PWC Riding Through Ontario’s Famous Thousand Islands

Islands Galore!

My Sea-Doo ride on the St. Lawrence River through Ontario’s world famous Thousand Islands launched from Portsmouth Olympic Harbour in Kingston. We rode outbound on the Canadian side (north) to the Iroquois lock and back along the American (south) for a 125-mile round trip. I could see from the St. Lawrence charts that once amid the Islands, some would be ours, others would be theirs, and a few would be a bit of both. Locals informed me that boating through American waters was no problem, but not to go ashore on U.S. soil without first checking in with Customs and Immigration. Same goes for American riders landing in Canada.

WOW…was I ever unprepared for the majesty of the Thousand Islands! Their picturesque topography blends rocky shorelines and dense foliage with rugged islets of every size and shape. Their magnificent presence quickly transformed my normal expectation that river riding consists of travelling a linear strip of unbroken water bounded by two shores. Instead, we experienced a jigsaw puzzle of cruising choices…big water, small water, scenic channels, large bays, small coves, backwaters, hidden inlets, oodles of shore, and of course, islands galore!

And how about those cottages…or should I say mansions? Historically, the Thousand Islands is a recreational playground for many well-off families with palatial residences. From century old to ultra-contemporary and everything in between, this eye candy architecture considerably enhances the area’s overall wow factor for today’s riders.

St. Lawrence River Channel MarkerNavigation markers along the St.Lawrence River range from small buoys to huge channel markers.

I bet there are as many cruise boats as there are islands! Based in virtually every port along the river, they come in all sizes and configurations. These ubiquitous and slow moving boats hardly make any wake. When we had a doubt about where we were, following one (or watching from whence it came) helped put us back on route easily. We didn’t worry much about getting lost anyway. Even during that mid-week dog day of summer, pleasure craft were abundant and many people were at their cottages if one needed to ask for assistance.

Best of all, the waterway is well-marked and easily navigable, with little worry about unexpected rocks or shallow spots if you stick to the travelled byways. Generally, the markers parallel the two mainlands. Whichever set of buoys you follow (assuming that it isn’t a marina channel) will eventually merge with a main channel. Note that there are parallel Canadian and American main channels for much of the waterway between Kingston and Brockville. Clusters of islands separate them most of the time. Consequently, what we sometimes perceived as mainland often turned out to be another island. However, knowing that Canada was always north, we had little trouble working our way back to our side of the route.

The charts also indicated numerous rocks and shoals, some similar to those found in Georgian Bay’s inner channel. From the seats of our Sea-Doo watercraft, all were either clearly visible or were marked. That’s one of the benefits of riding a waterway frequented by lots of residents and cottagers. They want to avoid damaging their own with big, expensive cruisers and runabouts…everything’s well marked for or by them!

PWC Rest StopWith plenty of back bays and channels, it’s easy to find quiet water for a rest stop.

Wind was relatively calm for our ride. Surface conditions ranged from slight chop in the open to dead calm in protected areas. We did encounter prevailing turbulence caused by powerful undercurrents as the river narrows at the Ivy Lea – Thousand Islands International Bridge to the U.S. near Rockport. A similar phenomenon also happened in the wake of several huge freighters using the Seaway channel, but neither of these occurrences had much effect on our very stable Sea-Doo watercraft. That said, I wouldn’t recommend venturing out if winds are strong in open areas, unless you’re really into wave jumping!

Besides those already mentioned, highlights of our ride included the Martello towers and Old Fort Henry at Kingston Harbour; the imposing statue of St. Lawrence overlooking Raft Narrows on the Canadian shore just east of the Ivy Lea – Thousand Islands International Bridge; and the Singer and Boldt Castles located on islands in the U.S. channel on the way back from Brockville. And don’t miss that sinking boathouse on an island just east of Boldt Castle – that is, if it hasn’t already gone under before you get there!

I was so impressed with the Thousand Islands, that I made a return Sea-Doo trip several weeks later with my wife. She really loved this ride too, and we both agree that it will become a regular destination for us. Believe me, PWC riding doesn’t get any better than spending hot summer days exploring the amazing Thousand Islands!

Where to Fuel: Portsmouth Olympic Harbour, Kingston; Gordon Marine, Gananoque; Ed Huck Marine (also Sea-Doo dealer), Rockport; Gilbert Marina, Brockville.

Where to Eat: Gananoque Inn; Bud’s on the Bay, Brockville

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