When you live on an island, boats are important. When I first came to the island in 1975, my in-laws had one motorboat, a 19-foot aluminum Starcraft inboard/outboard, named Duchess. If my fiancé and I wanted to leave the island to sightsee or fish, we were relegated to the skiff.
For the next 5 years, we rowed. This is not unlike past generations of Grenellians who for decades were brought to the island by steamer. Even as late as 1940, only a very few had motorboats, most got-out and about, by skiff.
In 1980, Gary’s parents bought a second boat, from Chalks Marina in Fishers Landing. It was a smaller, 14-foot aluminum Starcraft with a 9.9 horsepower outboard. It wasn’t new, but a used rental. We were excited! After 5 years of rowing everywhere, this was quite an improvement.
That was back in the days before we had a boathouse. Duchess had a cover, but the little Starcraft had to be bailed-out when it rained. And even though we loved the “new” used boat, it was never given a name.
In 1988, Gary’s parents bought a new Boston Whaler as their runabout utility boat. Because it started with a key instead of a pull rope, it would be easier for the women of the island to start. The unnamed Starcraft was sold to a neighbor, Bill Bierley.
This was a second boat for Bill. He already had an inboard/outboard, but he used the still unnamed Starfcraft as a utility boat. Every morning Bill would wave as he passed by our north shore on the way to the Post Office on Thousand Island Park. He would pick up our mail too bringing it to the front dock with a big smile. That’s the way Bill is, doing things for others with a big smile.
In 2001, Bill and Marian Bierley sold their cottage. Bill sold the little Starcraft, too. Again to someone on the island. One of the Richards clan who live in our little cove, Lori Crippen bought the little Starcraft. Lori lives on the Erie Canal in Rochester and planned to use the boat on the canal. So for the first time in the little boat’s life, it left the St. Lawrence. It was put on a trailer and towed to Rochester. Mostly it sat unused, so a few years later Lori sent the boat back to Grenell. In 2006, the little Starcraft returned to Grenell Island.
I was happy to see the boat that we had enjoyed for many years using when our kids were young come back to Grenell, and just around the corner from us. Wayne Richards doesn’t have a boathouse, but he built a skid with rollers so the little Starcraft could be pulled out of the water. Charlene Richards made a cover for it. (She’s talented that way.) Wayne painted the boat a cheery blue and added seats. Wayne made one other improvement; he gave the little boat a name…Lil’ Bill in honor of Bill Bierley, who was a treasured member of the Grenell Island Community.
Who knows how many lives this little unassuming aluminum boat has touched. For all we know, this is the very boat that Anne Sweetapple’s parents rented to take them to visit the Kerrs at Southpoint. How many fishing parties or river outings had Lil’ Bill provided for those just up for a day or a weekend in her years as a rental at Chalks Marina? We remember fondly the eight years Lil’ Bill served the McElfresh family. Then it became the vessel of goodwill for Bill Bierley. Now Lil’ Bill is back in service on Grenell to take grandchildren for fast rides, take fathers and sons on bonding fishing trips or make emergency grocery runs to the mainland.
Gone are the steamers and ferryboats that take people to their cottages out on the islands. If you own property on an island you need a boat. Some boats are large. Some boats are fancy. But some boats, which are neither large nor fancy, worm their way into our hearts---boats like Lil’ Bill.
By Lynn McElfresh, Grenell Island
Lynn is a regular contributor to TI Life, writing stories dealing with her favorite Grenell Island and island life. You can see Lynn’s 69 articles here – as she helps us move pianos, fix the plumbing and walk with nature… As Editor, I have the pleasure of seeing “what’s next,” first!