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The Narrows

The last two months I’ve written about my walks on Wellesley. But as with anything in life, sometimes it’s not the destination that is important. It’s the journey. It isn’t just the walk that I enjoy but getting there is always a journey filled with wonderful sights. When you live on an island, anything you do off the island involves a trip in the boat.

I usually write in the morning and walk in the afternoon, but weather and wind are sometimes a factor. Husband, Gary, is a weather nut, always checking, checking the hour-by-hour forecast and putting the satellite images in motion to ascertain the best time for me to walk. No fun getting stuck in an open boat during a rainstorm or worse, a thunderstorm. I don’t mind a gentle rain, but a driving rain hurts! Lightning scares me.

My first walk last season was on an overcast and windy day. On the way back, my engine died in Eel Bay. I pulled out my cellphone to call for help and realized my track phone didn’t roam to Canadian cell towers and I was out of reach of the towers on the U.S. mainland. I had no coverage. My small whaler drifted far back into Eel Bay as I monkeyed with the engine, trying to get it to start again. So out came the paddle and I paddled my way back against the wind to the state park dock. I was able to diagnose the problem, get the motor started and finally made my way back to Grenell. I was pretty proud of myself!

Getting from here to there on the river is always an adventure. Most days, my trip is less eventful, but somehow always dramatic. The ten to fifteen minutes I spend in the boat is refreshing, and a nice segway mentally between writing mode and walking mode. I’m blasted with air as I skim across the water. I inhale deeply. The scent off the water is intoxicatingly fresh. Early in the season the air can be downright frigid and I have to bundle up.

My favorite part of crossing from our place on the NE tip of Grenell to the Wellesley Island State Park boat dock in Eel Bay, is going through the Narrows.

We have a great view of the Narrows from our dining room window and our bedroom window on the second floor. It’s the first thing I see when I sit up in bed in the morning. Of course from our vantage point on Grenell, Murray Island and Wellesley Island look like one long landmass, but I know that the tall rock palisade marks a passageway from South Bay to Eel Bay where Murray and Wellesley fit together like a puzzle pieces.

The place is called “The Narrows”, not a unique name on the River. There are the American Narrows near Alexanderia Bay and the Gananoque Narrows and who knows how many other Narrows in the Thousand Island area. But in my mind these are THE narrows.

It’s a no wake zone and you have to slow down to pass through. Slowing down is a good thing because there is a lot to see.

Most notably there is an osprey nest on a power pole on the Murray side of the Narrows.  In 2008 this nest caught fire and two fledglings fell from the nest. They were rescued by a passing kayaker and placed in a rehabilitation facility where they recovered.

I almost always see two herons on my daily trips through the Narrows: one on the south side and one on the north side. It’s not unusual for me to see them catch and eat a fish while I’m passing through. But I see other birds: mallards, Canada geese, kingfishers, wood ducks, and mergansers. Last year, I saw a pair of loons almost everyday early in the season. I’ve seen deer drinking at the water’s edge and mink gamboling alone the shoreline. And one hot afternoon, I spotted a porcupine on a limb hanging over the water—trying to cool off I suppose.

But slowing down means the engine is hushed to a whisper and the towering rocks on one side and magestic white pines on the other side rise like cathedral walls around me. The silence is engaging. I feel transported back to another era. Years ago, I read somewhere that there was a naval battle at this spot in the Narrows back during the War of 1812. I can’t remember the names or the ships, nor can I remember where I read the account. But it’s stuck in my memory that an American ship hid in the passageway from the British ship that had chased it across Eel Bay. When the British ship approached, the American ship opened fire. Sometimes as I putt through the Narrows, I imagine the American ship, the masts almost as tall as the cliffs, waiting for the British ship to appear. I can almost hear the boom canons and the excited calls of men aboard.

As I exit the Narrows, I press the throttle. The whaler zips across the water leaving behind my thoughts of a bygone era and soon enough I’m slowing again as I enter our little cove on the downriver side of Grenell. Home again.

(Click to enlarge photographs)


By Lynn E. McElfresh

Lynn McElfresh is a regular contributor to TI Life often writing stories dealing with her favorite Grenell Island and island life. Once again Lynn takes us on a walk on Wellesley Island, this time exploring the special section known as “The Narrows” . Not only is Lynn an accomplished writer, but she also takes her camera along on excursions.  The McElfresh family have left the river and now reside in their winter quarters in Dunedin. Florida.   To see all of Lynn’s island experiences, search TI Life under Lynn E. McElfresh.  Lynn’s bio was profiled in August 2009.

Posted in: Places, Nature
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Mark Bond
Comment by: Mark Bond ( )
Left at: 10:38 PM Monday, February 14, 2011
I love a relaxing ride through the narrows, I always describe it to friends as our 'Disney ride' in the Thousand Islands.
Dorothy Topping
Comment by: Dorothy Topping ( )
Left at: 6:59 AM Tuesday, February 15, 2011
As always Lynn, I enjoyed your article. I know the Narrows well. We're going to the river this weekend to snowshoe on the Macsherry Trail with TILT.
See you soon!
Dorothy Topping
Doug Vittum
Comment by: Doug Vittum ( )
Left at: 7:37 AM Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Loved your story about the "Narrows". I have boated the river for years and always make it a point to travel the narrows as I explore the beautiful area. Our antique boat club has passed through the Narrows several times in our classic wooden boats. Some of the best pictures of our journeys are taken in this passage.

