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A Winter Islander

So you think you're a dedicated Thousand Islander? Dr. Dick Withington (also known as Doc) is enjoying his fourth consecutive winter at his cottage on Round Island, near Clayton. Today, January 14th, we received a copy of a newsletter to his friends.  We asked Dick if we could publish it as we received it.

There are several islanders who like Dick, live on Islands in the winter. Our February issue will have another Winter Islander story.  Please check back on February 15th.

Round Island, Tuesday, January 13th, 2009

Well, it's a good night for a report from the head of the island. Bob Digel suggested "McMuddle Sound". It surely has an antarctic feel to it. It's been snowing all day, with winds 15-25 and gusts to 30. It is still warm, so the snow has a high water content. It is heavy and very slippery. Lots of accidents on the scanner. Now it is dark. There are drifts to about 2-3 feet in places. I just made a tour of the island on the snowmobile and then walked STORMY on a leash down to Pitt's corner and back.

Airboat at Round Island
Dick Withington's iceboat at his Round Island dock.

Heard thunder in Canada, and glimpsed lightning. Wind just veered west and increased. Snow is heavier too. I can just make out the glow of the boathouse light. Couldn't get the airboat back into the boathouse, so it is on the end of long line and jacked up on wooden blocks between our skiff house and Anne's boathouse. It would have been funny to see a video of me trying to get a tarp around the engine cage in that wind. I took two of the old plywood cement forms that are stacked so ungraciously behind our property, got out the sled that is pulled behind the snowmobile, got the snowmobile started (low battery), and loaded the forms on the sled. Took the snowmobile down to the seawall to break a trail, then hooked the sled to the snowmobile and hauled the forms down to the ice. With not much help from the wind, I placed the forms over the cockpit of the boat to try to keep some of the snow out. Windchills are expected to approach -30F before morning. We'll see. Hope the power stays on.!!

Yesterday was tiring. I set out in the morning to finish putting half-sheets of plywood over the second and third story windows that had blown out in the Christmas gale. It takes a lot of rigging to get a half-sheet of plywood to rise to the upstairs windows and then hold still long enough to put a few screws in place. I had them positioned but not fully secured, and a wind forecast of gusts to 40mph made me want to finish the project and get the rigging down. I wish I'd counted the number of times I climbed the ladder. Silly little inconveniences, you drop a glove, the trigger of the screw gun freezes in the on position, then the battery dies of exhaustion and hypothermia., etc.

I was distracted by the sound of an airboat near Clayton. There are not a lot of us, so we tend to look out for each other. Binocs showed an airboat stopped about mid-channel. The noise was from a second boat that was going in slow circles in the same area. I called Junior, and he said the mail-airboat had broken down and Jay Slate was there to help with his boat. I have respect that borders on awe for the guys from Grindstone and the things they can do.

Looked like someone was walking on the ice between the tow boats, and soon they both started off toward Clayton. Back to work. Shortly, I got a call from Junior. Jay is trying to tow Brian, and he'd like you to come and help. Told him I'd be a few minutes. Check the stoves, don the exposure suit, gather radio, ropes, helmet, etc. Started to Clayton, and saw coyote tracks on the ice. Up ahead was the trackee. On closer inspection, I was horrified to see it was STORMY. I won't terrorize you with the details; suffice it to say that it was a very fortunate retrieval of the dog. Neither of us was happy, and we didn't talk much on the ride back to Round Island. When things go bad, nothing beats good luck. !!! But I digress. Locked her in the house and resumed the run to Clayton. As I got closer, I could feel the stern starting to settle. I got close to the two boats and stopped to discuss the plan. Immediately, my boat settled into its "displacement mode", ie: the ice broke under me and we just became a real boat. Plan was to try to break ice toward shore to facilitate the tow. Jay took his boat and we both broke ice toward Frink pier and Jay put his boat on the ice where the municipal floaters usually live.

