July 15 – 18, 2011
After we pulled up the anchor at Picton Island in the morning, we cruised about 5 miles over to Gananonque, Canada to clear customs. There is a government dock where you can tie up temporarily while you clear customs. It shares a wall with a fleet of Thousand Island tour boats, so there is a lot of activity on the waterfront and along the first street over (all the tourist shops). Since there were no boats at the dock, no wind, no water depth problem, no slip to have to pull into (just a side tie up), and the moon was in the third quarter, Captain Bly, I mean Wayne, let me pilot FLUKE into the dock.
Along both sides of the St. Lawrence, probably because of the frequency that people travel back and forth between the two countries, they both have made it very easy to clear customs. The captain goes ashore to a customs phone and calls an 800 number. A customs person asks a series of questions about the boat, occupants (passport information), purpose of travel in Canada, and length of stay and then issues a travel number to be posted on the vessel. We saw several videophone check-in devices on the American side that Canadians were using.
Once we were “officially” in Canada, anyone aboard could go ashore. Wayne suggested that we get some Canadian money out of an ATM at the tour boat ticket office, so he and I headed over to that, and Eddie took Ursa for a walk.
I was pleasantly surprised to see my favorite pirate, Jack Sparrow, in the ticket office. I have been looking for him on the high seas for years and never expected to see him in such a setting to say the least!
We thought Jack might have robbed the ATM machine because we couldn't get any money using our bank cards. When we switched to one of our credit cards, we were able to get some money to get started with in the country. However, with a ridiculous interest rate on the cash advance, our next order was to transfer money to pay it off immediately and not have to use the credit card for cash again.
When we left the ticket office and rounded the building, our jaws dropped and our hearts skipped a beat. Ursa was in the gutter on the opposite side of the street staring at us. Eddie was no where in sight. I stooped over and called her, fully expecting her to run in the opposite direction, but she willingly came over and let me grab her. I did all I could not to just start crying in the street at that point.
When we got back to FLUKE, we could see the side gate standing open. We were thankful Ursa hadn't fallen between the boat and dock when she jumped through the gate since there wouldn't have been anywhere for her to get up onto to the dock. We called out to Eddie, wondering what had happened to him. He came out with a Q-tip in his ear, saying he had let Ursa off her leash and rushed in to get a Q-tip because he thought he had a bug in his ear. I was so mad I wanted to shove the Q-tip all the way through his head and out the other ear! The whole rest of the day, I wondered if I should just go back to Florida or wait until the next disaster to make a decision. Jack would have made Eddie walk the plank for sure!!
Our first cruise destination was to visit the Canadian Thousand Islands, specifically the islands of their St. Lawrence Islands National Park. The park lands were created in 1904 to preserve and promote some 20 island and mainland ecologically sensitive waterfront properties from Kingston in the southwest northeast to Brockville, a distance of about 50 miles. Since it was already Friday morning, we knew we would be challenged to try to find space at a park island with a dock big enough for FLUKE. We learned that a lot of Canadians keep their boats at marinas along the St. Lawrence for the summer and then drive to them on Thursday afternoons and take them out to the park docks for the weekend. Regulations limit stays at each dock to 3 nights.
Camelot is one of the islands in the group know as the Lake Fleet Islands, all named after British warships. When we pulled up to the dock, there was a power boat on the end of one side with a vacant space ahead of it. We yelled over to ask what the water depth was ahead of it, only to learn it wasn't deep enough for us. So, we asked the people if they would mind pulling forward so that we could be on the end, the only place we could fit. With a LOT of reluctance, they said they would. I felt very awkward because I knew they were giving up a prime spot. When we got settled we all told them how much we appreciated their generosity, and I gave them a bottle of wine. They said they came there frequently and could only stay one more night anyway. Even though we hung quite a ways off the end of the dock, we were so grateful to get tied up.
The park rangers come by at least once, and sometimes twice, a day. They check all the boats and collect applicable fees, tend to the compost toilets that are on some of the islands, pick up trash from the islands that have receptacles, and cheerfully answer all questions, even from “tourists” like me that have more questions than most. We learned that several of the islands prohibit the use of generators, portable and onboard. That would mean that we would possibly have difficulty charging our batteries if the sun wasn't out to power our solar panels. However, Camelot permitted generator use.
We purchased a Canadian seasonal mooring permit. This would enable us to stay at any island park dock in the Parks Canada system, and also included the docks and walls at all the canal locks that we would be traversing later in the trip. If we stayed more than 11 nights, buying the pass would be the most economical way to travel. The pass cost us $470 plus we had to pay another $15 for the dinghy to be able to land on any island. I thought the dinghy fee was kind of picky on their part, but we knew we wanted to visit some of the other islands nearby, so we didn't have much choice.
