The summer of ’78 was in full swing. The weather was superb, mid 80’s during the day, with low humidity, upper fifties to lower sixties at night, perfect sleeping weather.
Life could not have been better if we had special ordered it. But, like any young, 17-year-old kids, we at the time did not know that. We couldn’t! We had no wisdom or experience out on our own.
This particular July day started out clear and cool. My best friend, then and still (through letters and phone calls) and I were together for a few days, staying aboard my family’s Hatteras Sportfish Yacht, Ginger III, moored at Cape Vincent, New York.
We planned a cruise up the River in our run-about, an 18-foot bow-rider. We had been up the River a few miles in the past, but today was different. Dad figured it was time to cut these two responsible teenagers loose. We were going UP THE RIVER, two hours up the River, to a place with many fond memories; a place on the back side of Wellesley Island, called Waterson State Park. This would be the farthest we had ever been with ‘my’ boat, affectionately named ‘Bobcat.’
I set the tachometer at a comfortable 3000 RPM, which gave us a cruise speed of 22 knots. This little vessel did not have a tremendous fuel capacity, 18 gallons, so I needed to be somewhat careful of her fuel flow, although she didn’t have a fuel flow gauge. Through several years of experience with this boat and many hours at her helm, I knew her like the back of my hand. I knew I had a good four hours with reserves. Mike and I had the world by the tail this day.
We talked about the future, our plans down the road, the past year at school, our senior year that lay ahead. We talked about what we would do, when graduation came, and we knew that we would part. We both got misty talking about parting, so decided not to talk about it again this trip, although not talking about it did not stop our feelings. We knew that life would never be the same for us again. We tried to take in the moment as best we could.
I had the charts out, carefully navigating the tricky channels of the St. Lawrence Seaway. From the years on the River, I knew that if you touch bottom here, you touch rocks, and most certainly you would be towed at best, possibly sunk at worst. Yes, the bottom of this River is unforgiving.
With my first solo trip up the River, the last thing I wanted to have happen was to botch it. As the channel began to narrow, I began to slow. I’ve always been, and still am with a boat, under the impression that you will do a lot less damage going slow, if in fact you do miss a buoy or marker.
On the way to Waterson, Mike and I ate the picnic lunch that Mom had packed for us, circled some of the private islands in the area and took in the sights. We finally made our way over to the dock at Waterson State Park, arriving there about noon. We swam, explored, hiked, gazed at the sunbathing co-eds on the passing yachts, wondering if any of them would be interested in joining us. None did.
We figured we had about two hours to play, before we had to head back to the Cape, allowing time for a fuel stop, which would be an absolute necessity. I stood on the end of the dock, when a thought hit me like a 2x4 to the head!
“Hey, Buddy! How about a second day here?” Mike looked at me like I had ten heads. He thought I had too much sun about now. We had no sleeping facilities, no shower, no toilets, and no running water. We were only one step up from the ‘S.S. Minnow’ on Gilligan’s Island. We did have a boat that ran and floated. Mike tried not to laugh at me, but couldn’t help it. “Dan, the facilities are a little sparse here.” He and I knew each other too well, nearly like he was a soul mate. Sometimes I think he was. We looked at the radio, then back at each other. “Dan, make the call! Do you think they will come up here?”
It was a rather brief conversation. After hearing the weather forecast for the remainder of the day, and the promising sunset that lay ahead, it was no-brainer. One quick stop to the fuel dock for them, and they were also underway. Two and a half hours later, they arrived. To this day, I can still see in my mind the sight of that beautiful vessel, closing in on the dock, where we had spent the afternoon.
Mom snapped a photo, as she so often did and still does to this day. Another memory was permanently etched onto film. Looking at the picture today is very symbolic: Mom and Dad peering off the bow into the future, its course charted only by the imaginations of two young men. Mike and I stood on the end of that dock, gazing at the past, our formative years, very quickly drawing to a close. The future and the past were about to come together for a brief stay on a beautiful island.
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.
Be sure to see Dan’s first TI Life article: Rite of Passage and Passing the Torch