Sailing in the Thousand Islands

For sailors, there is nothing more relaxing than to spend those warm summer days out on the water, sailing from island to island and marveling at the stunning beauty of nature. Nights, find them anchored in a secluded cove, gazing at the star-filled sky. For many Ontario sailors, the Thousand Islands may well be the best place in the world to visit.

Wallace Island aerial photo
Photo: Wallace Island, Some rights reserved by D_M_D

The Thousand Islands are an archipelago comprising over 1,800 islands ranging vastly in size which are found in the upper St Lawrence River. The islands straddle the border with the USA which runs down the centre of the St. Lawrence. Those located on the Canadian side are all found in the province of Ontario and stretch for about 50 miles downstream from Kingston. The largest at 40 square miles is Wolfe Island; the smallest are just a few square feet in size with only a few pieces of vegetation.

The islands are a favourite recreation area for Ontario residents, and draws visitors from all over the world. The natural environment draws nature lovers, bird watchers and fishermen and the islands and channels create a wonderful environment for sailing, boating, and water sports of all kinds. Tourist cruises are offered daily from several ports so that the islands are truly accessible to everyone. UNESCO designated the Thousand Islands as a World Biosphere Reserve back in 2002 and there are many parks which can be visited on both the US and Canadian sides of the archipelago.

People all over the world are familiar with the name of the Thousand Islands as they have also given their name to the popular and widely-consumed salad dressing. The Thousand Islands dressing was reputedly created by the chef of the Waldorf-Astoria hotel around 1900 at the request of George Boldt who built Boldt castle on Heart Island

One particularly appealing aspect of sailing in this area is the extremely clear water which can allow people to see the rocky bottom even at depths of 80 feet. This is mostly due to the ever-increasing presence of the zebra mussel which is growing rapidly and feasting on the algae, thus significantly improving water clarity. Shipwrecks are also a common sight with some of them being found in very shallow water, resting at a mere 15-foot depth and clearly visible by all tourists.

The downside to the beautiful underwater scenery is the fact that this makes sailing more difficult than normal. Due to the large presence of shoals and rocks which can be located in just a couple of feet of water, amateur sailors are either advised to stick to large areas such as the Saint Lawrence Seaway or to hire experienced captains who know the area better and can traverse the hazardous waterway without incident. For those with experience navigating the Thousand Islands, it is easy to find deep water as the bottom can quickly reach as deep as 200 feet beneath sea level even just 25 feet offshore. For everyone else, however, it is recommended to avoid sailing at night,to study your charts and to stick to the main channels.

Over 8,000 acres of land in this area are protected by the Thousand Islands Land Trust. People are encouraged to sail here as it is open to the public all year long and the islands are accessible without charge. Special treks for kids or teenagers can be arranged and common activities include historical tours, bird walks, field trips, bike rides and wildlife presentations.

Other popular sailing destinations include the Lake of the Isles which is an area cut off from the rest of the Saint Lawrence River by two neighbouring islands, Wellesley Island and Canadian Hill Island. Fishing fans can head just southwest of Wellesley Island until they find Eel Bay, a popular fishing spot which is said to resemble the Caribbean with its turquoise coloured water and sandy bottoms.