We do carry 3 inflatable kayaks (no fee required), so Eddie inflated and launched one and went out to explore the numerous islands in the vicinity of Camelot. We happened to see him when we were out for a dinghy exploration.
Camelot island has some steep, rocky cliffs with an interesting mix of vegetation. One part of it is heavily forested with pitch pine trees, an endangered species. Back in the 1800s it was heavily harvested for use as mill water wheels and sluice boxes because its wood can withstand alternate soaking and drying. Walking through them makes me think of Christmas from the fragrant smell of pine. The interior of the island has a thick mix of hardwoods, so I imagine that the little islands are a blaze of color in the Fall.
While the interior, shaded parts of the island are lush with woodland ferns and understory plants, the dry, exterior, exposed slopes have beautiful big clumps of golden grasses poking out between the boulders.
There is a good walking path that completely goes around the perimeter of Camelot, affording some great views of the surrounding picturesque islands, most of which have some type of home or boat dock on them. Some of the islands only have a dock and the owners just tie up a boat there and camp on the island. There is a tour boat visible in the background of this photo; some of these tour boats take the deep channel routes through the little islands, making for an interesting ride.
We landed the dinghy at Endymion with the hopes of being able to walk around that island too. We could see one end of the island from our dock at Camelot and it looked like it would be an interesting place to take a hike. There is a nice new dock, but it was filled up. At least we were able to see that FLUKE would be able to fit there if space was available, but we knew that wouldn't be happening on this trip. We also learned that it is one of the generator-free islands, ensuring peace and quiet for those you share the dock with.
We learned that there had once been an island perimeter path, similar to that on Camelot, but it had been closed off because of damage to endangered native vegetation. Now, no one gets to see it and even learn anything about it. We were lucky that we landed on Camelot and had the great path to walk on every day.
We kept seeing a lot of those water snakes swimming around the dock. Apparently they are just a way of life in these waters and never bother swimmers. Some friendly sailboaters, Audrey and Barry, next to us on the dock, were helpful in filling us in on all kinds of island information since they had been coming to the islands for 30 years. Audrey said that the snakes usually sun themselves on the rocks at the end of the dock, but there was too much swimming activity while we were there, so I could never get a photo. I'll keep trying. The Canada geese entertained me turning upside down to feed on the underwater vegetation.
Boating life at the park docks is such a new experience for us. The boats are packed in end to end on both sides of the dock. Picnic tables are right in the middle of the dock, so there is hardly enough room to walk around the table. All these weekend boaters do the same thing: they set up little portable gas grills on the tables and cook their food, so you have to walk right by their cooking operation. A lot of them set up chairs at the end of the dock, so you have to walk right through their social setting to get to the dock. Most of them are friendly and invite you to join in. Wayne and Eddie like being able to talk to other people, but it is just too crowded and noisy for my idea of island boating.
We discovered that our dinghy was loosing air in the floor section. The W & E Maintenance Team found out that one of the seams had come apart. Being prepared for anything, we had ordered an inflatable repair kit in March that came with a tube of glue specifically formulated to seal the seams. However, when Wayne got out the glue, the tube, even though it had NEVER been used or abused, was hard. Since we seldom throw out anything, we had a 10 year old tube in an older kit, and got it out. While that glue wouldn't flow out of the tube, at least it was pliable, and they tried that. Luck was with us, as the gummy glue actually worked!
When we had used up our 3 nights, we decided that we would go back to Gananoque for a land tour of the town. They have a big public docking area that permits you to stay for several hours during the day. When we arrived in the early morning we were the only boat there. When we left at 12:30 p.m., the dock was full with probably 50 boats.
Gananoque was founded in 1792 by Joel Stone, a Loyalist from Connecticut. The name, from the Iroquois language, means “place on the rocks by swift moving water”. By that description alone, you would guess that the town grew up around mill industries. Being located at the intersection of the Gananoque and St. Lawrence Rivers, the town prospered as a port. When industrialization emerged, factories were built to supply building hardware, shovels, and carriages. The automobile helped bring tourists once the Thousand Islands became known as a vacation destination.
The small town has one original main street (away from the docking area of town) and is definitely worth the short walk to see the older buildings on the gently sloping street. There are clothing and art boutiques, as well as a grocery store, several restaurants, and fantastic gourmet bakery. Eddie scored big at the bakery with the purchase of eclairs, a cream puff, breakfast bread loaf, a muffin, and a turnover. If we keep eating stuff like that, we may have to walk back to Florida!
