castle. Especially stunning if you see it for the first time, my guest was taking photos while I shut off the outboard and began to refuel, gently drifting between the castle and the boat house.
It is just great to idle along between the coastline of Wellesley and the smaller islands rich with history. It was then that I noticed the engine noise changing its tune. The clanking noise together with the pullstarter cord coming slowly off the coil related to at least one screw coming off the flywheel hub and turning the pull starter ring. After we shut the engine just east of Comfort Island I began by taking off the 4 screws that hold the cowl. A task elongated by the sheer concentration to not let go any of the tools and working overhead. Meanwhile the mild current just off Comfort had transported us alongside Crest where it had increased to such strength that we were unable to hold our position with the paddles.
We paddled towards the mainland just in front of Devil's Oven and could hold the position close to Cuba Island. While the sun had settled I had the bolts tightened down, to save time and minimize chances of loosing tools the cowl was left off and we headed towards TI Park.
I was only mildly disturbed by the unplanned stop-over and started counting buoys so I would turn northbound at buoy 216A and head for the Narrows. Having completed this journey two times in the darkness I felt secure enough to attempt it a third time.
Vanity was struck when suddenly the shoreline of Twin Islands appeared out of the dark. Not taking the time to recheck with the charts I turned westbound when disaster struck.
A succession of strokes rocked through the boat, we were hitting the shoals south of Twin Island. It is a devastating experience to realize in your head that you should be doing something and it feels like an eternity when you finally grasp the situation and the idea of killing the engine strikes you.
Without the motor power, we still felt the boat dancing on the rocks and getting pushed around by the waves. My guest, on whose perception of the events I could only speculate at that time, broke the silence suggesting this would be a good time to put on the life jackets.
Tilting the motor up freed us and we decided to paddle towards the main channel until we were in the line of buoys again. We went through what was good and bad about our situation.
Clearly we were shocked, possibly impairing our judgment, the motor and propeller might have taken serious damage and we were in the dark probably an hour away from our destination. On the good side, we were both uninjured, the boat was intact and not taking in any water, we had a flashlight, flares, charts, three additional life vests, heavy raincoats, extra fuel, a second marine battery and a mobile phone.
Green – intended way, red – the epic miscounting, yellow – heading out.
Upon inspection the propeller showed only minor damage, apart from paint missing it appeared unscathed. To our relief the engine started without hassle and the gearbox engaged right away. We were very concentrated and it amazes me how we human beings are able to act rather calm while in such situations, with the stress and upcoming despair unloading finally when you have managed to escape it and feel you are on safe ground.
It was clear that I should go for the safest possible route now, taking the emotional and mechanical issues into account. Therefore we would run along the marked lights upstream until we would hit the first marked lights towards the Canadian side somewhere west of Grindstone Island. To minimize the stress on the outboard we would not rev the engine onto a plane for now.
Approaching Clayton yet another Salty was appearing, also going upstream. I was hoping she would overtake in a matter of minutes on my portside, however on this section of the river it had reduced its speed almost to ours and before running into the next buoy I turned around and aimed for its stern and followed. The lights off it generated significant sight for us and following its course made us feel secure.
In the meantime I noticed a missed call from my wife on my mobile. Due to the minimal network reception on this section of the River, I was unable to return it. We were obviously overdue and she started to worry, but we would not dig into that for the next two hours. In addition to the buoy lights there are flashing lights, probably on the south shore of Wolfe Island (we never got that far to find proof) that are visible for quite some distance. Our leading ship had returned to its normal cruise speed and since there were no mechanical issues I went onto a plane to not lose sight of the ship and finally the marked lights for the channel towards the Canadian side appeared in the dark night.
It started to rain and visibility was quickly deteriorating - wearing glasses didn't help. I was so concentrated on aiming directly towards the next marker light, trying to depict any unlit and watching out for rock markers and signs of the coastline that I had absolutely no sense of time, but my companion later told me that it was a small eternity until finally the lights of residences on Howe Island came into sight.
I instantly recognized the scenery and cut between Aubrey and Mermaid towards Point Island, when the phone rang again. My wife had set 10pm as the deadline and called the police. Our local department directed her to the OPP and she had explained that her husband and a woman he supposedly knew from work back in Germany were out on the river, probably taking the tour to Boldt Castle and given the delay hopefully had made it to an island (National Park that is) where they might be found. The helpful staff inquired about any information that might help in the quest, beginning with what supported the initial assumption. At least this question could easily be answered as the car with trailer was parked close to the marina. As I had clearly lost my sense of time, I hadn't bothered to call immediately and only focused on returning safely to the marina. She called the search off at 10.30 (so luckily it merely hadn't started), a big thank you to the people there and sorry for the „false“ alarm. Upon entering the marina we were relieved, high-fived and started to chatter about the events. My passenger had all bragging rights for having stayed calm on the outside thus supporting our safe return. We reached the house a couple of minutes later and celebrated the return with some Gin Tonic. A trip I will never forget, don't plan on reenacting and a lesson learned about not starting out too late, navigation in the dark and equipment.
- Charts: always loved them for making fingertip trips while on the couch, please go to NOAA, http://www.charts.noaa.gov/OnLineViewer/GreatLakesViewerTable.shtml, and download 14770 to 74, covers Wolfe Island to Morristown. They are free for personal use and I have found it handy to print them on photo paper and put them into plastic covers for additional protection.
- Fuel: go by the 1/3 rule, one for going, one for returning, one for emergency. I refueled when going north towards Wolfe Island. There was ¾ left off the reserve after the entire trip. So it saved us...
- Tools: Wrenches, bits and an inexpensive power drill. A flashlight with at least 100ft range, the simple one that came with our rescue kit was just good for reading the charts.
- Communication: At least a mobile phone, however I will go for a VHF Radio additionally. If I was in the same situation again, I would not hesitate so long to call for help and steer towards the next docking possibility. I bothered too long with the unintended border crossing and its legal implications, but that is simply not worth the risk we took.
By Konrad Linckh
Originally from Germany, Konrad Linckh, an electrical engineer, was working as CEO for the US-subsidiary of a German laser equipment manufacturer when he came to the Thousand Islands for a vacation in August 2010 and as he says, “fell immediately in love with the scenery”. He applied for and received permanent residence in Canada and the Linckh family moved to Gananoque in April 2011. Since the boating season began, Konrad has enjoyed a wonderful summer on the River.
Editor’s Note: Konrad, we have an expression in the islands – “there is a rock out there with your name on it”. I would say you are lucky to have found yours so early in your boating career! However, I seem to find one almost every summer! Welcome to the Thousand Islands and stay safe!