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The Free Outdoor Marine Store

The west wind came up at 2:49 a.m. A huge gust shook the cottage and the windows creaked like they might shatter into pieces. Instantly, we were both awake. It was very dark and looking out into the blackness of the howling wind was eerie. We heard the rush of wind in the pines above. Huge branches moaned as they moved in the wind. I could hear the waves crashing on the rocks below our bedroom window.

We both tried to go back to sleep, but the cottage creaked with every gust and I swear the cottage was swaying. I felt I was on a huge wooden ship in the middle of turbulent seas. I thought about our boats, both big and little, and wondered if the water had come up with the wind and if our boats were safely moored at the dock or in the boathouse.

It started to get light around 4:30 a.m. This only made me more restless, for when I looked out, I now could see the pine limbs thrashing about in the wind and I could see rows of waves flowing past me like advancing lines of infantry.

Later that afternoon, after the wind calmed down, a neighbor returned in his Whaler from a trip to the east end of Eel Bay. He couldn’t wait to show us what he’d found. After a strong west wind, who knows what you might find at the end of Eel Bay: bumpers, rafts, noodles, water guns, exercise balls, ball caps, basically anything that will float. It was, as our neighbor called it, the “Free Outdoor Marine Store.”

I’ve still never visited the Free Outdoor Marine Store’s Eel Bay Outlet. Of course, the Free Outdoor Marine Store isn’t limited to the end of Eel Bay. Sometimes, the F.O.M.S. makes home deliveries. Through the years, we’ve found things washed up on our north rock. Once a huge empty dock container, complete with lid, washed ashore. Another time, a cover for a jet ski. I always check with the cottagers on the north shore of the island, to make sure my special delivery from the Free Outdoor Marine Store didn’t belong to them. Sometimes there is a name and a phone number on the item. If there is, the person is called and told where they can retrieve their errant item.

We found an odd F.O.M.S. item this year in our boathouse, floating between the boat and the dock. It was a nice 12 ft. 2” x 10” piece of pressure treated wood. Luckily, no one hit that with a boat in the middle of the night. I’m still trying to figure out how something like that came floating into our boathouse. The River flows away from our boathouse, not towards it. No one in our little cove recognized it as theirs, so we accepted it as yet another delivery from the F.O.M.S. Boat fenders are our favorite F.O.M.S. delivery.

Not all deliveries are wanted. One spring, neighbors to our west returned to the island to find a hull of a small fiberglass boat washed up on their rock. They called the Coast Guard and were told that since the boat didn’t have any registration numbers, the boat was now their problem. They had to pay to have it towed away.

Sometimes the F.O.M.S. is a first-come-first-served type store. Whenever I see a bumper floating in the River, I jump in my kayak and go out to retrieve it. At one point, I think all of the bumpers on one of our boats were F.O.M.S. deliveries. The reason we needed new bumpers is that one by one all of the bumpers had been “recalled” by the F.O.M.S.

The Free Outdoor Marine Store giveth, but also taketh away. Probably our biggest bonanza was a dock ladder that washed ashore, which after checking with neighbors we attached to our dock. We enjoyed it for several years before it was ripped from our dock and washed down River somewhere. Over the years, we’ve lost our share of bumpers, boat cushions, hats, etc. I often wonder who has discovered items that blew out of our boat or off our dock.

No doubt, many islanders have had special deliveries from the F.O.M.S. And…I’m sure many items have been “donated” as well. The good thing is, there is no foreign exchange fee, tax, or delivery charge. You may not get exactly what you ordered, but it sometimes feels like Christmas, with a surprise waiting under the tree, or at least, washed up on your rock.

So the next windy night you experience, know that the F.O.M.S. will be making many deliveries and you may get one (or donate one)!

By Lynn E. McElfresh

Lynn McElfresh is a regular contributor to “TI Life,” writing stories dealing with her favorite Grenell Island and island life. This marks number 92. You can see all of Lynn’s articles here. (We celebrated her #80 in July, 2015!) Lynn helps us move pianos, fix the plumbing and often finds books, places and people to review… This time she has outdone herself!  I will never not enjoy a good windstorm again! If you find some treasurers… do send us some photographs!

  • Boat fenders are our favorite F.O.M.S. delivery.

    Boat fenders are our favorite F.O.M.S. delivery.

  • A strong west wind sends waves marching.

    A strong west wind sends waves marching.

  • Floatables collect at the east end of wide Eel Bay.

    Floatables collect at the east end of wide Eel Bay.

  • Our North Rock is a popular F.O.M.S. drop off.

    Our North Rock is a popular F.O.M.S. drop off.

  • Who knows what might be delivered at our North Rock tomorrow?

