I first discovered the Thousand Islands three days into a CYA sailing course that was basically a boat camp for sailors.

It was the end of September. We’d been underway twenty-four hours a day. Our skipper/instructor finally took mercy on us – no doubt persuaded by the odiferous crew – and instructed us to tie up to a dock at Mermaid Island in St. Lawrence Islands National Park.

The leaves were just beginning to turn – blushing maples, oak leaves gilded in gold.

I dove into crystal waters, floating lazily, staring out at the sun falling into the west, its rays burnishing the waters of the St. Lawrence.

Looking for respite from both the peccadilloes and the aroma of my crewmates, I towelled off, changed into warmer clothes and climbed a granite ridge. I found a spot atop a fifteen-metre cliff and watched the day decay into night, lights on the cottages on the nearby islands twinkling like Santa’s eyes.

I was smitten.

If I’d ever needed a reason to come back to the Thousand Islands, I’d just discovered it in no uncertain terms.

A thousand good reasons, to be precise.

Fast forward to a perfect August morning, my wife and I trudging along a gravel road above Chippewa Bay in the eastern reaches of the island chain. The road turns back and forth on itself, at last opening up on a rolling meadow.

On the right side of the road tall grasses sway in the breezes scurrying along the river, twenty shades of green punctuated by an explosion of wildflowers. Purple loosestrife, goldenrod, white lady’s slippers.

It is the perfect foreground for a perfect picture.

And one more good reason.

Background is a necklace of islands carved from granite, strewn like jewels across sapphire waters. The current etches a mosaic of patterns onto the surface. Blue skies and inverted pine and cedar trees are mirrored in the places the current bypasses.

A rustic cottage dominates one island. A Victorian mansion with dormered windows, wraparound porches, a massive boathouse, teal-painted clapboard facades with butter-coloured trim and twin towers, capped by candle-snuffer roofs, holds court on another.

A castle with turrets rises up from Dark Island, boasting an electrical plant designed by Thomas Edison, secret passageways, a dungeon. A slice of Europe snugged down in the current of one of North America’s premier waterways, a body of water as full of history as it is full of boaters.

And as full of surprises.

Anywhere else in North America a castle would be an anachronism. Anywhere else the juxtaposition of blue water, green forest and these turrets would jar the senses.

But not here. Here the castle works. And there’s even a nautical connection. Gilbert Bourne, one-time president of the Singer Sewing Machine Company, commissioned its construction. He was once the commodore of the New York Yacht Club.

And Singer Castle isn’t the only – or even most famous castle – here. Boldt Castle, near Alexandria Bay, sees more yearly visitors and is a quick cruise from Alexandria Bay or Gananoque.

Nor are these fairy-tale constructs the only startling anomalies.

One morning we see two sea kayakers, one green, one yellow, sharing wind-ruffled waters with a three-hundred-metre-long freighter, beside a sailboat, beside a mahogany runabout riding the wake of a great white tour boat.

All on a thousand-kilometre water route known as the St. Lawrence. Gateway to Canada, guardian of North America.

But it’s not just the sheer scope of the river that makes the area such an attractive cruising ground. This waterway cradles more than a millennium of islands.

“They’re the extremely ancient roots of mountains,” says Don Ross, a Hill Island resident and the author of Discovering the Thousand Islands. They form a geological bridge that connects the heights of the Canadian Shield to the Adirondacks, an arch of granite that almost, but not quite, blocks the easterly flow of water from the Great Lakes.

“Actually closer to eighteen hundred islands,” says former Thousand Islands tourism representative, Suzanne Bixby. “Some we haven’t even counted. Supposed to have two trees and supposed to be above water all year.”

One day, Ron Mowers, a resident of Tennis Island and skipper of a beautifully-maintained Egg Harbor 33’ named “19th Hole,” pilots us on a nautical tour of the archipelago. From the flying bridge, Mowers points at a little island near Boldt Castle. It has one tree.

“Doesn’t qualify,” says Bixby, who’s come along for the ride.

But more than a thousand do.

