Monday morning we traveled through Lock O8 and finished the Oswego Canal and headed into Lake Ontario. After so many months it was crazy to be back in the Great Lakes. We got a swift reminder of how the Great Lakes operate. Lake Ontario was not all that nice to us at the start of our trip. We had checked all the weather and knew it was going to be 2 ft. waves with a 3 second period. We just hadn’t experienced that in awhile. And yet there it was, tossing us all over the place. The thing about the waves on the Great Lakes is that they seem to come from every direction. We knew as we continued it would improve so despite Maddy asking us to turn around, we kept going. Unfortunately the direction we were heading had all the waves on our side. The Seakeeper worked HARD for awhile. As predicted the water laid down as the morning went on and as we changed direction a bit and tucked behind some land.
We arrived in Cape Vincent and tied up on the free town dock. The water levels have been so high that this dock was about level with the water a couple of weeks ago. There is a second free dock but it had a lot of sailboats already tied to it and there wasn’t a great space for us to pull in. We had the other dock all to ourselves until one other boat joined us late in the day. The water level was still very high but we were able to tie up just fine. This was the first time our swim platform (which tends to sit practically in the water) was above the dock!
We hopped off the boat and walked around the little town. We knew there was a storm coming and wanted to stretch our legs and let the kids run around a bit first. We saw the town, made a short list for the next morning and let the kids play in the square until the rain started. We watched the storm from the boat as it hit Canada right on the other side of the lake. I kept telling the girls to look outside – that’s Canada! Right there! The car ferry ran in and out of the dock next to us all night back and forth from Canada. As the storm blew over the lake, it became beautifully calm and we had a lovely view.
The next morning we headed to a coffee shop for pastries. We passed a breakfast place on the way that looked better to Ben and me so we got the kids a muffin and chocolate croissant and then went to the restaurant where they loaded up on pancakes and French toast! We stopped in the post office. A dreaded task in Chicago so I always put it off. I’m reminded each time I stop in a post office elsewhere that I shouldn’t judge based on Chicago. The folks in Cape Vincent were helpful and efficient and polite.
I was hoping to make it to see the lighthouse but it was about 3 miles away so we didn’t make it there. Instead we headed towards Clayton, NY. Clayton is home of the Antique Boat Museum and had been recommended by a few friends. After a few nights on free walls we pulled into the marina to charge batteries and fill up on water. Ben had two engine computer monitors that had stopped working and had read a few places about the only guy that can seem to fix them – Hines! And where was he? Clayton, NY of course. The owner of the marina graciously gave us a ride over to the other marina/yard where Hines worked. We dropped the monitors off and then walked over to the Antique Boat Museum. It was indeed fabulous. We first walked through a few boat houses of great antique wooden boats.
Next we took a tour of La Duchesse. La Duchesse is a 106 foot houseboat built in 1903 for George Boldt. Next on our sight seeing list after Clayton was Boldt Castle. George Boldt lived on La Duchesse while he was having Boldt Castle built. George Boldt was proprietor of the Waldorf-Astoria hotel and spent summers and vacations in the Thousand Islands. He was building Boldt Castle for his wife Louise. Tragically, during construction Louise died unexpectedly. George Boldt was so heartbroken that he stopped construction. La Duchesse remained in the Boldt family until George died. At that point, La Duchesse was sold to Edward Nobel, inventor of the Lifesaver candy. Nobel owned the boat until it sunk in 1943 from a broken pipe filling the hull with water. La Duchesse sunk in her slip and the entire first floor was under water by the time it settled on the bottom. A few months later Nobel sold the boat to Andrew McNally, of Rand-McNally for $100. McNally agreed to get the boat out of the slip as part of the sale. The McNally family restored and repaired La Duchesse. McNally left La Duchesse to the Antique Boat Museum after he died. It was opened as a museum in 2005.
La Duchesse was built without a motor. It’s basically a house that floats and has to be moved by a tug. The girls marveled at the flat bottom. No propellers to hit on rocks! We toured the first floor, seeing the servant quarters and kitchen and the large dining room. The water in the first floor was all the way up to the ceiling and the restoration is quite impressive. The fireplace in the dining room is original from 1903. Down the hall were more bedrooms. It was interesting to be on the tour with people who clearly don’t live on a boat. One lady kept commenting on how small the rooms were. Madelyn and I walked up and were in awe of the lovely twin room. I commented how huge the room was compared to their bunk room!
Then we went upstairs to the master suite, office, salon and dancing room. The salon had a beautiful piano in it. We learned that many of the items in the boat were found in storage in the boat house. The piano was one of those items. Likely intended for the castle. We also learned that every doorknob on the boat has the Boldt family seal. A heart with the letter B inside and a stag on top.
The dancing lounge was immense and beautiful. This level did not sink so the floors were original and heel marks from shoes could be seen in the pine planks. The furniture was all easily moveable for dancing and the window at the far end of the deck opened so that the piano could be heard.
After La Duchesse, we headed over to the rowing center. The girls were very excited to learn how to row a boat. Ben had to go with since they needed an adult. Molly rowed first and learned quickly that it’s hard work! Ben helped her get going. Then it was Madelyn’s turn. Ben lounged in the boat while Molly helped Madelyn. Eventually Ben took over because the girls weren’t strong enough to turn the boat against the waves.
After the museum we enjoyed the town of Clayton. We happened upon River Rats Cheese company and fell in love with garlic cheese! River Rats also had a ton of bulk candy packaged up in easy to grab bags. My favorite were the chocolate peanut butter malt balls. We spent a quick penny there on summer sausage, cheese and candy. We walked through the rest of town and stopped for ice cream. I appreciate a great waterfront presence in a town and Clayton didn’t disappoint. The waterfront is spanned by free day docking for boats and a nice wide walkway and covered area for sitting. People were hanging out. Lots of teenagers were swimming off the town wall. We had a pleasant stroll back to the boat and later headed back out for dinner at one of the waterfront restaurants.
Wednesday morning we planned to head to Boldt Castle but then Ben heard from Hines that the engine monitors were fixed! So, we spent a lot of time waiting around for one thing or another. The first wait was for a ride to the other marina to pick them up. Once back Ben tested them out and one worked great, the other wouldn’t turn on. So, then we waited for Hines to come to our marina. The girls and I walked back into town and headed to River Rats! We had eaten (embarrassingly) a large portion of the garlic cheese and summer sausage and candy. So, we went back and stocked up. We skipped ice cream this time and instead stopped to look through a sidewalk sale of books. Eventually around 2:45 PM we left the dock! At this point it was too late in the day to head to the castle so we just cruised north under the Thousand Islands bridge and took in the sights. The islands are unique and a lot of fun to look. The houses are big and little, some have fancy boat houses, some little houses built on even littler islands. We just motored around until we found a place to anchor. This took quite a few tries since many of the islands are close together with random rocks under water. There is also quite a stiff current in the St. Lawrence. After 5 or 6 options we finally settled on a spot. The girls wanted to swim but the water temp had taken a dive. Molly jumped in once or twice and Maddy part way and then they decided they were done!
Heart Island and Boldt Castle were first on the agenda for the next day!