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SHIP! It’s a game we started when my husband retired nine years ago. It’s nothing original. We actually got the idea from our friends Stu and Helve Clough.

Grenellian, Katie duBon says her three boys used to play a similar game when they were growing up, only instead of calling out, “Ship,” they called out, “Big Boat” as ship sometimes sounded like…well, you know.

Situated as we are on the northeast corner of Grenell, we have a three and a half minute window to view ships on the St. Lawrence Seaway. A ship moving up river (toward the lakes) first appears just beyond the yellow boathouse off of Coast Avenue of Thousand Island Park, passes in front of Rock Island Lighthouse, then behind a small island named Castle Francis and ultimately disappears behind Pullman Island. A ship moving down river (toward Montreal and the sea) first appears from behind Pullman and disappears behind T.I. Park.

Sometimes on still days, we can hear the far off rumbling of engines long before we see the ship. But it’s not enough to hear the ship. You have to see the ship. (Rule #1)

Sometimes we will hear a ship while at the Richard’s cottage. They are two cottages to the south of us and they have no view of the Seaway. The sound of a ship will send us running—yes running—toward our point in hopes of seeing and calling, “Ship!” first. Our neighbors stand slackjaw, mouths agape, astounded at our childishness. All I have to say is, they better step out of the way or they might get run down, especially if it’s near the end of the month. In  our on-going ship contest, whoever sees the most ships in a day, wins the day. Whoever wins the most days, wins the month. If it’s near the end of the month and the score is tied, look out! There might be a little shoving or a few elbows thrown. Ships are one point. Coast Guard cutters and barges are a half a point. (Rule #2)

One year we went into the end of July at a tie. Our anniversary is the last day of July, which would have meant a fiercely competitive day. Our son recommended that we not play on that day and resolve to end the month in a tie instead of fighting for a victory on our anniversary. We did, but we didn’t like it much. After that day, we came up with a new way of scoring for the next year. We decided to record the number ships we saw each day and if the month ended in a tie, who ever saw the most ships during the month would win the month. Ending in a tie was for sissies. The new scoring scheme was a great anniversary present to each other.

For our anniversary the next year, our daughter created a write on/wipe off Ship Tally, which we keep on the refrigerator.

The game isn’t restricted to our small 3 ½ minute window, but extends to wherever else we are on the river. My favorite is seeing a ship coming under the Thousand Islands Bridge, headed up river just as we are arriving at the marina for the first time in the season.


“SHIP!” It’s a great way to start the season. Ahead by one point.


Sometimes it’s hard to see ships at night. Some ships are lit up like Christmas trees, but others just have two lights: a light on the bow and a light on the stern These ships are like dark, silent shadows, passing through the night. They are discernable more by the lights they block on the mainland and islands on the other side of the channel than the light they give off.

Sometimes in the fog, we will hear a ship, but have to look very hard to see the ship. I look closely hoping to see a mast moving above the fog. Because if you call ship and there is no ship…there is a one ship deduction. (RULE #3)




Some days are big ships days. We might see as many as 15. Other days are low ship days and we might not see any. Because our eyes are always scanning the seaway, we have seen some amazing sights over the years: cruise ships, naval vessels, barges towing weird apparatus, three-mast schooners and in the September of 2005, I saw the Staten Island Ferry. I had to get the binoculars, because I didn’t trust my eyes.. But yup, that’s what it was. The Staten Island Ferry heading downriver. What was it doing in the St. Lawrence Seaway? After a little online research, I learned that the ferry was built in Wisconsin and was en route to the Big Apple.

When guests see how competitive we are about our ship game, they ask what we win. Gary and I share a puzzled look. “What is the prize,” they’ll press. Prize? We play for bragging rights. What could be better than that?

One night late in May, we took a boat ride down to Clayton with our friends, the Cloughs, to see the steam yacht Cangarda. En route Gary saw a ship and called it. “I called it first,” Helve says. But we reminded her that this is our game and anyone else calling ship doesn’t count. It’s between the two of us. Gary got that one. But never mind. The next day I saw 7 ships and Gary only saw one barge. Not only did I win the day, but I won the month of May. One month down and three more to go!

By Lynn E. McElfresh

Lynn McElfresh is a regular contributor to TI Life. In fact this article is number 25!  She often writes about her favorite Grenell Island and island life.  We have learned a great deal over the past year from her musings, from moving pianos to island weddings or from plumbing problems to meeting old friends and taking nature walks.  Last month she introduced Ospreys!  This month she teaches us a new game!  To see all of Lynn’s island experiences, search TI Life under Lynn E. McElfresh.

All photographs courtesy of Lynn and Gary McElfresh.

