I was once spotted by innocent onlookers who crowned me to be the "crazy guy in a little boat with a big flag," in reference to me zipping up and down the river in front of Boldt Castle in a jetboat with my seven-foot Algoma Central Marine flag blowing in the breeze while I ship chase the Algoma fleet in hopes of being noticed.
Crazy? Maybe. Crazy about ships? No doubt, it’s a passion of mine and many others who make their summers along the shores of the St. Lawrence River.
Penny Hernandez, 67, of Waddington, NY knows what I mean. "I used to sneak out and go to the overlook at Eisenhower Lock just to watch the ships go up and down. I'd imagine being on the salties and traveling the world." Hernandez moved to the area from Long Island and grew fond of ships almost instantly in the 1970's. "I used to threaten my family with getting a job as a cook on a laker if they didn't straighten up."
Some people follow trains, others collect stamps, some watch birds... on the River ship watching is the thing to do.
"I'm a boat nut," explains another passionate ship lover. Know Your Ships editor Roger LeLievre of Ann Arbor, Michigan has been passionate about ships since the mid-1960's. "I believe everyone should have a hobby, this one is mine, though I admit it's gotten slightly out of control," LeLievre admits.
Know Your Ships is known to be the "Ship Bible" for those who make a habit of following ships. From up-to-date ship names and information to a complete listing of smoke stacks and flags, this book keeps you in the know. "I enjoy chronicling the ships and their stories, I enjoy traveling in search of good pictures, and Know Your Ships provides a means to share that passion with others." Many are thankful for the job Roger and his staff has done, including ship captains, many of who claim to keep a copy onboard as well.
The passion for ships however spans well beyond the River and is a passion that is shared by those young and old.
Andrew Constans, 16, from Duluth, Minnesota watches some of the same ships you see here in the Thousand Islands. Constans is an avid ship enthusiast who enjoys taking photos and following ship progress on the internet. Like many do at the Eisenhower Lock in Massena, Constans sets up shop at Mission Point and the Soo Locks to get his ship-fix.
Like Constans, many others who can not be in our neck of the woods to watch the massive vessels still find ways to fill the void.
Jack Post II is a five year old from Rhode Island, but his grandfather has a residence along the Brockville Narrows portion of the River. According to Jack's father, John, his grandfather will send him photos via email each week of the ships that passed by so he can enjoy them despite not even being in the same state. On Easter weekend Jack was able to visit his grandfather and while standing along shore waving he received five horn salutes from the ship captains as each passed.
The bellowing sound of a ship's horn is what most ship lovers are after. Getting a salute from a 700' ship is like the thrill a rollercoaster enthusiast gets while speeding down a steep hill.
“I pretty well salute anyone who waves at the ship, especially children,” said Captain Anders Rasmussen of the ship Algolake. “It takes so little effort to put a smile on someone’s face and a salute always does that.”
The same can be said by the Captain of the Edward L. Ryerson, one of the most popular ships on the Great Lakes. "I will blow a salute for nearly everyone I catch waving, at least during daylight hours," explains Captain Eric Treece, or ET as he is known by ship lovers. "At night we will flash the search light most times when someone catches our attention, but will occasionally blow the whistle. The mates on here are pretty good and know what to look out for along the shore as well and usually don't hesitate to take over and let steam fly."
Treece is a self-described "boatnerd", the nickname given to those who find themselves enthralled with anything Great Lakes shipping related. "I grew up spending a good portion of my summers at our family cabin near DeTour on the St Marys River and I had a passion for ships early on." Like young Jack Post, Treece would sit out in the yard with his grandfather and watch the boats go by in the afternoons. At that young age he knew he would grow to be involved on the water in some form and today he is able to brag about his time at the helm.
Though the ELR doesn't make many trips each year on the St. Lawrence, it was last seen in the Fall of 2008, Captain Treece is a fan of the Thousand Islands region. "What I find really fascinating is how so many of the houses are built on small rock islands and just how small some of those islands are. I find that simply amazing." Treece is hoping to vacation in the region and visit Boldt Castle in the near future.
While nearly everyone along the mighty St. Lawrence can say they have seen a ship, there is much more to it for those who truly have a passion for watching. So, pull out your binoculars, pick up your camera and run to the waters edge because a laker just might be heading your way!
By Michael Folsom/theshipwatcher.blogspot.com
It was once told to me that a pet peeve among ship captains is when someone calls them on the radio. It tends to become very distracting and though most crews appreciate the attention the ships get and will gladly blow a salute, they want to remind onlookers that it is not like driving down the highway and talking on a cell phone. The concentration level involved at certain times (especially in the Narrows) when handling a ship of that size can not be disturbed. Please be courteous to those onboard and stay off the radio and be sure to steer clear of the front of the ship while in your personal vessel. The captain will appreciate it!
For more information on ship watching sites log onto theshipwatcher.blogspot.com and boatnerd.com. Also to track the movement of ships on the Seaway, log onto www.greatlakes-seaway.com.
Michael Folsom is a regular contributor to TI Life. As an avid ship watcher he currently hosts a web site, theshipwatcher.blogspot.com, where he tracks ships and reports on various Seaway happenings. His work has been featured in the Thousand Islands Sun and on several websites. This spring he provided a countdown clock to signal the opening of this year's season. When not watching ships or writing about them, Michael works for the Syracuse Crunch, a professional hockey team. He and his wife Christie live in Central New York but are now planning their many trips to the River for Summer 2009. TI Life has added the Know Your Ships to our Publication page.