Thousand Island Sanctuary

As the saying goes, good things come in small packages. That’s certainly true of Clayton, New York, a village of about 2,000 year-round residents on the St. Lawrence River in the heart of the beautiful Thousand Islands.
Author:
Publish date:
Updated on
thousandisland

As the saying goes, good things come in small packages. That’s certainly true of Clayton, New York, a village of about 2,000 year-round residents on the St. Lawrence River in the heart of the beautiful Thousand Islands.

An easy sail from the big waters of Lake Ontario, Clayton is a favorite haunt for local American and Canadian cruisers. Thursday evening concerts in Frink Park draw crowds during the summer, and the sunsets over the river inspire a sense of serenity as you watch ships pass on the St. Lawrence Seaway. The freighters present a peculiar oceanic ambiance when juxtaposed against the greenery of the many wooded islands that give the area its charm and name.

My arrival in the Thousand Islands marked the end of a long inland voyage. I’d sailed and motored my Bristol 24 to Clayton from New Jersey by way of the Hudson River and Erie Canal. You might say getting there was like finding my personal Holy Grail—I’d dreamed about an inland passage for years. I’d previously visited Clayton as a land cruiser, but arriving on a sailboat that had come all the way from the Atlantic Ocean was something else. I’d completed a passage thousands had made over the centuries, and I felt I was part of a maritime tradition that had been integral to the development of the United States and Canada.

Clayton’s strategic position on a peninsula so near the headwaters of the St. Lawrence River and the vastness of Lake Ontario made it an important town after its founding in 1833. Timber, mining, quarrying and shipbuilding were key industries. Then when the railroad came in 1873, the region became an international playground for the rich, famous and notorious. Today, the historic downtown has a touristy vibe, with plenty of boutiques, gift shops, art galleries, bars and restaurants, but it’s still relaxed and pleasant.

Clayton is home to three museums, each of which is well worth a visit. If you only have time to visit one, I recommend the famous Antique Boat Museum, which has 200 wooden boats, the largest freshwater collection in the country. The classic mahogany speedsters, sleek St. Lawrence Skiffs (which originated in Clayton around 1868 and were used as fishing guide boats), and the plethora of funky and primitive antique outboard engines are beautiful and captivating. 

The annual antique boat show and auction held every summer at the museum is a regional favorite. Classic boat admirers throng the 4.5-acre campus and the adjacent municipal dock, where visiting boats tie up. Check in advance to see when such big events are on, as space at the town dock and marinas can be scarce.

If you can, be sure and also amble over to the Thousand Islands Museum, with its hunting decoys, impressive freshwater trophy fish and many other exhibits celebrating the region’s storied history. The Handweaving Museum at the Thousand Islands Arts Center is another interesting attraction, if you’re into antique hand-woven textiles and like to inspect rare weaving and spinning equipment. 

Some small towns are just that—small, sleepy and out of the way—but not Clayton. It’s neither off the beaten track, nor slumberous in summertime. It’s a jewel in the midst of the incredibly beautiful Thousand Islands that is well worth exploring. 

Photo by Ian Coristine

Related

sailingabove-2

Swan Flyer: A Hot New One-design

In a racing scene that’s bristling with innovation, legacy builder Nautor’s Swan refuses to be left behind in its quest to dominate the champagne end of one-design sailing. Arriving hard on the heels of the radical Juan Kouyoumdjian-designed ClubSwan 50, the ClubSwan 36 offers a ...read more

Maiden sets out for Uruguay during the 1989-90 Whitbread race

Making Maiden

As recently as the late 1980s, the idea of an all-female sailing team in the Whitbread Round the World Race (the predecessor to the Volvo Ocean Race) seemed laughable to many. How could women handle the competition? They weren’t strong enough. They wouldn’t be able to take the ...read more

01-LEAD-J99

Four Very Different New Boat Designs

Following up on the J/121, which won a SAIL Best Boats award in 2018, the new J/99 represents a similar concept in a smaller package. Specifically, the new 32-footer’s deck layout and rig have been optimized for smaller and even doublehanded crews, with an eye toward meeting the ...read more

Dinghy Suggested CROP

Ask Sail: Dinghy Dilemma

DINGHY DILEMMA Q: We are in the throes of choosing a dinghy, and I would like to ask if you would recommend buying a RIB with a double-skinned hull rather than a single-skinned hull. Which provides better handling or stays drier? Also, aside from the heavier weight of a ...read more

Groupe Beneteau charging its boats in NEOLINE vessel

Transporting Sailboats Under Sail

Transporting sailboats under sail? That sounds like a cool concept, and it’s one that looks set to become reality in 2021 when shipping company Neoline brings its sailing cargo ships into service. Groupe Beneteau has committed to transporting boats between Europe and the United ...read more

01_vor120612_ross_0644

Sailing Master Ken Read

Images trigger memory. Preparing to interview the golden boy of American sailing, I thought I would find a picture that would show Ken Read at the peak of his sailing career, his heyday, to share and have a warm and fuzzy start to our conversation. It was a commanding image from ...read more

New-engine-being-lifted-over-stern

Know how: Replacing the Auxiliary Power System

One of the most complex tasks undertaken during Passion’s refit was the complete replacement of her auxiliary power system—engine, V-drive and fuel tanks. I needed more horsepower, which drove the need for more fuel capacity and a larger V-drive to handle the higher engine ...read more