I took Jay as crew, and we went back out to Brian, who was waiting patiently, but with considerable interest. We came alongside and shut the engine down to prevent unpleasantries. Next we tied the ropes together into a long towline, and transferred it all to Brian's boat. His job was to keep the line out of my prop, and try to hide from my propwash (flying ice). Jay would sit on my foredeck to keep us balanced and to watch Brian. He would signal if there was a need to stop. All clear! Contact!.....Nothing. Now the only boat working is on shore, and we are drifting to Montreal. Fortunately, the miscue was due to my inexperience and stress, and was quickly solved. The line came taut, and we made progress to Frink dock. There we were able to transfer the end of the line to the pier. At that point, all the Clayton onlookers mobilized into a tug-o-war team and pulled Brian closer to the pier. I called for the Fire/Rescue truck to utilize its winch, and eventually, the boat arrived next to the Golden Anchor dock for repairs. Kenny Brabant and Jeremy Kellogg showed up with their airboats. Jeremy and I took Skip Rawson's party of three to Calumet to repair the computer and webcam, so that all you folks can watch it snow. (See


Then I hurried home to finish dismantling the rigging. The ladder is a commercial-grade 40-footer which I cannot lift alone. It froze in the extended position, so I used a fairly complex system of a floating block with a 3:1 mechanical advantage to  lower the ladder with one hand. In the other hand was a guy rope from the top of the ladder to control its sway in the rising wind. Finished re-installing the windows using a headlamp in the dark. Went to bed early.

You'd enjoy seeing this place in its winter decor. Most would probably find it cluttered. Wood is stacked to the windowsills, emergency backpacks are by the door, there are four pairs of footwear lined up. One pair of insulated rubber boots for walking in slush, and for quick runs outdoors to check the yellow-snow supply. One pair of mucklucks for working in snow; one pair of boots for XC skiing, and a pair of slippers for indoors. I keep three suits of outerwear hanging from the drying hooks in the ceiling. One suit of Carhartts, one exposure suit for boating and airboating, and one snowmobile suit for riding on the island. Then there is the 200 feet of rope that has just come out of the dryer. Dock lines make the house smell like seaweed when wet. Have to have the lines dried to be ready for next adventure. Cat is asleep in the recliner by the stove, ...just keeping the seat warm in case I feel a need for a catnap before dinner. I practice the fiddle some, but I can't tell whether STORMY is singing along, or wailing at the sounds. Have to wait until she's outside. Doesn't say much for my skill.

Got battery acid on my coveralls when the battery on the airboat died. Hard to find a marine battery on a Saturday afternoon. On the way back to the island, the snow was perfect, so I opened it up. Always wondered how fast it would go in good conditions. Well, I didn't find out, because there was a funny noise, like I'd hit something. I backed off, but was not in a good place to investigate. When I got to the island, I discovered that the passenger's life cushion had become airborne and passed through the fan. Really lucky this time.... no damage to the prop, and the remnant of the cushion is just the right size to cover the hole the acid left in my coveralls. I'll sew the patch in tonight.

Lots of folks call just to see if I'm still here. If this keeps up, it will be the Mother of all Winters, but spring is coming.

Dick (Withington)

PS - Clayton is having its winterfest Feb 20-22. Lots of fun things to do in Clayton and LaFargeville. Good time to check your island property that is taxed so heavily. 

Dr. Dick Withington is a retired Orthopaedic Surgeon, living out a childhood dream spending his fourth consecutive winter alone at the head of Round  Island. His wife Roseanne heads to Florida when "Rivercroft" is closed in October and Dick moves into the former servants' quarters, "Wintercroft". His old but faithful Siberian Husky Stormy and a rescued Siamese cat Mylie keep him company. Dr. Withington has an airboat, which he keeps at his own dock in winter ready to help. The Sheriff's office will call him directly if and when there is a problem. 

Please feel free to leave comments about this article using the form below. Comments are moderated and we do not accept comments that contain links. As per our privacy policy, your email address will not be shared and is inaccessible even to us. For general comments, please email the editor.


