October 7, 2016
North American River Cruise: A Photographic Journey
My last trip on Grande Mariner was a locks and legends cruise, Montreal to New York City. Of all the different cruises I have lectured on over the years this one remains one of my favorites for a host of reasons. Among them: The routing from Montreal to Quebec, Three Rivers, Lake Ontario, Oswego Canal, Erie Canal (NY Barge Canal), Mohawk River and Hudson River, slices deep into North America showcasing areas most folks never get to experience. We often talk about history and the great explorers who opened the continent to the world, but this trip allows us to literally reach out and touch history! The Grande Mariner followed in the wake of those brave pioneers. The hand of man rests but lightly on much of our cruising grounds. Squeezing under the low bridges of the Erie Canal is fascinating and a trip only Blount can make. Watching the crew lower and raise the wheelhouse is a treat unto itself.
One of the best features of this cruise, or really any BSSA cruise, is the wonderful people you meet. Not just fellow passengers, but crew too. Invariably the passengers are folks with great travel experience and not just cruising either. Most important they want to learn about the area we are cruising, the history, culture and people.
I always shoot a lot of pictures on my trips. These are just a few that really bring the memories back to me.
The streets of Old Quebec are always thronged with people exploring this most ancient city, a little piece of old France in North America. It was on the Plains of Abraham just outside the old city’s west gate that British general Wolfe defeated French general Montcalm in September 1759. As the result the French lost all of North America. Parks Canada offers an excellent walking tour of the old fortifications military buffs would find fascinating.
Moving up the St. Lawrence River for Lake Ontario we are never far from the big ships, a constant reminder we are sailing on one of the world’s great waterways. The Bay Comeau is a new Canadian "laker" built in China as Canada is no longer capable of building such large steel freighters. Such is the shifting parameters of international trade.
The mansion like homes amongst the 1,000 Islands area of the upper St. Lawrence are certainly symbols of the Gilded Age but none more so than the 147 room Boldt Castle on Heart Island. Legend says it was built by George Boldt, the owner of New York’s Waldorf– Astoria Hotel among other properties. It was to be a surprise to his wife. When she died unexpectedly he was heart-broken and immediately stopped all work on the then partially built castle. It remained unfinished until the 1970s when the State of New York took on the task of completing it which is nearly finished. Today it is open to the public and an incredible look into the daily lives of the financial titans of the age of ostentatious consumption. In it’s day the 1000 Islands rivaled Newport, the Hamptons, Cape May and Mackinac Island’s cottage row as a playground for the rich and famous.
This trip is locks, locks and more locks and while each is the same in purpose, each is also different in some aspect from all others. We easily fall into the steady pattern of lock after lock. Every one is well maintained with a friendly lock keeper waiting to greet us. Although real commercial traffic on the canal is long gone, there is a steady stream of recreational boats using the historic waterway.
The canal has a constantly change in moods. In the early morning a thin mist wafts gently across the surface as the Grande Mariner slides slowly past.
The early risers are always found gathered around the chart plotter display on the lounge TV showing our location.
The Hudson River Maritime Museum in Kingston, NY is a great favorite of mine. It focuses on how the common folk earned a difficult living on the water in sharp contrast to the rich Hudson River aristocrats.
The US Military Academy at West Point is always a favorite stop. The home of the nation’s "Long Gray Line" has produced Army officers, both men and women, who have led, and continue to lead, the nation in war and peace. The expert guides from "the Point" are fantastic explaining not only the colorful history of the academy but also the day to operation. During the American Revolution a heavy iron chain was stretched across the narrow river just behind the guide to prevent British ships from passing.
About the Author
Fred Stonehouse authored over thirty books on maritime history, many of them focusing on the Great Lakes and contributed to several others. The Wreck of Edmund Fitzgerald and Great Lakes Lighthouse Tales are regional bestsellers. Wreck Ashore, the U.S. Life-Saving Service on the Great Lakes, won a national publishing award and is the predominant work on the subject. Another book, Haunted Lakes, Great Lakes Maritime Ghost Stories, Superstitions and Sea Serpents, opened an entirely new genre in Great Lakes study.
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