Agnes Island, Lake George, NY, August 2014

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the Dragonfly with sails down, Agnes Island

Many people use sailing terms to get through hard things in life:”keep on an even keel”, “don’t rock the boat”, “stay the course” they tell themselves. I found myself doing the opposite during rough waters aboard the Dragonfly with a nervous Captain Fantastic in charge. “Deep breaths”, “this too shall pass”, etcetera. NO references to water or boats or sailing, smooth or otherwise. I was too busy gripping the sides of the boat, watching the “Lev-O-Gage” register an alarming tilt angle and planning how to keep my glasses from falling to the bottom of the lake like they did last year.

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Another view of Agnes (L), one of the tiny island we could swim to from Agnes (R)

Ah, Lake George. The crystal clear water surrounded by forested mountains where surely the unicorns come to drink on occasion. It was our third time on the enchanted islands of rock and pine and our second with the little sailboat. Five of our family had only been home a few days after Pennsic and Burning Chicken, so it was with weary arms that we packed and schlepped from home to car to boat to campsite. But we were rewarded with the soft Milky Way in a clear black sky, musical crickets and breezes, and that magical water.  Mr Fantastic honed his sailing skills in some rough waters and we had some easier sailing, too.

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Fiercely jumping from rocks, Really with a fish

We camped this year on Agnes Island, since when we registered we were unable to get sites on Vicars Island. Agnes has only 5 sites, is closer to parts of the mainland, and in our experience is more public than Vicars. From our launch point Huletts Landing, it was about the same distance. Being closer to the mainland, Agnes seems to attract more picnickers and people who want to jump off the rocks, a bit of a drawback since we were rustic camping and sailing and not too excited to interact with speedboats and their owners. Not to say anything bad about the vacationers we met, all were quite nice and friendly and the kids even played a little, but overall I would prefer not to have the loud music and the random people dropping by, parking their kayaks a few feet from our tent. We’ll try for Vicars next time I think.

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So many mushrooms!  Was it due to the cooler summer weather? I had to document.

That said, we had reserved three campsites and mostly had the place to ourselves, especially late afternoon through late mornings. We explored the island, new to us, and found rocks to jump from, many mushrooms, nice swimming spots, and even a sub-island accessible by a rock ‘path’ in the water. There were also three other tiny islands within swimming distance, perfect for the kids, and us adults too. There’s nothing like swimming to a little island and feeling like an adventurous explorer, no matter what your age. The place turned out to be an excellent venue for Capture the Flag as well.  We camped with three other families which meant lots of kids around and also we shared dinner cooking duties, so win-win!

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walking to the sub-island, double jump off the rocks

The trip went great until my last day.  This wasn’t everyone’s last day, just mine, and I had to catch a train back so I could work the next day.  We had it all worked out with plenty of time to get to the Glen Falls Amtrack station, we were dropped off at the mainland, got in the car and… the back tire would not turn.  After an emergency call to my dad the wise mechanic – make that remote wise mechanic since he is in Ohio – we realized our car was out of service and we were quickly running out of time to get me to the train.  Mr. Fantastic got a ride from a helpful motorboat owner and went to Agnes Island and back quicker than the Dragonfly with its tiny 4 horsepower engine could go one way.  We borrowed keys from one of our friends staying on the island with us and bolted off in their car.  We didn’t know where we were going so we called a friend at a computer and haphazardly tried to follow their directions while driving in a big hurry.  In the end, we pulled up to the station just as the train was pulling out and I ran and waved maniacally, but to no avail. I missed the train.  We drove to Albany and I was able to catch a different train going my way, but not before more car drama.  Our borrowed car stalled and we had to get a jump.  Then 5 Fantastics were headed back to car repair and Lake George and I was headed to the city.    It was a chaotic moment in an otherwise great trip!


pushing the car in the Albany Amtrack parking lot- sigh – it was a harsh jolt back to reality after the magic unicorn waters!

Return to Lake George, end of Aug through Labor Day 2013

We couldn’t resist, we went back.  This time with an upgrade from the leaky borrowed rowboat!  Yes, we arrived in style in our recently-purchased, cooperatively-owned, 17′ 1974 Siren sailboat, dubbed the Dragonfly after much debate by the 9 kids involved.  Maybe the other boaters weren’t impressed as they zoomed by on their souped-up motorboats, but we just love the Dragonfly!  This little boat is about as long as our minivan and has a cabin, motor and 2 sails.  It weighs 750# so fits comfortably in the range of towing capacity of our car.  It came with a trailer, life vests, extra sails, a first aid kit even!  All hail Craigslist!  The Dragonfly was perfect for our dabble in the sailing world, and perfect for Lake George.  We loaded it up with people and gear and headed once again from Hulett’s Marina to Vicar’s Island.

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The Dragonfly loaded with our friends/co-owners of boat and pulling their kayak

Somehow Mr. – or should I say Captain- Fantastic knew what he was doing with the sails.  There were only two, but I had no idea how to use them.  Somehow, some way, Mr. Fantastic reached back to his limited, long-ago teenage experiences sailing and was suddenly using terms like “port” and “starboard” instead of “left” and “right”, and telling me the line was “fouled” when it was caught or tangled.  Who is this sailor guy?

