Cruise Groups - Making Memories with Antique Boats
By Duncan Remington

Gray, cool and brisk, the early morning silence on the bay is broken by the sounds of engines, as the intrepid adventurers prepare for the day's activity. This day is planned in some detail and consists of several hours of shoreline inspection along with four stops, where we have been invited to visit boathouses and boats of the privileged few, who hold some of the best of the antique boats and in magnificent surroundings. We meet and greet and joke about the misadventures of the day before, as the various parties' board and move off the Pinelands Resort docks to line up behind the chosen lead boat.  Comments on the ship-to-ship (vhf radio) let us know that we are waiting for a couple of folks who forgot to bring their chart or the cooler or some such. But we are soon underway, and the dew on the decks is evaporating, to be replaced by our own spray that is kicking back at us with a little breeze from the heavens.This is antique and classic boating at its best.

We have an itinerary, but it is simpler to just follow the group.  We are lagging behind, since we are not the fastest boat, and this means we may get last choice for docking at our destinations, but we are used to crawling through a couple of rafted boats, and we know we can count on lots of help tying up. Following too close just means a rougher ride anyway, and there is always ample time at each destination. We leave Lake Joseph and enter Lake Rosseau. Our first rendezvous is in the Port Carling lock, where we change lakes again, and levels. Our group of sixteen boats is easily accommodated in one pass, especially since a couple of "incidents" have reduced our numbers already to fourteen.  One boat was running too rough to start out and another developed a cooling problem and decided to be left here to limp back to headquarters later, after the day's activities.  These problems are given with old engines, but the best part of the group activity is that we are equipped to deal with them and one is never alone.  Radio contact keeps us together, even when we are out of sight.  If anyone is not accounted for at a destination, a search party will find them.
Now, on Lake Muskoka, we split into two groups and stagger our visits to some of the most wonderful boathouses our tour guide for the day, Peter Breen, was able to provide.  In smaller groups we don't stress the docking facilities.  Breen's position as a master restorer and boat builder gives him access to some of Canada's finest boats and their houses, and he has kindly offered to arrange for us to tour some of them.  This is a bit of luck, for without this local contact, we would be viewing transoms from afar, mostly.

It is easy to be awed by the splendor of Canadian boats, and we saw some fine ones.  Much humbler, we later return to our base in time for our evening social hour, which tapers off into the night sounds of our own infamous "Beer Bottle Babes", a group of regulars on these trips, who like to sing along with the music of their teenage years (beer bottles simulating the microphones on some occasions).  It is off- season and we have the lodge to ourselves, so no one is disturbed.  Those of us who retire early, fall easily asleep to those sounds, and dream of doing it all again tomorrow.  Too much is never enough when it comes to our old wooden boats.

On any summer weekend there are several boat shows across the country, sponsored by the various clubs promoting preservation and enjoyment of antique boats.  The social and educational aspects of these are noteworthy, but most times, the boats stay at the docks and the participants stay on the land.  For boaters, serious boaters, this may not be enough.  For many of us, using our boats is a large part of the joy.  Enter cruises!

When we say cruises, you might only imagine day trips.  Our club, Wine Country Classic Boats Chapter of the Antique and Classic Boat Society (located in the New York Finger Lakes), stages these, one in the spring before show season, and one on our show weekend, before the boats are displayed.  These are great fun, and easily organized, because they are in our home waters.  What we are to address here, however, is multi-day cruises on new waters, preferably within a day's towing of home, but even farther on some occasions.  Where groups have planned these kinds of events, they are so popular that they have often become annual attractions.  Our own fall cruise is an example of this.