    Who knows what might be delivered at our North Rock tomorrow?


Posted in: Places, Nature, Sports
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Georgina Ratcliffe
Comment by: Georgina Ratcliffe
Left at: 7:15 PM Wednesday, September 14, 2016
Champagne Island's best F.O.M.S delivery was actually not a marine item. It was a somewhat battered Adirondack chair that washed up on our west end in the early 1980's. As the deck chairs at that time were rotting and falling apart my ever resourceful husband dismantled the F.O.M.S. chair, made a pattern and 12 new chairs for the island. We are still using them today!
P aul Sansoucy
Comment by: P aul Sansoucy
Left at: 7:56 AM Thursday, September 15, 2016
From my days rowing an open water shell on the River, I have acquired a collection of boat fenders that somehow were stranded in transit to the F.O.M.S. It is unseamanlike to allow the fenders to bounce around while a bot is underway but that habit keeps the supply chain full.
Doug McLellan
Comment by: Doug McLellan
Left at: 9:05 AM Thursday, September 15, 2016
One day late March, years ago, we were standing in the kitchen looking west towards Camelot ... watching everything leap about in a strong north west wind. When"it" appeared, it definitely wasn't a normal thing but we couldn't tell at first what it was. About 30 feet of finger dock was flying downriver on its way somewhere. We raced out and saved it and tied it up. We posted the find everywhere we could including the Metro cork-board and kept it tied up all summer, waiting for its family to claim it. A year later with no takers, we turned it into a swim platform, floating happily off the main dock, 50 feet out. Now, years later, she's transformed again into an ideal outdoor shower.
Anothe multi-purposer F.O.M.S. delivery.
Thanks River! ... D
Sue Schongalla
Comment by: Sue Schongalla
Left at: 5:26 PM Saturday, September 17, 2016
While we do have a locker with many F.O.M.S. bumpers, and appreciate them, the best delivery was in the same storm about which Lynn writes. I spent considerable time and energy this summer looking for a very small footstool for my shower stall. Not wanting to spend a lot, I decided to avoid the classy catalogues selling teak furniture and visited all the box and large retail stores in Watertown. I was surprised not to find anything which answered my needs. I thought Rubbermaid would have had the answer! No sooner had I given up, we went out to our boathouse the morning following the storm to find the perfect plastic stepping stool floating in the slip! We are sorry someone lost it but since there was no name, we have adopted it, and really, it's true that "possession is the better part of ownership!"
Bob Isaacs
Comment by: Bob Isaacs
Left at: 7:31 PM Sunday, September 18, 2016
One of my favorite finds was a Taylor Made fender that was delivered to me by the Fender Fairy while I was boating in the Finger Lakes. I used it for many years 'till it failed to hold air. I took it to West Marine and they replaced it for free under lifetime warranty--not a bad deal!
Jan Staples
Comment by: Jan Staples
Left at: 6:54 AM Monday, September 19, 2016
Two of our best bumpers were from F.O.M.S!
Wayne Strauss
Comment by: Wayne Strauss
Left at: 4:41 PM Monday, October 24, 2016
One Spring the FOMS delivered a (dead) hot water heater to our boathouse. It apparently came in on the ice and crashed through the boathouse door, breaking it the door. Then when the ice melted, it sunk under the boat. Which made it very difficult to drop the boat in the water to yank the thing out. That was bad. On the other hand, one time we received a six-pack of beer floating on its plastic collar. That was GOOD; and we were delighted to drink free beer! However: try as I might - over the 40+ years since - I have never, ever been able to get a six-pack to float again. Now, there's something to work on next Summer when the boat goes in... 202 days from today!!
Comment by: Crysta
Left at: 4:58 PM Monday, April 24, 2017
I started following thousandislandslife when you used my "Dock Spider" video. I really love this article, it's well written and honest. Amazing what nature delivers to these commenters and the writer.


Comment by: Jennifer
Left at: 12:55 PM Wednesday, May 16, 2018
Great article.We own a cottage in a bay on a small lake in the Quebec Laurentians and you can say we have our very own F.O.M.S. Our biggest finds have been 3 docks, a row boat and a pedal boat. Because our lake is small, it is relatively easy to identify the owners of these items but the pedal boat is still enjoyed by our family now 10 years later. No one ever claimed it even after we called Town Hall and left a big sign on it. Like your neighbors we have also found a small broken fiberglass boat that we hauled out of the lake using a wench and our VTT and delivered to the local EcoCentre for proper disposal. Last week-end we found another dock and my mission this long week-end is to find its owner. Mother Nature has also left a multitude of small gifts such as life vests, beach balls, and noodles that we and our guests enjoy. Have a great summer everyone.