  • The McElfresh game of  Ship

    The McElfresh game of Ship

  • We often see cruise ships in the fall

    We often see cruise ships in the fall

  • Measuring from upriver to tip of Castle Francis to Rock Island Lighthouse

    Measuring from upriver to tip of Castle Francis to Rock Island Lighthouse

  • Another cruise ship

    Another cruise ship

  • Ships and weather always interesting

    Ships and weather always interesting

  • Yeild to ongoing ships

    Yeild to ongoing ships


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Pat Parsons Reagen
Comment by: Pat Parsons Reagen ( )
Left at: 11:27 PM Tuesday, June 14, 2011
My husband grew up in Ogdensburg, NY with a camp in Morristown and the river has always been part of his life. Within his group of friends they played that same game of claim that ship. There were specific rules to the game. They had to yell "Claim that ship" and then lick their thumb, stamp it in their palm and then hit the palm with their fists twice. My husband in turn taught his two sons and their friends who came to visit. They always can't wait to jump in the river and claim that first ship. When our two sons traveled to Japan and England, I would email them to "Claim that ship". We even do it now on Facebook and everyone claims that saw it first, even from Florida. Wonderful tradition that has been passed on to the next generation. Thank you for the article - it seems "Claiming that ship" is shared along the river.
Comment by: Lynn ( )
Left at: 6:37 AM Wednesday, June 15, 2011
Pat, thanks for sharing. Sounds like my husband and I are in good company with other people up and down the river.

Lynn McElfresh

P.S. As of today, I'm winning the month of June...but only by one day.
Wayne Strauss
Comment by: Wayne Strauss ( )
Left at: 9:44 AM Wednesday, June 15, 2011
This is great! When I was a kid we played "I See a Ship No Nothin's". I think the additional words may have derived from somebody just yelling "ship", being misunderstood and getting smacked - can't quite remember. Specific rules here, too: when you saw a ship, you had to yell "I see a ship no nothin's!!", "no nothin's" being loosely interpreted as a combination of "and you can't say I don't" together with "and don't claim that you saw it first". If you saw it second you yelled "I see a ship second no nothin's" (eventually abbreviated to "Second") which was still relatively honorable. "Third" and/or "Fourth" were generally spoken quietly, because it was rather dishonorable to just not play at all. If you were going to be stuck with "Fifth" you pretended to be distracted with something else much more interesting, like a stone or a colorful bug. The game eventually expanded to "I See the Bridge No Nothin's", since you can spot the TI bridge from miles away on 81 North - if you know right where to look on the treeline. Today - at least among my tiny little clan - you can basically see ANYTHING "no nothin's", which immediately harkens back to a day when one was much shorter, and the ships seemed much bigger. That was a good day; sunny, as I recall... Wayne
dave nims
Comment by: dave nims ( )
Left at: 11:19 AM Wednesday, June 15, 2011
We have been playing game with kid and grandkids usining
Phrase " I call that ship. Arrived on island 1st wk of aprill
Saw ship and imeadiately texed kids I call that ship.
Deane Parkhurst
Comment by: Deane Parkhurst ( )
Left at: 11:42 AM Monday, June 20, 2011
Great “Ship” story but I particularly enjoyed the reference to Castle Francis Island. A reference point mentioned in the story. Anyone remember why Castle Francis carries that name? Probably so but if not: There was at one time a real castle on the island. Well, real to the point of a large mansion featuring one tower built with the traditional castle configuration at the top. I don’t remember the exact year, sometime in the mid 1950s, but two young men vacationing with their family from New Jersey ran into trouble with the TI Park Yacht Club (In name only). They were by today’s standards a couple of young thugs looking for trouble. They found it when they tried to intimidate us teens who practically lived at the club house in the TI Park Main Dock pavilion. The club Commodore at the time was Betsy Brown who was dating John Withers from Fine View. Anyone remembering John would also remember he was a big guy, really big. Betsy kicked the punks out of the club house with John as her “Sergeant at Arms” standing by. In retaliation the pair decided to turn to arson. Castle Francis was their first, and only, attempt. It was a spectacular night time blaze with the TI Park fire boat and one from Fishers Landing doing their best but to no avail. Daylight revealed nothing left of the building other than smoldering ruins. Had their plans continued the two arsonists had the TI Park Main Dock pavilion and The Wellesley Hotel in their sights. The New York State Police made quick work of their investigation with the two arrested and taken to jail in Watertown. I have no idea what their final disposition was but it’s safe to assume the family never returned to TI Park.
Comment by: Hans ( )
Left at: 12:33 PM Tuesday, July 5, 2011
Excellent. I see many of these same ships pass by regularly along the St. Lawrence on the Canadian side.

Is there a schedule of any kind with the times or schedules of ships that sail into the St. Lawrence?
Michael Folsom
Comment by: Michael Folsom ( )
Left at: 9:04 PM Tuesday, July 5, 2011
Hans -

Many of the ships you see on a regular basis are making constant runs between select ports, usually to deliver iron ore, salt or grain. This means they deliver, turn around and do it all over again.

For the best "schedule" of ships, check the Seaway Tracker at and click on the map. This will show you the current, active ships on the river.

- Mike (
LeeAnn LaVanchard
Comment by: LeeAnn LaVanchard ( )
Left at: 7:15 PM Friday, July 8, 2011
When I was knee-high to a grasshopper, my Grandmother lived in Clayton in one of the apartment buildings on the main street. A big brown building that is still there today. The apartment was long, from street to river. When a ship would go past, I would run all the way (well I thought it was a long way) from one end of the apartment to the porch yelling "big shippee, big shippee"! I still will yell "big shippee" when I see one on the river. One of my most favorite memories.
Comment by: Hans ( )
Left at: 10:49 AM Tuesday, July 12, 2011
Mike - Thank you very much for the helpful link! It will be great to track them now!