Editor’s Note: “How I miss the Thousand Islands,” is a sentence I see in emails every month. One of those came from Dan Mack, who spent summers in Cape Vincent, NY, throughout his youth. Dan submitted “Rite of Passage” first, and followed with “Passing the Torch.” This editor gladly accepted both, as they describe the joy and excitement so many of us felt when we had our first day at the helm.
Rite of Passage
This picture of my Dad and me was taken late in July, 1978.
To this day I can still hear the growl of the big block GM’s rumbling beneath the floor of the main salon, ten feet below where I was sitting. As is evident from the picture, the St. Lawrence River was absolutely flat, except for the wake of a few vessels, including ours, out enjoying the setting sun. The look on my face did not reflect a moment of joy; rather deep concentration. I was in training
for the coming voyage that occurred every September.
Summers were enjoyed in the sleepy fishing village of Cape Vincent, New York. During the long, cold winter, “Ginger III,” a 38-foot Hatteras Convertible, spent her time in storage closer to our home in Cicero, New York.
We always tried to be in Cape Vincent sometime around the first week of June and would plan on departing close to Labor Day, for the day-long voyage home. This trip consisted of a 50-mile trek across the eastern end of Lake Ontario, to the Port of Oswego, New York. From there, through eight locks on the Barge Canal to our home port on Oneida Lake, near Cicero.
Summer of 1978 was a particularly warm season, with hot, humid days and warm evenings. We did not do a lot of cruising that year, but took many evening rides out to Tibbetts Point Light and back. Dad had quietly put “Ginger III” on the market that year, so quietly that I did not realize it; and I knew almost everything about that vessel. By late summer, August to be exact, I was the sole operator of this immaculate Hatteras.
I didn’t find out she was up for sale until just before our trip to Cicero, in September. I was seventeen, bound for my senior year of High School. After graduation, I was starting a new chapter in my life by going to college in Daytona Beach, Florida. Dad decided he did not want to keep “Ginger III” without me.
When dawn broke on that early September morning in 1978, the peace and quiet of Anchor Marina were shattered by “Ginger III” for the last time. The weather was perfect as I brought the twin 454’s to life for the trip home. We passed Tibbetts Point Light, as the sun broke the horizon behind us. I brought the throttles up to 3000 RPMs; “Ginger III” climbed out of the hole, and I took one last look at The Cape. Though the sun was rising for a beautiful crossing, I realized it was setting on my summer life, I had grown to love.
Passing the Torch
The day started cool and crisp, a bit cooler than normal, even for a late February morning in northeast Florida. Sleep eluded me due to anticipation of the coming day, a day my soon-to-be 15-year-old son would be the sole operator of the “Irish Rover”, and I would become his First Mate.
“Irish Rover”, a Bayliner Capri, is a vessel built in the year 2000 and powered by a 4 cylinder inboard/outboard. Nothing fancy and certainly not real valuable, but a great tool for family outings. Adam and Teresa and I had been out many times on this little vessel, and over the years I let Adam get some helm time, as my Dad did with me so many years ago. But, as Adam has matured into a young man, the time has approached for him to do more than just ‘helm time.’ Adam acquired his Boater’s Safety Certificate late in 2015. Due to the rather hectic holiday schedule, with Thanksgiving and Christmas close together, there was not time to properly initiate his certificate. Finally, on a cool February Saturday, the day had arrived. The holes in the Swiss cheese were all lining up and the stars fell into place with our schedules. I was actually home on a Saturday, a rarity in itself, when Adam had nothing to do. The boat, “Irish Rover”, (if you really know me, you’ll understand the name) was gassed up and sitting in the driveway, hooked up to the pickup and ready for a new skipper. A friend of Adam’s came along for the adventure. A third set of eyes is always a plus, and an extra set of helpful hands was a must on this particular day.
We arrived at the launch ramp, and after completing final safety checks, (lines attached and plug installed) the “Irish Rover” was floating once again. From this point on, this old skipper took on a supportive role. After watching his Dad many times, it was now time to let Adam take over. From engine start to backing out of the slip, I became the first mate and Adam was calling the shots. I was there if he needed me, and he knew that, but only called on me a couple times. I had briefed him numerous times about the need to slow down, should he become unsure of position, both geographically and in proximity of other boats. He had heard me say, many times I am sure, that far less damage will occur, when going slow, than when on plane. Obviously, he listened well.
Our adventure took us to one of our favorite spots in the summer, we affectionately call Water Ski Alley, which is really the main channel of the Intracoastal Waterway. This particular two-mile stretch is unpopulated, with houses and docks, so is a perfect opportunity for maneuvering and learning what the boat will do, at various speeds, and steep turn-arounds. Leaving the ‘Alley’ and proceeding further south towards New Smyrna, checking his navigation skills, which by the way were flawless, we arrived back at the main channel, much more inhabited by other boat traffic.
Proceeding Northbound, it came time to cross one of the trickier places on this particular route. From south to north, across the mouth of the Ponce Inlet, can be a mix of turbulent water, with numerous boats accelerating towards ocean adventures, and ebbing tide with an opposite wind. Unsure of the routing, he followed a much larger Motor Yacht, exactly what I would have done! Passing Ponce Inlet Lighthouse and Lighthouse Boatyard, is shallow and not well marked and can be very treacherous on a good day. Adam might have sensed my concern and offered me the helm, but I declined. He learned to watch the water and current, when there is a lack of markers. We also learned the difference between idle power and minimum steerage power. There is very little difference in speed and wake but an enormous difference in handling ability, especially with an outdrive-powered vessel.
We arrived at Adventure Yacht Harbor, home of Boondocks Restaurant, and he insisted that I take control for docking there. After a quick bite, we were once again underway, for our final mile back to the launch ramp. One of the hardest things to do with that boat, due mostly to the fact of its light weight, is to drive it up onto the trailer. Adam is a quick study, he did it with ease.
It’s nice to have a second Skipper in the family, for I see us taking a longer journey to St. Augustine this summer. Sitting out front and watching the river go by, with Adam in control, will be a pleasurable and relaxing experience.
By Dan Mack
Dan Mack grew up in Cicero, NY and spent most summers of his youth making the voyage back and forth by boat between Oneida Lake to Cape Vincent, NY. Then in 1979 he moved to Daytona Beach, Florida. He started his aviation career with Piedmont Airlines in 1986, which became US Airways in 1989. Although he does not visit the Thousand Islands often, he says his memories of the River will last forever.