On Saturday September 3rd 2022, there was a FIASCO on Wellesley Island. This was not an effort to further lower our dropping water levels. It was not a new border crossing policy of our government. It was not the introduction of a new invasive species. The FIASCO that occurred was that owners and fans of the classic St. Lawrence skiff gathered on Wellesley Island for the annual rowing regatta. The regatta is known as FIASCO, which is the acronym for Famous International Annual Skiffing Competitive Occurrence.
Some folks even wore hats and shirt with the FIASCO logo. The regatta takes place at Laundry Point, off the waters of Westminster Park. The friendly and informal races and regatta have been going on for over 30 years. Rhea Inglehart Arnot and her brother, Thom Inglehart, helped to organize the regatta. Their father, Judge George Inglehart, and their mother, Paula Duke Inglehart, founded this event for St. Lawrence skiffs. Darrel Rippateau, the proud owner of a St. Lawrence skiff, was kind enough to invite Anne and me to the festivities.
St. Lawrence skiffs are the indigenous vessels of the Thousand Islands. They have been built for over 100 years by a host of builders, both commercial and amateur. The construction has varied greatly, from exclusively using wood, all the way to using all Kevlar and fiberglass skins. These sturdy boats can be rowed and sailed, and were used by fishing guides for decades before motor-driven vessels became affordable and popular. The skiffs are known to be quite seaworthy and able to carry lots of weight. The rowing models do not have a rudder, but rather rely upon the transfer of weight or the oars for turning. Skiffs come in several sizes; the 18-foot model and 19.5 footer are the most popular today. They weigh about 150 pounds, so it takes two people to lift a St. Lawrence Skiff.
One of the entrants in FIASCO is owned by Kevin and Jane Heffron, who live on the U. S. Narrows. Jane gave Kevin a new St. Lawrence Skiff for Christmas in 2018, but she admits that it was really something that she could enjoy too. In fact, Jane rowed their pretty skiff “Firefly” all the way from their home on the Narrows, to Laundry Point on the other side of Wellesley Island, for the FIASCO regatta. And she did it all alone in the boat! A hearty River Rat to say the least. The Heffron’s skiff was built by Thom Inglehart, who has his shop behind his home on Laundry Point. It’s not surprising that Thom built most of the skiffs entered in FIASCO.
Prior to the race, Anne and I had a chance to meet many of the proud owners and see their skiffs. All were a bit unique in color and design. But all were just lovely in the sparkling September sun. We got a chance to get the details and the history from many of the skiff owners. Obviously, these fine boats have been enjoyed by several generations of those in attendance. There were lots of young people in attendance. A great sign for vintage boating. FIASCO is definitely a family event.
In past years, the racecourse took the skiffs around Cobra Island, which is in Canadian waters. So, this really is a true international race. This year, the event was a community row that went east toward Mary Island, paralleling Westminster Park, and then back to Laundry Point. FIASCO banners marked the start line and finish line. Prior to the event, Thom Inglehart presented trophies to the winners of the 2020 race since COVID had canceled the popular race for the past two years.
The regatta attracted ten owners to the waters on the north side of Wellesley Island. Many more fans of St. Lawrence Skiffs attended the regatta and buffet luncheon. Darrel Rippateau and his sister Jane Heffron supplied me with the history and roots of the regatta and race, as did Rhea Arnot.
Anne and I took some nice photos and videos of the skiffs leaving Laundry Point and gliding along the St. Lawrence River. The way that the skiffs handled boat wakes and how easily they moved on our River illustrated why this indigenous vessel has been so popular in our region for so many decades. Thom Inglehart continues to custom build skiffs for his clients. Each one takes about six weeks to build over the winter period. The 18-foot model is priced at roughly $15,000 and the larger, 19.5 foot, skiff comes in around $18,000. They are built entirely of select woods, and Thom adds a thin layer of fiberglass cloth to the bottoms to prevent chafe on sand, gravel, and rocks.
As we watched the St. Lawrence Skiffs quietly and efficiently plying the waters off Wellesley Island, they were a sharp contrast to the jet skis, wake-board boats, pontoon vessels, and go-fast boats that thundered by. Lots of noise and wake was generated from the power boats, compared to the serenity of these historic skiffs. With a little imagination, these skiffs could have been participating in a Thousand Islands rowing event from 1900. All we needed were some of the lady passengers dressed in long, white dresses, large straw hats, and holding parasols! But in any event, a good time was had by all.
If you have never rowed a St. Lawrence Skiff, the Antique Boat Museum in Clayton has a livery of skiffs that you can take out on French Bay. For museum visitors and members, there is no charge for taking a skiff out for a try. It is great exercise and lots of fun. I highly recommend that you and your family experience the boat that put the Thousand Islands on the map, back in the late 1890’s.
By Rick Casali
Rick Casali is a resident of Wellesley Island. During his youth, his parents had a cottage from 1947 to 1965 named The Orchards on Grindstone Island. Rick now splits his time between Stuart, Florida and the River. He worked for Columbia Gas System for 29 years, and ran their Washington, DC office. Then in 2000, he started brokering boats and yachts, and continues as a broker with North Point Yacht Sales. Rick and his wife Anne cruise the River in a 26’ Lyman “Turtles”, a Seaway 21 center console and a catboat named “Tango”. They live on Tennis Island North on Wellesley Island. See all of Rick Casali's TI Life articles here.
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