Boating In The
Thousand Islands

By Kim Luman
Published: April/May 2013

It may not have always been smooth sailing, but island life finally turned this enthusiast into a real boater.

Photo of the Thousand IslandsPhoto: Ian Coristine

Each of the Thousand Islands is a unique kingdom, adorned with cottages,
shacks, or castles, and there are almost two thousand of them between
New York and Ontario on the St. Lawrence River.

My voyage through the Thousand Islands began more than four years ago when I started writing stories about the region, and founded Island Life Magazine. Writing about islands without a boat became something of a challenge. I had a kayak, but that wasn't going to get me far, so I explored the St. Lawrence River as a nautical hitchhiker, aboard tall ships, yachts, Sea-Doos, skiffs, and powerboats. The more I was out on the water, the more I began to love boating.

The Thousand Islands are world famous for its castles and cottages, its boathouses and storybook bridges. There are 1,865 islands, spanning two countries along this storied 50-mile stretch of the St. Lawrence River. You can see two castles on two islands in one day here: Boldt Castle on Heart Island near Alexandria Bay, New York, and Singer Castle on Dark Island in Chippewa Bay, New York. There are islands with idyllic names like Fairyland, and more menacing monikers like Deathdealer, and enchanting water worlds to explore like the timeless tranquility of the Lost Channel. So, it's not surprising the perfect way to truly discover this destination shared by Ontario and New York — between Kingston and Cape Vincent and Brockville and Morristown — is by boat.

Photo of Boldt Castle
Boldt Castle, a millionaire's gift to his wife, is now open to the public, with docking and tours.

The islands here are rugged creatures, pink granite and wind-swept pines slumbering under blankets of snow in the winter, but a boater's paradise in summer. Many islanders, a hearty breed of cottage owners on both sides of the border, return to the river as soon as the ice thaws. Boating is not just a recreation for them — it's a necessity of island life. I discovered this firsthand in the summer of 2011. I rented a small island on the Canadian side of Blacksnake Passage, with a rustic cottage in an area of the river known as the International Rift. What If Island (yes, "What If" is its name!) was 69 feet from New York's Wellesley Island. My golden retriever Stella swam to America on more than one occasion. What If looks out onto Lake of Isles, a favorite boating destination en route to the Rift, which takes boaters under the Thousand Islands International Bridge, bustling with traffic overhead, and transports them to an amazingly tranquil narrow ribbon of river between Ontario and New York.

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