On another journey here we ply these waters in a runabout skippered by Don Ross himself; I discover even more reasons to love the place.

I’m a history buff. This is history’s haven.

The Battle of the Thousand Islands was waged here in 1760 between the British and the French. Ross skippers us into a serpentine channel bedecked by granite boulders and wind-crippled pines. “The French lured the British into this passage,” he says. “The British lost the wind and steerageway. The French pounded their ships.”

The island names are eloquent testimony to that bellicose past. The Navy Islands bear the names of ship captains from the British Navy; the Admiralty group memorializes different admirals. Death Dealer, Camelot, Dumbfounder and Endymion are all named for British warships. The Brock Island group and Wolfe, the biggest island here, are both named for British generals.

But the islands themselves only tell part of the history.

Kingston offers it up like a gourmet meal. Tour a penitentiary museum, learn the art of war at a Martello tower, a fortification unique to this region, and visit Old Fort Henry or the Bellevue House, the restored one-time residence of John A. MacDonald. Check out the Marine Museum of the Great Lakes right on the shores of Lake Ontario and stroll through a Coast Guard ice-breaker.

Alexandria Bay on the American side began life as a lumber trade site. It sported a wealth of wharves around the 1830s and was recognized as a tourist must-do when Ulysses Grant visited nearby Pullman Island in 1872.

Explore the Cornwall Brothers store, built in 1829 and now an interesting museum, or take a historic walking tour of this village down by the riverside.

Clayton, also on the American side, offers a wealth of period architecture, much of it reflecting the importance of the river to trade. Store fronts are refurbished to period authenticity and are uniquely positioned: open to the water as much as to the street, boasting plate glass windows at both ends – street side and water side. A variety of patios and balconies overlook the river. These buildings offer a multitude of delights to shoppers – from gift shops to antique galleries to a couple of great art galleries.

Take a historic walking tour here or visit one of the three museums. The Antique Boat Museum offers unforgettable glimpses of the history of boating in general and insight into the role that recreational boating has always played on these waters.

But a love of history isn’t the only – or even the best – reason to go ashore.

Alexandria Bay – locals call it “A Bay” – boasts more than its share of establishments offering up liquid libations to a multitude of boaters – and a party atmosphere that makes it well worth a visit. Just make sure you book an overnight berth. You will not want to leave until morning – if then.

Sip a cool one in the Caribbean ambiance of the lounge at Dock by the Bay or stretch out on the patio beside the pier beneath brightly coloured umbrellas. Stroll across the street and admire the view from Top of the Bay with its battleship-grey railings and two-leveled deck and its own small dock. Check out The Islander or Pirates’ Pub. Or pull into Skiffs, with its horseshoe-shaped bar and a Jolly Roger flag hanging over the bandstand, where you can get a glass of wine and a large beer with free peanuts – and receive change from your ten-dollar bill. “Just throw the shells on the floor,” quips the bartender.

Then there’s Kingston. Hit ten different pubs in one night, each a walk from your berth at Confederation Basin. Sip beer brewed onsite at Kingston Brewing Company or sample one or two or three from a selection of thirty different whiskeys at Tir nan Og.

Next morning redeem yourself by imbibing in a bit of culture. Kingston’s got its own symphony orchestra, a blues festival, the annual Buskers’ Rendezvous.

Or head east to Gananoque – locals call it “Gan” – and catch a live show at the Summer Playhouse Theatre.

But the best reasons to visit here are still nautical: all else is but icing on the cake.

Last summer we ventured here yet again, to be regaled by the sight of a conflagration of white sails, graceful and plentiful as a flock of seagulls, the entire horizon line decorated with a plethora of dinghies participating in the annual CORK Regatta off Kingston.

It’s incontrovertible evidence of this area’s primacy as a boater’s playground, if not one of the world’s best freshwater cruising areas.

During our boat ride with Don Ross we pass an anchorage at Endymion Island. Ross slows the boat. Set against a background of evergreen forest, three or four mooring balls bob in the gentle waves. A heron stands in the shallows like a Renaissance statue.