Thanks for the memories and sharing your experiences with us. As I sit here in sunny Florida waiting for the climate to accept me back North, I can enjoy my past trips through yours and others fine articles.

Now, if we can just get you in a fine old wooden boat for your trips through the Narrows, it will give you a whole new experience to enjoy.

Thanks again,

Herb Swingle
Comment by: Herb Swingle ( )
Left at: 7:48 AM Tuesday, February 15, 2011
Great Article--Ah, yes "The Narrows".You can close your eyes and travel into history! Nothing like"The Narrows".
Kathy Katsarakes
Comment by: Kathy Katsarakes ( )
Left at: 8:12 AM Tuesday, February 15, 2011

My sister sent me your story. We grew up weekends at our cottage on Murray Isl. Our grandmother lived there summers. So your story and pictures were so nice to see. We used to row around the island sometimes and I loved going through the Narrows and hearing stories about the Islands from my grandmother. Thanks!
(I never remembered seeing so many herons when I was younger. It is nice to see them again and also otters. I love seeing them in the bay sometimes.)
Bob Bornhurst
Comment by: Bob Bornhurst ( )
Left at: 10:02 AM Tuesday, February 15, 2011
Your story appears at the most appropriate time. During this long and intense winter that has no let up, you have brought me back to one of the most beautiful spots in the world. The River! And to the calm and serenity around the bend from the busy TI Park docks into nature and quiet found in Eel Bay. I can't wait until we see a thaw and can return to the Islands. Thanks for writing and sharing this story.
Katy Hess
Comment by: Katy Hess ( )
Left at: 2:00 PM Tuesday, February 15, 2011
I was so happy to see this article on the Narrows. I have grown up spending summers at our camp on Murray Island. Murrary Island and the River are very near and dear to my heart and seeing this article in the middle of such a harsh winter was just what I needed. Thank you!
Debbie Hull
Comment by: Debbie Hull ( )
Left at: 9:16 PM Friday, February 25, 2011
Growing up summers at TI Park, the Narrows were my own private place to explore in the little rowboat that Bompa built. I can still remember coming home from "the Sunset" in Eel Bay and we would have to be on the sharp look-out for the crooked pine tree high up in the Wellesley Island side to find the Narrows in the twilight.
Mike Heberling
Comment by: Mike Heberling ( )
Left at: 11:14 AM Wednesday, March 2, 2011
Local long time residents of the Narrows area call it the "Gut" or "Cut". Can anyone verify the spelling and origination of the nickname? Also, that little bay at the south entrance to the Narrows on the Murray side is Escanaba Bay. One of our favorite boating routes from our Hill Island cottage.
Kathy Katsarakes
Comment by: Kathy Katsarakes ( )
Left at: 7:01 PM Wednesday, March 2, 2011
My father always called it 'The Cut.' I remember dad saying that he knew of someone falling through the ice there one winter. (It was our 'shortcut' to Thousand Island Park from our cottage on Murray Isle.)
Erika Roberts
Comment by: Erika Roberts ( )
Left at: 3:38 PM Tuesday, June 19, 2012
How do you find the entrance to The Narrows off the 1000 Islands Parkway? I have heard there are som cottages down there and we would like to check out the real estate possibilities---see what it's like...thanks Erika
Rex Ennis
Comment by: Rex Ennis ( )
Left at: 9:12 AM Friday, August 8, 2014
Recently while researching another project; I ran across an old map published in 1889. The Narrows were clearly named the "Boscobell Narrows." Why and by whom I don't know, but I found it interesting.
Malcolm Haworth (Grandview)
Comment by: Malcolm Haworth (Grandview)
Left at: 1:36 PM Sunday, August 7, 2016
As to your mentioning about a naval engagement in "The Narrows" There is an article that can be found in the Daily Journal of Oct 26, 1903. It was days after "Battle of Clayton," so the article is titled that, but half of the article is about "naval engagement fought in 1812 (actually 1813) off of what is Grandview Park". And you can look for this article digitally. Id like to find our more because despite the short term success by the schooner USS Julia, it was captured by the British the next day, there is a painting of that battle. But the day of battle of narrows, what began as pursuit by two British ship (one had looped around grindstone to the North the other followed Julia trough the Clayton narrows/Robbins cut). HMS Simcoe beat the Julia and cut off its escape past the The Grandview Park Head and was joined by second vessel. HSM Seneca pursued through Robbin's cut. Once Julia got up the Lees Robinson and Lees group, Mr Traut/Trout, Julia's seamster commanded the vessel to retreat through the narrows. he swung the vessel broadside in the narrows fired on the largest vessel Simcoe and damaged it enough preventing the two other vessels from moving forward and they began to retreat. Allowing the Julia a chance to literally only fight one-other-day.
Susie Smith
Comment by: Susie Smith
Left at: 3:19 PM Sunday, August 7, 2016
Can you email me,(Editor) at, and I will see what I can find. Susan W. Smith