To celebrate both of us turning 80 and our 60th wedding anniversary, my husband, David, and I took a long-distance cruise on the Down East Circle Route. The journey took more than 2,000 miles from New York Harbor through the Erie Canal and the St. Lawrence River, around Nova Scotia, and down the New England coast, ending back in New York Harbor.
You can read part one here.
June 23-25: Oswego, New York
After leaving early from Brewerton, New York, we approached the next lock with some trepidation.
With our son Dave gone, I had sole responsibility for lines and fenders. I positioned the fenders
high and low on the starboard side and prepared to catch one of the lock’s hanging lines with my
bow hook. All went well, but then again, we always have much less turbulence downlocking than
We exited the lock to a beautiful scene: Pine trees and lovely, large homes—many with gazebos out
front—lined the banks. We had another sunny, beautiful day with little wind. Large faded red barns
with adjacent silos proclaimed the area’s rural history. Laundry hung from clotheslines, and flocks
of Canadian geese dove into the river with their rears sticking up like white flags.
To our dismay, a tug pushing a small barge came into view before the next lock. Commercial vessels
have priority, so we had to follow it all day. Since none of the locks could hold the tug, barge, and our boat at the same time, we had to wait between 15 and 20 minutes each time while tied to a bollard on shore and keeping the bow thruster engaged so we didn’t hit the concrete walls. As we approached the junction of three rivers (Seneca, Oswego, and Erie), we prepared to exit the Erie for the Oswego. We hoped that the tug and his cargo would continue on the Erie, but that did not happen.
Several smaller boats accompanied us in most of the locks. The occupants weren’t happy with our
diesel fumes, and neither was I. Each time I moved toward the stern to adjust fenders or pull on a
line, I got a blast of fumes. After nine locks, we were relieved to reach Oswego on the shore of
Lake Ontario. Docking at the small Oswego Marina, we decided it was a good place for more rest and
The following day, we put the radar arch, antennas, and canvas back up as there were no more low
bridges on our journey. Our satellite television reception was immediately restored, and our GPS
Wednesday continued to be stormy, so we delayed our departure. Unfortunately, the storm blew the
canvas over the bridge loose, causing a tear that would need to be repaired when everything dried out.
June 26-29: Sackets Harbor, New York
After the rain departed, the weather turned sunny and warm. We mended the tear in the bimini with Gorilla tape, which required standing on small ladders and climbing onto the console. Being careful not to fall, we finished much of the work needed to secure the canvas. Helpers from the marina arrived and did the final tugging and zipping to finish the job.
A beautiful expanse of calm blue water, Lake Ontario is 53 miles wide and 193 miles long with an average depth of 283 feet. Some places are more than 800 feet deep. One of the five Great Lakes, Lake Ontario is governed jointly by Canada and the United States. We set the boat on autopilot, David took a nap, and I watched the GPS while working on my needlepoint. We saw only two small sailboats on the way to Sackets Harbor, New York.
A battleground during the War of 1812, Sackets Harbor was a thriving boat-building community and a naval base during World War II. Today it’s a small, picturesque village with historic homes and buildings. Our marina, Navy Point Marine, was a few blocks from the small downtown area.
After talking with some Canadian friends we first met in Watertown, we visited several shops on Main Street and perused the menus of five or six restaurants. Tonight, our galley was closed.
We had a drink and appetizers at The Boathouse. Housed in an authentic boathouse from the past century, the restaurant has a sleek, modern interior. We enjoyed sitting on its spacious deck overlooking the harbor and our boat docked across the way.
For dinner, we chose a charming, little place with outside dining in a garden-like setting. Ferns, hostas, blooming plants, and tall trees with overhanging branches made Tin Pan Galley the most appealing place in town. We enjoyed a wonderful meal listening to music from an accomplished pianist and singer.
On Friday we tackled postponed projects. The hatch to the bridge from the aft deck leaked badly and had become discolored. David brought out his “Home Depot” of supplies and tools and began to work. Not satisfied with a simple cosmetic fix, he decided to do major sanding and varnishing, and replaced the worn seal with a new one. This was not a job to be completed quickly.
Since our supply of wine was depleted and Sackets Harbor sells spirits only in restaurants, we ordered a case of wine from a vendor in Watertown that offered prompt delivery. Equipped with wine, cheeses, olives, bruschetta, and fruit, we were ready to entertain.
Our Canadian friends, Michael and Sylvia, joined us for the evening. Although they lived in Canada, they often visited England for long periods and planned to buy a longboat, commonly used on English canals and waterways, and live on it in England for part of each year.