“This is what it’s all about,” says Ross. “More anchorages than dock spaces. Maybe three hundred transient berths. More than two thousand anchorages.”

Other local favourites include Thwart way (Leek) Island, Brakey Bay south of Howe and the east side of Mulcaster. Then again, given the numbers Ross tosses around, you’ll have no trouble finding your own.

If you’re looking for a compromise you “could still find a dock in great natural settings,” says Bixby. “On the Canadian side a number of spots in the St. Lawrence Islands National Park offer dockage with some facilities. You can berth at a marina at Wellesley Island or Keewaydin State Park.”

Or simply drop the hook in a bay to call your own, get out your book, hoist your hammock, then while away an evening soothed by the scent of pine.

We spend the last evening of our last visit here ensconced on a balcony overlooking the parade ground at Old Fort Henry. It’s the Wednesday sunset ceremony, held all summer in the limestone citadel guarding both the approaches to Kingston itself and the vanguard of a regiment of islands scattered to our east.

From the ramparts on the fort’s southeast walls you can see trees clinging desperately to barren lichen-painted humps of granite on Cedar Island, defined by the red roof and squat walls of a defensive Martello tower, fortified companion sentinel to the fort itself.

We’ve already been serenaded by a local community band; we’ve had ringside seats to a mock conflict, the flashes from muskets like fireflies in the night sky. Cannon blasts have reverberated across the square, swathing the red-coated soldiers in blue-grey smoke.

And now the lights dim, leaving a lone spotlight focused on a bagpiper standing high on the fortress walls.

The eerie lament causes a sudden tightness in my chest, a sense of pride in my heritage, a sense of awe at the sights we’ve seen, at the richness of this archipelago we’ve experienced this week – a microcosm of all that is Canada itself.

The piper launches into an eventide hymn. The flag is lowered, a bugle calls out.

The crowd is silent here where Lake Ontario meets the St. Lawrence, where a smattering of out islands – Howe and Wolfe and Amherst – melds seamlessly into a thousand others.

The crowd rises as one person. We sing “O Canada” in harmony.

The last stirring chord echoes through the walls of the citadel.

I realize, listening to the last dying tones, that I have discovered yet another great reason – but one more in a multitude of convincing excuses – to come back to the Thousand Islands.

Again and again and again.

By Mark Stevens Photographs by Sharon Matthews-Stevens

Four hundred influential artists, philanthropists, athletes, and business leaders set a new fundraising record at the 5th Annual Waterkeeper Gala in Toronto last Thursday, April 21...
Every year thousands of boaters go out on the ...
A view of the coastal waterways on Cape Breton ...
On the heels of Earth Day last week this film ...
Spinlock has been handed Britain's top business ...
Many aerial drones now feature a Follow Me mode – ...
  • MJM 50z with Triple Volvo Penta IPS 600 Engines
  • The Azores Islands with Distant Shores and Canadian Yachting
  • CY's Galley Guys cook Asparagus and enjoy it with  Whitehaven wine
  • 2016 Azimut 55 S Yacht Sea Trial with Andy Adams of Canadian Yachting
  • Neptunus 650 Express Tour with Canadian Yachting Magazine
  • Yacht Controller Founder Gerald Burton Describes This Precision Docking Innovation
  • Explore the new Cruisers 60 Cantius with Andy Adams and Canadian Yachting
  • Beneteau GT40 Sneak Peek with Canadian Yachting's John Armstrong
  • Galley Guys at Krates Marina in Keswick, Ontario
  • Executive Yacht at Toronto Outer Harbour with Canadian Yachting Magazine
  • Diane Reid - Clipper Round the World Race - The Countdown is On
  • Port Credit Spring In-Water Boat Show with Canadian Yachting Magazine
  • 2016 Neptunus 62 Launch with Canadian Yachting
  • Enjo Outdoor Cleaning Kit - Chemical Free Cleaning Solutions for your Boat
  • Keeping Diesel Fuel Clean Part III - Water Separators - Ask the Experts
  • Launch Day 2015, Midland Bay Sailing Club with Canadian Yachting magazine
  • Keeping Diesel Fuel Clean Part II - Filters - Ask the Experts
  • Mystic Seaport Museum with Canadian Yachting magazine
  • Marine Museum of the Great Lakes with Canadian Yachting magazine
  • Kingston’s Pumphouse Steam Museum with Canadian Yachting magazine
  • Antique Boat Museum Clayton NY with Canadian Yachting magazine
  • Shrink Wrapping a 16 ft Glastron Bowrider for Winter Storage
  • Flare Disposal with CPS-ECP's John Gullick and Canadian Yachting
  • Keeping Diesel Fuel Clean Part I: Biocide  - CY's Ask the Experts