Ray Pastrick
Comment by: Ray Pastrick ( )
Left at: 1:26 AM Thursday, January 15, 2009
Doc, have watched you come and go many times when we were birthed
in Clayton Marina for many years. Really miss it since moving "Moor-Onzz" to Seneca Lake! But I've got to tell you, your wife has it right! Go South
young man! Its time to get real and pass on the fridge! We know that
Clayton is great but freezing in the winter??

Think of the sun and shores! Go south young man!!!

Ray Pastrick
Pete Digel
Comment by: Pete Digel ( )
Left at: 8:47 AM Thursday, January 15, 2009
Hello Dr. Whithington,

Thank you for sharing your adventures with us. Sounds hard but exiting none the less. I hope to make it up there for an overnight this winter as I want to see everything in the "winter mode". Maybe a weekend in February. Very nice of you to keep an eye on things for the islanders.


Adams McHenry
Comment by: Adams McHenry ( )
Left at: 10:48 AM Thursday, January 15, 2009
Dick, great to communicate with you again. Sandra and I did not make it to God's country last summer, but will be there this year for sure. We are looking into another place to stay, so let us know if something is available this summer. I was in an airboat a few weeks ago with Labradors shooting ducks in Port O'Connor, TX. What a blast. I guess you and Jerry did that a few years ago. I am going to send this to Jerry so you can communicate. How are my favorite birds ---EAGLES--- doing? I trust there are a bunch of them there. Talked with Dick Brown on Monday to pay for all of our RR Cheese and he said you were getting ready for an old fashion winter. Stay warm and give our best to Roseanne. Adams
Jerry McHenry
Comment by: Jerry McHenry ( )
Left at: 11:12 AM Thursday, January 15, 2009

Come on down to Houston next month. The high today will be in the mid 60's.

Another friend is coming here in mid February to warm up. Will stay in touch.

Comment by: marilyn ( )
Left at: 3:11 PM Thursday, January 15, 2009
Great article Dick! Your description makes you realize that sun and sand are fun but real winter fun and adventure is here at the 1000 islands. It may be cold and frozen but it sure is beautiful and worth a winter visit.
Larry & Barb Shufelt
Comment by: Larry & Barb Shufelt ( )
Left at: 5:52 PM Thursday, January 15, 2009
Hi Dick,
We have not met you yet but maybe someday our paths will cross... You are living our dream... We have a place on Tar Island, Canada... Waiting for Barb to retire & leave our 1st grandchild (about 6 yrs to go)!!!... You are enjoying the beauty Mother Nature has given us & remember "This Is A Place Where Heaven Can Wait & The Beer Is Always Cold"!!!!!
Thousand Island Neighbor
Larry & Barb Shufelt, 759 Tar Island
PS: Stop by some time if your in our channel...
John Bourne
Comment by: John Bourne ( )
Left at: 5:57 AM Friday, January 16, 2009
Hi Doc,

As an occasional visitor to the Thousand Islands I am always keen to read each month's edition. I was particularly interested to read your article.
It took me back to my years as a young evacuee, on lake St Louis, when I used to sail across the ice on my sledge, using my body as a sail. One year the thermometer was purported to reach minus 50 F. Have you ever experienced that? Unfortunately we do not have what I call real winters here. Just bone-cracking damp chill.

All the best. John.
Craig Castor
Comment by: Craig Castor ( )
Left at: 9:33 AM Friday, January 16, 2009
This was a really wonderful read. Thank you for sharing it. I am hoping there will be more to come.
Best Regards,
-Craig (Rusho Bay)
Tony pandina Jr.
Comment by: Tony pandina Jr. ( )
Left at: 4:01 PM Saturday, January 17, 2009
This is my third winter here. My very first, alone. I am not on an island and don't have a lot of financial resources. It's great to know, someone, is nuttier that me! LOL!!!! I am Rick Defranco's Chippewa Bay Weatherspotter. Whoppee!! I get to do something besides keeping my 3 tentsh of a mile single lane hill cleared so I can get out and emergency services can get in. I found I have tears in both my shoulders. Thought the pain was "old age" cramps. Isn't a whole lot I can til Spring and get one of em fixed. Knees are both gone, as well. Don't care. I always wanted to live here, and Now I am doing it and love it.