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possibly fixing the fouled line on the port (?) side with both sails up

We swam in the wonderful clear water, launched ourselves off the rocks, and sailed around whenever there was wind.  The sailing was peaceful, except when it was terrifying in a strong wind!  Also, when there is no wind, you can’t sail of course.  It was nice to have the motor when we needed it, also we had oars and we could paddle if necessary.  There was even a 4th way to move the Dragonfly– it is so small and light, you could actually pull it from the dock or even push it while swimming behind if you had to.  What a sweet little boat.  I also loved the kayak; I had never used one before and aside from an unfortunate incident that led to my prescription sunglasses resting at the bottom of the 150′ depths of the lake, I enjoyed paddling around to nearby islands.  Fiercely also tried it and did well.

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Fiercely jumping and me diving off the 15′ cliff!!   The kids kept yelling ‘YOLO!’ which amuses me when coming from the 12-and-under set – for the uninitiated, it stands for Yo Only Live Once.

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Fiercely in the kayak. She paddled around the island solo! Twins + a friend snorkling and swimming in the clear clear water.

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Our campsite and its associated fancy patriotic latrine!

Lake George the Lake vs. Lake George the Town

We spent a day at the town of Lake George.  What a contrast to our island campsite!  This is a kitschy tourist town that brings that 50’s – 70’s cheesy style back with pride.  I found this photo from the 70’s and I swear we saw some of those same signs last week!


Here are some sights we saw there in the town of Lake George.  It was full of multicultural tourists – I’m sure I heard Russian, German, Chinese, and some Indian languages as well as Midwest, New Yawk and inner-city American, and Canadian English.  Everyone loves kitsch, and the mountains and lake are right there too so there’s something for everyone.  Looking for a rustic island campground?  Or maybe you prefer arcade games and a gangnam style t-shirt?  You’re in the right place, or nearby at least.

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Giant bovine in a traffic jam, and apparently a rodeo on the way!

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Really took this of Cleverly and a carved wooden bear outside of an arcade

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House of Frankenstein Wax Museum inside and out!

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Nice garden at Shepard Park across for the wax museum, our kids + 2 friends ODing on candy at Shepard Park

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Parasailing and ferry boat rides seen from the park, like I said, something for everyone!

Beware the Lake George Burrito!

If you are looking for burritos, however, avoid this place like the plague.  We had the worst burritos of our lives at this place.  We have strong feelings about burritos, especially Mr. Fantastic who is almost religious about it.  $12 for lousy refried beans and rice in a cheap wrap is unconscionable in our book.  Burrito chains like Moe’s, Chipotle, heck even Taco Bell do better for about half the price.  No veggies even though we requested vegetarian but got no break on price from the pork/chicken/beef price.  No guac, no lettuce, no cheese even!  As we were leaving, the friendly cashier next store suggested we try another place next time, but then remembered its the same owners.  Say it isn’t so!  A black mark on the otherwise cheery tourist mecca in the lovely Adirondacks.  We went back to the campsite and made wonderful burritos with lots of veggies and homemade guacamole just to get the experience out of our minds and tastebuds.

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Really, Fiercely, and Papa Fantastic trying to recover from the epically bad Lake George Burritos

How to own a boat in the city and remain parsimonious, Chesapeake Bay, MD August 2013

We bought a boat. Or, as I said to Mr. Fantastic “We bought a $%# BOAT??!!  With what? Where do we park it?”  But the deal was done.  And the more I learned, the more I liked it.


Really rowing on the street

Last year, Papa Fantastic shamelessly petitioned friends, friends-of-friends, and random people on the street to borrow a boat as we prepared to go to Vicars Island.  He managed to wrangle a somewhat seaworthy – or I should say lakeworthy – rowboat with one oar from an acquaintance a few blocks away which we loaded from the alley onto our minivan (RIP 1996 Dodge Caravan Sport we had it Oct 2008- Jan 2013) and used for that trip.  We bought another oar and rounded up some life vests. I will say with all respect and gratitude that the rowboat did the job and we may not have been able to take the trip without it.  I must also say we all have seared into our memory rowing the thing while the kids bailed out the lake water that was leaking in, once while Truly was vomiting and twice in the rain.  We thought a lot about motors and larger boats and especially sailboats on that trip.  Papa Fantastic continued to scheme on somehow getting a boat and he cruised Craigslist all year.  Along the way, he talked two other families into helping us pay for it co-owning a boat.  So now we own- along with the Stupendous family of Vicars Island fame, and another adventurous family- a Siren Sailboat!  It ended up costing each family about $600, plus one needs a tow bar to pull the trailer.  We got one and I believe it was under $100 installed.  The other families have relatives outside the city so we have two driveway options for parking the thing – much like worrying about my kids or a naive houseguest,  I shudder to think of what could happen to the little sailboat in the city streets at night!


from L to R: Minivan, boat, Mr fantastic

Papa found a 17′ 1974 Siren sailboat.  Actually, he found not one but two of these little beauties.  They were made in Canada from the 1970’s until the mid-1980’s and are cute as a button.  There is a cabin that sleeps two, a small motor and a mast for the SAILS!!  Yes, its a little sailboat.  The great thing about finding two listings on Craigslist is that he could compare the two.  The one we bought was slightly more expensive but was in vastly better condition since it had been used more recently.  Of course, he drove it right to our door so we could climb all over the thing, then the next day we happened to have a babysitter so just Mr. Fantastic and I headed with our Siren for Elk River Park in Elkton, Maryland.  The siren is a great size – big enough for a cabin, yet it weighs only 750# so it doesn’t stress our car (which has a towing capacity of 2000#).