Destinations

  • Prev
We had been out on the ocean for 17 days, just the two of us, keeping watch around the clock. One ...
We’re leaving the dock early in the morning in order to catch the incoming tide that will carry us ...
The sunny sky suddenly turned black as we waited on the blue line for our turn to enter the mammoth ...
Morning. Thompson Island on Lake Superior. Fourteen nautical miles out of Thunder Bay. Perfect ...
Cruising on Canada’s East Coast, at least for those who have never been there, can conjure up ...
We are taking off from Antigua and are tightly belted into our twin-engine, seven-seater ...
We were cruising for two weeks in Gwaii Haanas. Spread out among three boats, (a Campion, a ...
Glancing down into the water as I prepared to furl in the genoa for the approach to the Tobago ...
Boaters visiting historic Gig Harbor will be rewarded with one of the most extensive and sheltered ...
Saturday, July 18th, 2015  the Port of Newcastle invites you to their 21st Annual Wooden Boat ...

Exploring Lake Superior
Story By Mark Stevens • Photographs by Sharon Matthews-Stevens

Morning. Thompson Island on Lake Superior. Fourteen nautical miles out of Thunder Bay.

Perfect weather.

This begins on Day Two because we cast off yesterday and conditions precluded time spent below deck with my nose buried in “Frodo’s” logbook: co-operative winds, scenery that could make a politician cry, waves decorating cobalt waters that glittered like jewels in a crown.

Read more about Exploring Lake Superior...

 

Boat Reviews

  • Prev
The Luna 24/SL brochure emphasizes “cruising comfort for four” but it’s some ...
Ray Wall's enviable track record of design achievements includes products for both Camper and ...
The Doral 250 Ci­tation is a top-of-the-line mini-cruiser offering an in-cabin galley, private ...
No matter who designs Baltic's boats, they all come out looking great and, amazingly enough, ...
A glance at the sail plan of Meridian tells you this boat is fun-and fast. It looks as though the ...
Have you ever realized, while sipping drinks in the cockpit after a friendly Wednesday-night race, ...
The CS 30, the lat­est addition to the CS family of yachts, made its debut early this year and ...
A stylish sport cruiser from a traditional company.
Beneteau Yachts and Naval Architects Nuvolari - Lenard, really have the new Gran Turismo 40 dialed ...
The Carver Riviera 28 Aft Cabin, featuring distinctive styling with a true international flavor, ...

Beneteau GT 35Andy Adams

Great performance in a versatile, modern design

For the Canadian Yachting readers who are not yet familiar with Beneteau’s broad range of power boat models, the Gran Turismo 35 may come as a bit of a surprise. Our test boat is a head-on competitor to the North American built express cruisers and the latest day boats that are coming on the market.

The GT35 has the style and amenities to match the best new designs in it’s size range, the stern drive power to deliver exhilarating high speed performance plus, it still adds in an overtone of Euro style.

Read more: Beneteau GT 35...