Tony Pandina jr.
Jack Patterson
Comment by: Jack Patterson ( )
Left at: 4:25 PM Saturday, January 17, 2009
Great job . I x-country skied across the Seaway in 1996 with Sissy Danforth and then Timmy Purcell took me to Axeman the next day on his brother 's ice boat . That year there was only water ( everythingelse ice ) under the American span as far as I could discover . We went to T I Park from U S mainland so didn ' t cross Can . span - likely was water there near Georgina , Benson ' s Rift , etc , . as well . There was none in the Lake Fleet Group though . I was there and the day was short with wan light and we saw coy dog tracks and a Pileated Woodpecker . I took pictures of all the family cottages on Axeman and semt then as a surprise to the owners . Loved it . No one had ever done so on Axeman - been there in the winter , saving original workmen coming out and filling our ice house way long ago ( ice house still there w . upper door . . . and some sawdust here and here . . . ) Good for you ! May join you one day - been on the river since 1938 . I remember the sound of the ferry - which must have run foir several yeards after construction of the bridge ; heard it in the night chug a chug a out of the back of our cabin on Papula as it went through the Gananoque Narrows . Could make the noise for you now ! Jack Patterson
Elayne LePage
Comment by: Elayne LePage ( )
Left at: 5:43 PM Saturday, January 17, 2009
I really enjoyed reading about Dr. Withington's adventures. While I was reading it, I was wondering how the Native American Indians survived during winters like the doctor is describing. I hope he is enjoying living his dream, something I think we should all try to do. Me, I'm living my lifelong dream of spending my first full winter in Florida since I retired last June. By the way Dr. W. if you read this....we are having a cold spell here in Cape Coral, Florida. It was only in the mid 70s here today. I am told this is considered a cold spell. Keep warm and have fun.
Elayne LePage
Summer resident of Arcadia Park @ Fishers Landing, NY
Elayne LePage
Comment by: Elayne LePage ( )
Left at: 5:44 PM Saturday, January 17, 2009
I really enjoyed reading about Dr. Withington's adventures. While I was reading it, I was wondering how the Native American Indians survived during winters like the doctor is describing. I hope he is enjoying living his dream, something I think we should all try to do. Me, I'm living my lifelong dream of spending my first full winter in Florida since I retired last June. By the way Dr. W. if you read this....we are having a cold spell here in Cape Coral, Florida. It was only in the mid 70s here today. I am told this is considered a cold spell. Keep warm and have fun.
Elayne LePage
Summer resident of Arcadia Park @ Fishers Landing, NY
Dick Withington
Comment by: Dick Withington ( )
Left at: 12:31 PM Monday, January 19, 2009
John Bourne,
Thank you for your kind comments. I hav never experienced still air below minus 37F. Have slept outside at -20F. I recall using our coats as sails when skating on French Creek near Clayton. in the late '40's. I have a friend who lives in Bournemouth, on the south coast of UK. I like our winters best when there is plenty of snow. I don't need the extreme cold anymore.
Happy 2009! Dick
Fred & Pat Padykula
Comment by: Fred & Pat Padykula ( )
Left at: 3:37 PM Monday, January 19, 2009
Nice to have a off-season surveillance. With Doc next door on Round Island we no longer sit in Endicott wondering whether we have a tree or critter in our cottage. We will always remember a foggy day, with visiblility less than the 20 to the end of our dock, someone pulled up. It only could have been Junior or Doc, we'll let you guess who it was.

