I was captivated by the challenge of learning to navigate the St Lawrence River within a ten-mile radius from Comfort Island.
Geologists say that the 1000 Islands were formed from an ancient mountain range that has been whittled down to their present size over millions of years. I know of no island of the eighteen hundred in this chain that has an elevation of more than a hundred feet or so, and there hundreds and perhaps thousands of would-be islands that never were prominent enough to rise above the water surface. Just below the surface these rock obstructions lurk in wait of the unsuspecting boater. Areas like Chippewa Bay, Thousand Islands Park and Ivy Lea are notorious for their rock-infested waters.
Hundreds of island clusters, coves and tricky channels within a ten-mile radius were hard for me to comprehend. When I added learning the location of a thousand hidden shoals to the observable landscape, I realized the scope of this task was monumental. I spent many days and countless hours scouring various areas to plot routes I could take for the pleasure of cruising or simply to reach a desired destination. I prided myself in knowing my way around many scenic and often tricky sections of the river.
I’d take my outboard and follow tour boats and other larger boats to learn new sections. I used charts to explore other areas upriver and down. I gradually developed various routes and tours I liked to repeat, and one tour I came to enjoy more than others was the route around the big island across from Comfort Island or Wellesley Island. It is a good twenty miles to circle Wellesley. I had heard stories about fishing guides rowing their customers long distances in the days of my great grandparents. A few individuals during this 1960s period reported rowing around Wellesley, and I liked the idea of adding my name to the short list of those accomplishing this feat. Toward the end of August 1965, I launched Bobby from the rowboat slide and began my attempt to row the full way around.
I had decided to go the more difficult route against the stronger current upriver to the head of Wellesley. The main channel going upriver had a variety of summer cottages dotting both the New York mainland and Wellesley Island too, but there are no more than a few islands here and there. The Canadian side of Wellesley Island is quite different with a myriad of islands many of which are in clusters. The setting on the Canadian side was more tranquil and cottages were less abundant.
In rowing a skiff, you have to look over your shoulder to see where you’re going and mostly you see where you have been. There is a rhythm to this long-distance rowing. I remember the feeling of the muscles in my arms, shoulders, back and legs applying a pulling pressure to the oars stroke after stroke at a pace I was able to maintain for a span of perhaps fifteen or twenty minutes without resting briefly then repeating the process. Aside from the squeaking of oars moving back and forth...