One of the conversations we had at Camelot was wondering what was considered Canadian food. So, we asked Barry and Audrey about it. They said poutine might be one dish we could try. They told us it was chips (french fries) with cheese and gravy. Ugh, that didn't sound too appealing to me, but we wanted to try a local dish. So, when we were in Gananoque, there was a street vendor advertising poutine. It was right before lunch time, so I went up to the vendor. Since there weren't any other people around, I could ask my usual million questions, and he was really curious about our travels so had a lot of questions of his own. I decided to order a small serving of poutine so we could at least try it. He said that everyone always likes it and we would too. So, we even added ketchup on it and dug in. While it was tasty, I don't think we will be getting any more poutine on our trip, but I would tell you to try some if you ever have the chance. I can't imagine any one person being able to eat the large serving; we decided that we wouldn't eat any lunch when we got back.
As we were headed back to FLUKE, we passed by a park that had a couple of ponds. One was a small shallow pond that spilled down the hill into a larger one. Right as we were walking by the small one, a kid jumped off his bicycle and ran into the pond and grabbed this snake.
This is the same kind I'd been trying to get a picture of anyway, so I asked the kid to let me take a picture. He loved the attention, and then had to give us the history of his snake catching adventures, including prying the snake's mouth open to show us its “teeth”. He let it go into a pipe inlet to the pond and said he would catch it again another day.
Right after the kid let the snake go, we looked down towards the big pond and watched a great blue heron catch a fat catfish. It was having a difficult time trying to get the fish into a proper position to be able to swallow it. People trying to photograph the bird were making it nervous so it flew off to get some feeding privacy.
When we got back to FLUKE, we decided to top off the poutine by eating the eclair and cream puff (they were small!) while they were so fresh. Then, we were carb loaded and ready to leave the dock and head back out to the islands again.
This time we were trying to find a vacant dock in the Admiralty Islands, 5 of which are designated park islands. They are all close together, so we drove by each of them, but there were no docks where we could tie up. Mermaid Island is mostly a gigantic rock, shaped like a whaleback, sticking up out of the water where all the dockage space has deep water, but it was filled at the longest dock (the blue sailboat), and the other docks were too short for us to fit in.
So, we ended up anchoring off of Beau Rivage for one night. It is centrally located and was one of the ones we already knew had a good walking path. There ended up being 8 other boats anchored in the same area for the night.
After we launched the dinghy we went to shore on Beau Rivage. It is one of the larger islands, shaped like an H. The path winds in and out and up and down, so you cover a variety of terrains and visit several docking areas. We found wild blue berries and black berries to snack on.
Another one of the tour boats from Gananoque went by. You can see how close they pass to the islands, so that the tourists can enjoy them like we are. Well, not quite, but at least they can see enough to appreciate their varied beauty. When we motored passed Aubrey we could see Barry and Audrey's boat tied up at the dock, so we stopped to talk to them again.
When we arrived back at FLUKE, Eddie popped up out of the weedy water. He had been checking how well the anchor had been set and seeing if we had a lot of weeds tangled up in the running gear and stabilizers. From what he, and one of our anchored neighbors said, someone had almost run him over with their dinghy because they were looking at FLUKE instead of where they were going. We wondered how Eddie's medical expenses would be covered in Canada.
After we left Beau Rivage and the real Thousand Islands area, we would only have to travel 15 miles before we reached Kingston, Ontario, where we would begin our journey north up into the Rideau Canal. There were 2 more park islands, Cedar and Milton, that we would pass on the way to Kingston, but we would have no hope of getting any dock space at either of those. Overall, the number of boats in this area is much less than in the Thousand Islands region, but the dock space is also more limited.
We passed a variety of different types of homes, many of which had interesting toys, slides, and canopies at their docks. This fanciful fleet caught our attention and brought smiles to our faces.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, there were homes like this with beautiful boathouses, lush grounds with lots of pretty flowers and creative stonework.
We were having to learn about another type of vessel that we had not previously encountered, cable ferries. This was the second one we had seen since leaving Beau Rivage earlier in the day. We had talked to other boaters about how they dealt with them, so we at least had a strategy in mind. The ferry runs on cables that extend from shore to shore across the river. You can see them running out from the ferry on the right side of the photo. The ferry has a big sign on the side that says “Cable Ferry Keep Clear”, so at least that gets your attention to take notice. We decided we would wait until the ferry passed far enough by and we guessed that the cables had enough time to drop deep enough for us to go over.
As much as we enjoyed the Thousand Islands, we were looking forward to visiting the sights in Kingston. However, with the tall buildings of the city in sight, we still didn't have a plan where we were going to dock FLUKE. We could hear many boats calling into the municipal marina saying that they had a slip reservation, but we had not made one. So, we would enter the harbor and check out our options. I really hate not having a plan, but I'm getting used to it more and more.