Fred, Pat, Holly4
Peter Charron
Comment by: Peter Charron ( )
Left at: 12:01 AM Tuesday, January 20, 2009
I have a home on Fairyland Island and have the same dream. Just wondering what your setup was on your island; heat and water especially. Until I figure that stuff out, I guess I won't be seeing you, or anyone else in T.I. until next summer. Thanks for the great article.
John Bourne
Comment by: John Bourne ( )
Left at: 1:17 PM Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Hi Dick,

Thank you for your comment. I too love the snow, but we do not see it often here. When we do, we walk for miles on the fields behind our house, and warm up before "The Swan's" log fire. Maybe down a glass or two of their mulled wine.

Your friend in Bournemouth has picked the sunniest place in Britain, in which to live. Other places claim that distinction as well.

Just been watching the Inauguration, with great interest.

All the best for 2009

Ron Watson
Comment by: Ron Watson ( )
Left at: 5:36 PM Monday, February 2, 2009
This is a bit out of left field, but as I read your journal I had the gnawing feeling that your name was too familiar. Any chance you are the Dick Withington who grew up on Thompson Blvd in Watertown in the 1950s? If so, I was the little kid next door (226 Thompson, if I remember the number) from 1955-61.
We have a place on Wellesley, but I'm writing this from Naples, FL. I admire your spirit of adventure, but I'll vote with your wife when it comes to picking a winter residence.
Ron Watson
Kay Byers Evans
Comment by: Kay Byers Evans ( )
Left at: 11:14 AM Saturday, February 7, 2009
Dick, I really enjoyed reading about your winter adventures and sure remember how cold those winters can be. I do think that you had better take a sun break and come on down to Florida. Hope yto get together with you someday here. Kay
Comment by: JOY WISNER ( )
Left at: 3:13 PM Tuesday, March 10, 2009
Sue and Mark Saiter
Comment by: Sue and Mark Saiter ( )
Left at: 5:34 PM Friday, August 28, 2009
I have been up at Manitouana for most summers of my 67 years. I am Howard Gowings granddaughter.
Now I am there with my 7 grandchildren and love it still.
I copied your stories and took them up to read as bedtime stories, kids all sleep in one big bedroom, and they loved to hear them too. One of the 10 year old triplets answered my, gee, it must be lonely, and said he loves the beauty and that keeps him company!!
Keep the stories coming , expecially of the wintertime since most of us do not get to experience that paart of the calendar up there.
Greg Miller
Comment by: Greg Miller ( )
Left at: 5:48 PM Saturday, January 9, 2010
Doctor Withington -

Thanks for sharing your experiences out there on the river in the winter time. It does not sound as if its any easier living up that way in the winter time. Long ago I used to make a Jreck Sub or two for you out on Washington Street as you headed back and forth from the house. This of course was long after I was a patient of yours as a small child.

Now that I am considerably older and own my own property (on Lake Placid) that can only be accessed by an airboat or snowmobile in the winter time, I have often wondered if you were still going back and forth during the coldest months. I am glad to hear you are still doing it despite the adventures of the day.

I hope to bring the daring technology to Lake Placid one of these days

Greg Miller
Comment by: JAN ARNO ( )
Left at: 1:57 PM Tuesday, June 1, 2010
Dr.Withington-I stumbled upon your articles and am fascinated reading about your island life.When I worked as a Nurse in your orthopaedic practice I did not realize all you did before you got to the hospitals (Mercy and HGS) and then to the office or surgerys.I am glad you are doing what you always loved and have more time now that you are retired-keep the articles coming! The best to you and your family. Jan Arno
Mike Lamb
Comment by: Mike Lamb ( )
Left at: 6:23 PM Tuesday, September 21, 2010
You rescued me from a rainy float down the river today. My boat stalled out near your place on Round Island, when you came up on my stern and offered some help. You towed me back to the dock at Lawrence View Mobile Home Park.
I believe you were an angel sent from God, and my wife agrees.
Thank you very much for the rescue.
As it turned out, I ran out of gas
Thanks again,
Mike Lamb