Many years ago, in the autumn, a few members of the Wine Country Classic Boats decided to explore some of the many lakes in the Adirondack Mountains of New York.  The next year, others who had heard about this adventure asked to join, and a few more lakes were explored by a little larger contingent.  At the end of the cruise, the group put their heads together and decided where they would like to go the next year.  Suddenly we had an annual event, although not yet a formal club function.  And we were having fun and meeting new friends in a way that made for more lasting relationships.  Now we were really a club within the organization.  Each year the group grew a little bigger and the trip got a little more ambitious.  Eventually the club sanctioned and subsidized (to a small extent) the trips.  It became a subject of club planning and publicity, and as such has grown more extensive and better organized.  A dozen participants has become close to six dozen.

Across the country other groups have been having similar experiences.  Some trips have been so well received that the same itinerary becomes an annual attraction.  The annual St. John's River (Florida) trip (Sunnyland Chapter, ACBS) got so popular that they now do it twice, once toward the Mt. Dora Boat Show, and once to return from the show.  The Tennessee River cruise (Dixieland Chapter, ACBS), which covers some 480 miles, is another popular annual event.  These trips get national publicity and draw participants from far away.

With groups across the country awakening to the fun these trips provide, more and more are being organized.  To attempt to coordinate the scheduling of the many trips, John Ford (ACBS, Wine Country and Fordcraft Boats) was selected by ACBS to contact the various organizations within its ranks and see if there could be an order to the events.  We asked John what he thought was his mission, and, with a grin, he replied, " To stagger the schedules so that the trips don't overlap.  I want to go on all of them".  And indeed, he, and wife Bonnie, have gone on many.

Putting together one of these trips requires a few basics.  First you need an interesting area to visit, with enough shoreline to cruise for at least several hours on each of three or four days.  We are trailer boaters, so it need not be all on one body of water.  Next you need some interesting places to visit such as museums, boat yards, or boathouses with vintage boats or exceptional camps or cottages.  Shopping areas are a must for the ladies.
Then you need a central location for headquarters, preferably where you can dock the fleet and get meals.  Finally, you need someone to plan and coordinate activities who have local familiarity and contacts.
A good cruise weekend has all of the above, lunch accommodations for large groups, and our favorite, the Friday Night Cocktail Hour, where we get together, share hors d'oeuvres and beverages and generally bypass dinner.  Whenever the area offers us the opportunity, we try to plan a dinner cruise on a local boat line as well.

Those of us who go on these trips regularly own our Ship to Ship radios.  The Chapter owns a few as well, which can be signed out for the trip.  These are used to describe where we are, find "lost" participants, or inform others of hazards in the water.  While almost impossible to hear clearly when underway, these hand held units have been a great communication tool, nevertheless, and are great for pointing out the last spot to tie up at a crowded landing.

To bring or not to bring, that is the question.  Whether 'tis nobler to tow a boat or to ride with the others is an issue not easily answered.  This year, for the first time ever, we had to think seriously about this matter.  Our destination was the popular Muskoka Lakes area of Ontario, Canada.  We were returning to this area after an unforgettable experience there a few years before.  Word had gotten around about that previous trip and we had a record participation.  When we did the math on the number of folks and the number of seats, it became obvious that we needed more boats.  This is especially true when you factor into the equation that at least 10% of the boats will have disabling problems, and away from home repair parts are scarce and breakdowns more permanent.  This year our percentage was more like 20% for the weekend.  Fortunately, our coordinator cajoled a couple of folks into bringing boats they had not scheduled, and eased the situation.  Probably, a good plan is to have about half the seating booked, on average.

And when your adventure is over and you are reflecting on the great   time, it doesn't hurt to reward your hosts with a remembrance along with the obvious thank you.  When we recently asked to return to Lake Winnipesaukee (NH), next year's planned fall trip, folks we had visited remembered us as ".... the guys who gave us the plaque.  Sure you can come back!"  And those plaques were prominently displayed.

Watch the activity calendars for upcoming cruises.  They will, we predict, be showing up more and more.  If your group hasn't planned one of these cruises, suggest seeing some of the interesting waterways, not too far from home.  You will be delighted with what is lurking nearby and how much fun you can have discovering it this way