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Sailing on the Chesapeake

The Bay was beautiful and we had excellent weather.  Getting there was a trick, however.  Once at the boat ramp, we had to set up the mast, which of course was down for towing.  There was a lot of schlepping around with the trailer ties, motor, rudder, etc.  Next, I had to watch as our car – a used minivan we bought in February to replace the other minivan we had driven to death with our wanderings – backed into the water as it lowered the boat down the ramp.  Then I parked the car, went back to the dock and we started our maiden voyage on the 39-year-old sailboat.

Everything worked well, but soon the motor started whining and stalling.  The keel was not down because the inlet was shallow, we were soon to find out how shallow.  With no motor or keel, we were pushed towards the land and we had to get out and push.  I got down in to the water… and my legs kept sinking.  The bottom of the inlet was over a foot of fine silt, and it was hard to get a grip with my feet.  But with some finagling we were able to get back into the deeper part – which was only about 8″!!  The motor started again and soon we made it to the Bay.  There we opened the sail and it was really nice!  I had to crouch down so the boom would not hit me when it turned, we have to mess with it and see if it can go higher next time.  The other boaters did not laugh at us, which I appreciated.  People were very nice and we saw others getting stuck as well.  The buoys were inaccurate, directing boaters into more silted areas, which did not help matters.  We did not have much time due to the babysitter schedule so we had a short sail, made our way back through the inlet without having to get out and push, and loaded up the trailer to get home.  I’m looking forward to more adventures, check out the boat tent that came with the boat!

1986 Siren 17 sailboat

Lake George, NY August 2012

In which the Fantastics borrow a leaky rowboat to reach a reputed lovely state park island campground…

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The borrowed rowboat on our car and some of the Fantastic crew, island sign, driving with the boat – notice window in driver’s view, and blue strap holding boat on roof. The blue strap would buzz in the wind for hours! 

Mr. and Mrs. Stupendous, longtime friends of ours and parents of two, waxed poetic about Vicars Island – the clean, clear water, the campground only accessible by boat, the sunsets… So when Mr. Stupendous asked us to plan a year in advance to join them there, we did.  We plan almost nothing that far in advance.  Or wedding we put together in about 3 months, the twins (well, one of them) we found out about 2 weeks before their birth, I could go on and on.  But we didn’t have a boat, who has a boat in the city?  Well, Mr. Fantastic located the one above and procured it for our journey.

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Our campsite and dock. We canoed around the little island in the L foreground

Vicar’s island can be reached from a tiny mainland area called Huletts Landing.  We parked there while at the island.  There is a boat launch there and, well, we launched from there.  Or some of us did.  We realized quickly that Vicars Island is rather far when rowing from Huletts Landing Marina, we later found out a mile and a half.  So we had 6 people and all of our camping gear to haul across that distance.  The other family had already arrived at the island via their canoe. And the shadows were growing longer.  Papa Fantastic decided to head out with some kids and luggage while I waited with the rest.  I watched him rowing away, getting smaller and smaller and the sun went lower… Ultimately I was brought to the island by a boat with an engine driven by a helpful vacationer who had offered Mr. Fantastic the favor.  We were grateful and the vacation commenced.

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The island has 11 camping spots, all include dock access, a tent platform, and a fire pit/grill.  There are several excellent rocks to jump into the lake from on different parts of the island.  They may be part of other campsites but there were few or no other campers during our time there so we roamed freely around the island.  An important thing to know, especially since you will likely not have the benefit of camping with the Stupendous family and their hand-pumped water filter, is that there is no drinking water on the island.  We used filtered lake water for drinking and unfiltered water for washing dishes, showering, etc.  As for toilets, there are outhouses, one for each campsite or two.

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We spent our time jumping off rocky cliffs and the docks, swimming in the lake, and taking short canoe trips to smaller islands just to see what was there.  There is something special about the water – it is so clean and clear.  Apparently it is an oligotrophic lake, with a low nutrient content and therefore less algae and fish life.  Even in August it was cold, but wonderful for swimming.

The area was not overly crowded, but there were a fair amount of motorboats with waterskiers, people fishing, etc.  We also rowed back to Huletts Landing one day and drove to Lake George, the town.  It is a bit if an old-school tourist town with a carnival vibe – there is a wax museum, haunted house, candy and t-shirt stores.  Outside the main drag are many strip malls with ‘outlet stores’ for shopping.  We’re planning a return trip but we have a different boat!