Making Waves: My Top 10 Boating Adventures
Growing up in New Hampshire's Lakes Region, boating was a pastime I enjoyed from an early age. In the late 80s, Dad inherited a classic wooden motorboat that was rough around the edges. After hundreds of hours cleaning her up and making her seaworthy, she was launched on Lake Winnipesaukee. She made up for her lack of size with character and ability to get us afloat, powered with a whopping 25 horsepower. After many years of watery fun, though, maintenance of this fair vessel became cumbersome and with mixed feelings, he moved on to a sturdier Boston Whaler.
Long story short, I've probably been out on New Hampshire's lakes 100+ times in my life, roughly split 60/40 between Winnipesaukee and Winnisquam. There's something deeply satisfying about gliding over the surface of placid waters that I have always cherished.
In this post, however, I'm not going to be talking about these journeys close to home, but rather some of my other favorite boating experiences. When brainstorming which bodies of water I've been on over the years, I realized that it was evenly divided between boat tours and the more practical but no less beautiful ferry rides. Given the difference between the two types of journey, I've opted to do two "top 5" lists rather than a giant Top 10. Hopefully you'll find the variety of geography intriguing. Sometimes you just have to add water.
St. Lawrence River, Québec (June 1997)
One of my earliest travel memories, this is probably the shortest boat trip on the entire list, but oh what a view. The striking Chateau Frontenac and the Euro-style skyline of Québec at sunset on a mild June evening made for a distinct reminiscence. Pop Quiz: what's the name of the city located across the river from Québec City? (answer at bottom)
Woods Hole-Oak Bluffs, Martha's Vineyard (Sept. 2020)
I'll remember this one for the glorious weather, sweeping views of a renowned island, and the sunset on the return journey, the hues of which are done no justice by the above shot.
5) Muskegon-Milwaukee, Lake Michigan (June 2017)
Part of the Given Latitude adventure, this ferry helped us avoid a traffic-choked 5-hour car ride around Lake Michigan's southern shores, and enabled Dad and me to stay directly on the 43rd parallel. Bonus points for transporting us to a new state, and for the interesting mix of strong headwinds and evening's golden glow on Milwaukee's skyline upon arrival.
4) Manhattan-Staten Island (May 2012)
Probably the worst-kept secret in New York, the Staten Island ferry is a (free!) way to take in the sites, skyscrapers, and general mind-boggling chaos of the Big Apple. In addition to being surrounded by one of the world's most dynamic cities, the people watching is second-to-none.
3) San Francisco-Alcatraz-Sausalito (May 2014)
For #3 I'm actually grouping two ferries into one, since they ply the same body of water. Visiting Alcatraz is a true bucket list item, one I'd highly recommend to anyone if they happen to be on the west coast. The following day, Alyse and I took a one-way ferry back to SF from Sausalito after a grueling but immensely worthwhile walk across the Golden Gate Bridge. Arriving back at the Ferry Building to dramatic evening lighting was the perfect end to a long day in and around the bay.
2) Landeyjahöfn-Vestmannaeyjar, Iceland (July 2022)
The most recent boat trip of them all, this one was perhaps the most otherworldly. From a rainy departure from nowhere to arrival at a mini-me island, riding this ferry was truly a thrill. On the return journey, dramatic lighting of surrounding bits of land jutting out of the frigid depths was utterly breathtaking.
1) Pozzallo-Valletta, Italy-Malta (June 2009)
This one takes top spot not only for its Mediterranean vibe. Not only for the fact that Alyse and I were greeted by stalwart medieval walls. It was also the only time in my life that I got on a boat and disembarked in a different country. Malta may be the Florida of the Mediterranean, well-trammeled by Brits and Italians, but to honeymooning Americans we might as well have been landing on the shores of the 16h century. Truly unforgettable.
Miami (February 2022)
This is the only tour on the list that was punctuated by loud hip-hop music, but you know what? It worked. We were in Miami, loud and proud. The fact that it was a daddy-daughter adventure with a backdrop of teal water and swaying palm trees made it all the sweeter.
Lake Champlain (September 2008)
The only cruise on this list that didn't happen in the last 5 years, this was a getaway weekend for Alyse and me... back before we were an old married couple. The Adirondacks on one side, Green Mountains on the other, and us, holding hands in between, makes this tour worthy of an honorable mention.
Charles River, Boston (August 2019)
Another date night special relatively close to home, this one enabled us to see Boston from different angles than I'd ever seen it in my dozens of visits. There's something about an urban water tour that's immensely appealing to me, as you will see with #4 on the list.
5) Mailboat Tour, Lake Winnipesaukee (July 2019)
OK, so I said this post wouldn't be about my Lakes Region home, but the Doris E mailboat makes the list anyway, not least for the uniqueness of its role as a floating post office. Delivering mail to islands was a cultural experience as well as a tour of one of my favorite lakes anywhere.
4) Chicago River/Lake Tour (September 2018)
Four years ago I decided to take a random Tuesday off and visit Chicago. The highlight of my day was undoubtedly the Wendella tour that showcased not only massive Lake Michigan, but also the Windy City's sensational sky-piercing towers. Being on water but in a canyon of imposing glass and steel monoliths was truly something to write home about.
If that weren't enough, the tour's narrator had an astonishing grasp on the city's history, making it not only informative but truly captivating. I would do it again in a heartbeat.
3) Columbia R., Oregon-Washington (June 2017)
Traversing the Columbia River on an authentic sternwheeler made for something of a retro experience. The scenery was powerful, the equivalent of a mesmerizing Van Halen guitar solo. The captain's riveting narration and humble demeanor - he even let Dad pilot the boat - was the icing on this magnificent northwestern cake. Washington on one side, Oregon on the other, and majesty throughout.
2) Everglades Airboat Tour (February 2022)
Taking an airboat (or, if you prefer, fanboat) ride in Florida's swampy Everglades was a bucket list item I checked off earlier this year. The noise from the propellers was intense, but the feeling of gliding through sawgrass was something that can't be duplicated. Seeing copious gators and majestic birds in their natural habitat was enhanced by the knowledge of another wonderful guide. Sharing the moments with Julia vaults this adventure into 2nd place on my list.
1) Kenai Fjords NP, Alaska (September 2021)
Probably the most exotic boat tour I could dream of taking, splashing around in Alaska's icy seas was an experience to cherish. Witnessing the calving of a glacier backed by brilliant blue skies and fronted by dramatic teal waters was the stuff of dreams. Words simply fail to convey the pervasive sense of being in an extraordinary locale.
But wait! I'd be remiss if I didn't mention one more. It wasn't a boat tour per se, as in a guy with a microphone narrating "on your left, you'll see..." but rather a life-altering river journey into pristine rainforest environment in southern Peru. Coasting along the Tambopata and Madre de Dios Rivers on a 10-day grad school course on the ecology of the Amazon, the scenery engaged me for hours and hours on end. If you haven't yet read my post on this 2006 Peruvian experience, check it out here.
Pop Quiz answer: Lévis (not Levi's like the jeans, but rather Lay-VEE)