It's an extra challenge, and extra fun, to have to take one ferry to get to another. Starting from Canada Horne's Ferry is on the far side of Wolfe Island, so first we had to queue for the Wolfe Islander's 11:30 sailing, which seemed surprisingly busy for midday on a Monday. We'd been experiencing some very variable weather, but this day the conditions are just right to cross in shirt sleeves, with a bright autumn sun and gentle breeze. We landed at the summer dock in Marysville on time at 12 noon and had 15 minutes to cross the island to meet the Horne's ferry's schedule. 10 minutes is plenty, and things are a lot more relaxed there than for the Wolfe Islander; no-one is going to be left behind.
You know you're getting close to the ferry dock at Point Alexandria as you sense the water getting closer to the road on each side; I love that feeling, the sense you're getting to the end of the world! The last thing before the simple ferry dock is the small Canadian customs and immigration building. This ferry is unique in this part of the world being international—
so make sure you bring your passport, and whatever other visa or permit you need for entering the States.
Parked ahead was a red pickup with a small trailer, and no-one else around. Eventually another truck pulls up with the ferry captain and deck hand and we're immediately waved on board. I chose to pay $20 Canadian for a car and two people to save a few cents over the $17 US alternative.
The ferry is a small side-loader, with winch-up ramps on each side. The pickup truck and trailer were directed to drive straight on until the front bumper was pushing against the port loading ramp. The trailer, small as it was, hung over the starboard side so that ramp could barely be raised. When we set sail the deck hand leapt onshore to push the ferry away from the dock to ensure the partially lowered ramp did not collide with the dock. This all seemed a bit unusual and risky, but I should have realised this probably happens several times a day, and the ferry has been operating since 1952! In fact I later came across a photo with a bus loaded on this ferry, with miles of its back end jutting out over the side.
Our crossing was beautiful and uneventful. The water near the Canadian dock was full of Canada geese, as if they wanted to make a nationalistic point! Looking upstream we could see the start of the Thousand Islands and a large seaway freighter heading our way. The ferry dock at Cape Vincent, NY, looked like it was in a long-term, casual state of renovation, and as we pulled in the two US customs and immigration officers ambled out of a building and manned their tiny kiosk. Our Canadian passports, grey hair and smiles got us through very quickly and we turned left and took the 12E for a leisurely 20 minute drive along the shore to Clayton.
Maybe a summer weekend is busier, but Clayton was pretty dead when we arrived. We grabbed some lunch at the Koffee Kove (good enough, but somewhat disappointing) then headed to the Antique Boat Museum; this was in fact a great place to spend a couple of hours. Its focus is on pleasure boats of the twentieth century around the Thousand Islands. Giant speedboats and canoes, houseboats and sailing skiffs. Acres of polished mahogany! Very interesting, better than expected and very well done. Recommended.
We decided to head home the way we had come, via the ferries. Somehow the casual feel of the customs at Point Alexandria appealed more than spending an hour queuing at the border on the Ivy Lea Bridge. But we mis-timed things and arrived at Cape Vincent far too early, so we drove along the coast to Tibbets Point lighthouse. Nothing special, but a good spot to stop by and look out over the vast expanse of Lake Ontario. I'd say this is the start of the Saint Lawrence on the US side. It also showed how exposed this ferry could be to storms and the west wind coming off the lake. As we drove back to the dock we could see the ferry still moored on the Canadian side, where it remained till about 7 minutes before it was due to leave Cape Vincent again. The boat and its crew are based on Wolfe Island, so they probably schedule their spare time on that side so they can pop home for a break.
The only surprise on our return trip was the captain recognised us and told us that as we were returning the same day the fare was just $5 instead of $20. This time there were three cars, the first parking fore and aft, and the other and us sideways, tail by one ramp and nose by the other. When you search the web, the one significant incident attributed to this ferry was in 2013 when a mini-van was travelling sideways like we now were, but the driver had left it in neutral and the motion of the boat had rammed the vehicle against the ramp such that it broke the ramp and rolled overboard. The ferry returned to search for possible people overboard, and took the still floating minivan in tow, but lost it before getting back to Cape Vincent. In fact the driver and passengers were safely out of the stricken vehicle but the ferry captain suffered a heart attack and was rushed to hospital.
But we enjoyed another uneventful crossing, watching skein after skein of geese crossing the river downstream.
The Canadian border officers were out to greet us as we disembarked, fully professional, but so much nicer to cross at a place like this rather than the major road crossings or airports. But some advice; try to avoid crossing with a full bus, because you will be loaded on the ferry first meaning you will disembark after the bus, and then have to wait while all the passengers are cleared slowly through customs by just two agents. But no worry for us and we hurried on our way, wanting to get into the queue for the Wolfe Islander as soon as possible just in case it was full. But there was no problem and we sailed back to Kingston as smoothly as everything had been that day.
The Horne's Ferry is quite special. It's been operating, with some gaps I think, since 1802, with the same family running it all that time. It is one of the very few privately owned international Canada–USA crossings. We first tried to use it to return to Kingston from a camping trip to Yellowstone and Utah in 1997 but arrived too late for the last sailing and had to head on to the Ivy Lea Bridge. It's definitely a fun alternative to using the bridge, with its potential long delays at customs, but beware – it only runs 12 hours a day, and only for 6 months a year.
And the boat name? This puzzled me for while, but brothers William and Darrell Horne ran the service from 1945 to 1950, and the current boat, the MV William Darrell went into service in 1952.