Tanya Binford, who had been with us in Amsterdam, arrived in the marina a few hours earlier and joined us as well. Her expert solo handling of her 25-foot Ranger tug amazed everyone. A psychiatric nurse from Tucson,
Arizona, Tanya resolved several years ago to buy a boat and complete the Great Loop. She was fulfilling a dream!
She said the Erie Canal locks had been a formidable challenge. After being battered and bruised on several early locks, she talked to the lockmasters, who gave her an easy lift with much less turbulence. Tanya has since published a book on her Great Loop journey called “Crossing the Wake.” She refers to us as “an elderly couple,” but we have forgiven her! This evening proved again that people are the most interesting part of travel.
Waking to a beautiful sunny day, we walked to a nearby War of 1812 battleground—now a lovely expanse of green lawn studded with tall trees overlooking the bay. Several stone monuments commemorate the area’s historical events. The following evening, we returned for a free outdoor concert by local musicians, who played great jazz and swing tunes.
June 30-July 5: Clayton, New York
Having read glowing reports of Alexandria Bay, New York, we were eager to dock there. After many, many calls to the town’s marinas, we couldn’t find space. Since it was near the July 4th holiday, all the slips for boats our size had been booked months ago. A fellow boater in Sackets Harbor suggested we go to Clayton, which he liked better. After more phone calls, I booked space at the family-owned Pier 225. Brian, the dockmaster, assured me we would have plenty of depth for docking, although our chart showed only 3 feet. Heavy rains during the spring months had raised the river’s water level.
Our brief journey to Clayton was delightful. Small villages and lovely homes presented an idyllic scene. We found our marina tucked into a small cove on the southern side of town. Brian, who ran Pier 225 singlehandedly, provided us with excellent dockage that included a great view of the harbor from the aft deck. We had no problems with depth.
Six blocks away, Clayton’s main area has plenty of shops, galleries, and restaurants. A lovely, active small town, Clayton retains its charms with new structures blending well with attractive Victorian homes and their well-kept gardens.
On Tuesday, we took a tour boat from Clayton to the Alexandria Bay area and Boldt Castle. The covered pontoon had more than ample room for the 10 passengers on board. The excellent tour guide gave historical information mixed in with local legend and gossip. Going down the river, we crossed to the Canadian side through The Needle, a narrow passage with dangerous shoals that had wrecked numerous small craft. We spotted a bald eagle high in a tree and numerous ospreys nesting on top of markers. For years, this area had been the summer favorite of scores of Canadians and Americans, with many homes being owned by generations of the same family.
A major tourist attraction, Boldt Castle on Heart Island is directly across from Alexandria Bay. Built by hotel magnate George Boldt as a gift to his beloved wife, Louise, the castle remains unfinished more than 100 years later. When his wife died suddenly, Boldt sent word to stop all work. The workers laid down their tools and left the island. Boldt never returned, and the building deteriorated for years. In the 1970s, New York State bought the site for $1 with an agreement that the castle could be restored but never finished. All monies collected from tourism to the site go into the restoration work. To date, more than $47 million has been spent to restore the buildings and enhance the grounds with lush plants and flowers. Furnishings have been added to the house, and it’s easy for visitors to imagine how wonderful the finished house would have been.
On July 3, Brian’s friend took us on a two-hour car tour of the Clayton area. The highlight was a visit to Thousand Island Park. Begun over 100 years ago as a Methodist summer vacation place, Thousand Island Park is a unique community of mostly early 20th-century Victorian homes. With large trees, expansive lawns, and few automobiles, this enclave hosts many of the same families year after year. An original wooden tabernacle retains its sawdust floor and open setting. We were glad we stayed in Clayton as we found touristy Alexandria Bay crowded and loud.
That evening we enjoyed a wonderful view of Clayton’s great fireworks show from our aft deck. The following day, we joined Brian and two friends on the dock for drinks and dinner. Brian cooked juicy, tender ribs, and we provided the sides. We celebrated our nation’s birthday with cool weather and memorable sunset.
July 5, our final day in Clayton, was our last opportunity to visit the renowned Antique Boat Museum. Housed in beautiful green and beige buildings near our marina, the museum is first-class in every way. We toured the huge houseboat built by George Boldt (and later owned by two others), which has 11 bathrooms, servants’ quarters, a dance floor, a Steinway piano, nine bedrooms and no engine. A tug towed this massive boat from place to place. Before donating it to the museum, the last owners used it as a summer home.
The museum has an amazing collection of wooden boats. Separate wings house racing boats, a boat building shop, historic canoes and fabulous touring boats. This popular museum is a mecca for those who admire the craftsmanship and innovative techniques of early boat builders.
The journey resumes in Brockville, Ontario, Canada, in Part III of the “Octogenarian Odyssey,” out in Winter 2022.