Lifestyle

  • Prev
In the heart of the Huronia wilderness, the Jesuits established the first French outpost outside of ...
It is always an interesting dilemma when crossing into another country; what exactly should one say ...
Like many other harbours on Lake Ontario, Cobourg has seen its fair share of changes. Screams used ...
Bermuda is the host country for the 35th America’s Cup, set to take place in 2017, a competition ...
In 1791, a 36 foot sailboat from Spain, captained by Don Jose Maria Narvaez anchored off Point Grey ...
Mark Mattson is a man of gentle demeanor but don’t be fooled by his calm, cool collectedness. This ...
We hear about the plastic problem in our oceans all the time. Scientists on the media talk to us ...
Thick beef stew you can make in any galley, over a campfire or at home.  Good eaten from a bowl or ...
As summer becomes a distant memory, see if you can close your eyes and recall those glorious days ...
The Halifax Harbour is well known not only to mariners and historians, but also to most Canadians ...

Cobourg Yacht Club - 2015 Sailing instructorsKatherine Stone

Like many other harbours on Lake Ontario, Cobourg has seen its fair share of changes. Screams used to be heard from kids piled into a toboggan on wheels that went hurtling down a wooden slide into the harbour. Above it all was the bustling din from the waterfront of ship’s whistles, train engines, foghorns and thundering coal cars. It is now a rather serene place for the locals and visitors to enjoy various watercraft. Fortunately, the beautiful beach that lines the waterfront is still a star attraction for the town.

Located 95 kilometres east of Toronto and 62 kilometres east of Oshawa on the north edge of Lake Ontario, United Empire Loyalists first starting arriving in the area as early as the 1780s. The first settlement in 1798 was called Buckville, later renamed Amherst, then called Hamilton (after the township) and also nicknamed Hardscrabble. It wasn’t until 1819 that they finally settled on the name of Cobourg, which was incorporated as a town in 1837. In the late 1820s large schooners with passengers and cargo had to anchor well off shore, as there was only a landing wharf. A group of Toronto businessmen formed the Cobourg Harbour Company which built the wooden Eastern Pier from tolls charged for the use of the harbour.

Read more: Cobourg Yacht Club...

Galley Guys - a toast!

Katherine Stone

Oh sure…boaters love to go boating, but some also like to, you guessed it: stroll. One of the great things about boating the north shore of Lake Ontario is pulling into Cobourg Harbour to tie up for a visit and walk about town in a leisurely or idle manner. Boat strollers are easily picked out around town, sporting Sperry Top-Siders that are a little worn out, sunglasses held on by a Croakie or duct tape, burgee embroidered canvas tote bags, clothes that are a little crumpled and a displaying a few days’ worth of facial hair.

Read more: Galley Guys Cobourg...

DIY & How to

  • Prev
Informed estimates are that barely 10% of Canadian pleasure craft have underwater lighting but in ...
Comfort and convenience are important factors both to keep boaters enjoying boating as well as to ...
Winterizing your boat in the fall is important and may be a daunting task for some boat owners.  ...
Boaters who prefer to be on the hook, such as ourselves in our Islander 36 sailboat Holole’a, ...
Will traditional paper charts soon be a thing of the past? And what will that mean for recreational ...
With built in functions for radar, weather, chart plotters, engine data, and radio controls, boat ...
Understanding how systems really work – and degrade over the winter – can help you prepare your ...
The Interlux® Boat Paint Guide has gone digital with the launch of a free app for Apple® IOS and ...
Convenient, Cool and Low-cost!From simple organizational Apps for your smart phone to complete ...

Marine Products

  • Prev
The day before it revealed its 16-camera Odyssey rig at Google I/O last year, GoPro announced it ...
Cutting-edge technology and effortless style were on display at Coal Harbour Marina, as M&P ...
Leading marine power generation manufacturer Northern Lights has introduced the Tough Series ...
For all intents and purposes, the Mercedes S-Class Convertible is the perfect car for a seaside ...
VMG Marine, Canadian distributor for NASA Marine Instruments UK, is pleased to announce a new ...
On 25 February, the 100th Lagoon 620 left the shipyard with great ceremony. All those who ...
Jarrett Bay 54 refit featuring Aqualuma Generation 4 18 Series LEDs
Life today demands a 24/7 connection, but reception on the water is notoriously uneven. Dropped ...
The Early Detection & Rapid Response (EDRR) Network Ontario project, co-delivered by the ISC ...
It may finally be the end of the “Big fish story” with today’s announcement from GoFree, ...