The Mystery Boat of Cape Vincent

By: Stephen Shay

Volume 16, Issue 7, July 2021

In the summer of 2002 a small, a wooden hulled vessel appeared in the waters of the St. Lawrence River off Cape Vincent, NY. The words on her stern read, “ANNA, New Haven, Conn.” She was 38 feet long with a 10 feet beam. Why was she here? Was she a commercial fishing boat? Is she really from a port in Connecticut, USA? Was she just passing through and broke down? What was she going to be used for? Who brought her here? How did she get here? ANNA had a big diesel engine, a small cabin, a sturdy mast, a heavy-duty boom, a large brass propeller and a unique wooden rudder. Her sides were weathered and worn, and there was some outer hull deterioration. What was the deal? ANNA soon became the “coffee shop” talk of the town.

So you recognize the ANNA?

ANNA is a small, post-war, work-a-day Block Island fishing trawler that worked in the waters from the East end of Long Island Sound, East of Block Island out into the Atlantic Ocean. Block Island lies nine miles south of the Rhode Island mainland.

She was purchased and brought to Cape Vincent to be used as a dive boat. She proved to be too slow and needed considerable work and updating to remain seaworthy and useful for the dive team. While she did work out of Cape Vincent for a period of time, in the fall of 2002-2003 she was pulled up “on the hard” at the Anchor Marine in Cape Vincent for rest and repair where she remains today.

As time passed, people were charmed by her presence and fell in love with ANNA. The Coal Docks Restaurant, just across the street from ANNA, was so infatuated with her that they put a nearly life-size image of her on one of their interior walls. And oh, did that ever start the stories flying!

Recognize the Coal Dock's Restaurant mural? 

ANNA ignited story, myth, legend and truth in lovely little Cape Vincent. One of the stories posited that the person who brought ANNA to the Cape was in trouble with the IRS for tax evasion. That person was arrested and imprisoned, and that led to the little boat being abandoned. Other stories had her being a pilot boat, a rum runner, a boat used to smuggle in goods from Canada, a dive boat, and a commercial fishing boat.

Story, long told with apparent authority, becomes the grist for myth, and myth becomes legend. Legend spiced with a modicum of truth, lasts. ANNA has taken on all these monikers and survived well. She is beautiful. Probably the most
photographed landmark in the Cape Vincent today.

Countless people who have never seen her, love her just from the photographs they have seen. She creates and fosters mystery. Photos of her have been published by friends, visitors, and prize winning professionals alike.

So, who brought ANNA to the Cape++ and why? Mr. John Stiefel, a Cape Vincent
Summer resident, an accomplished diver, and successful relic hunter was diving
the treasure and shipwreck rich waters of Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence
River. He and his diving partners needed a tender boat that could lift heavy things and carry them safely to port. They found ANNA for sale in Providence, Rhode Island, USA. She had been a Block Island fishing trawler, most likely built in New
England after WW II. “We bought ANNA for her carrying and lifting capacity, and she was pretty.” Stiefel said.

“Captain” Stiefel and Bo Collins, a friend from Clayton, NY, brought her to Cape
Vincent. From Providence she traveled South on the Providence River, then West on the Long Island Sound, and North up the Hudson River to the beginning of the Erie Canal. Once on the “Barge Canal” as it had been named, West on it to the
Three Rivers Junction. From there she traveled North West on the Oswego Canal where ANNA entered Lake Ontario at Oswego, NY. Her final leg was the short 45 nautical mile run to Cape Vincent, NY and her new home. What with the many locks, and bridges, breakdowns, repairs, fuel and food stops, the 425 nautical mile trip took over 30 days. Speed limits were never a problem on the canals because ANNA only goes 5mph! ANNA leaked! She actually sank once during her trip to Cape Vincent! It finally took four bilge pumps working 24/7 to keep her afloat.

Hand carved "ANNA" by Stephen Shay, the the Wood Shepherd, Maitland, ON.

ANNA has inspired countless painters, photographers and even artisans like
myself. I am a boat builder. I hand carve historically significant wooden boat models from back in the day on the St. Lawrence River. I have built many of the old wooden tour boats that sailed out of Clayton, Alexandria Bay, Kingston, Gananoque, Rockport and Brockville. My art helps keep memories and history
alive, one boat at a time. See Tom King's article about my work in an earlier issue
of the Thousand Islands Life (Stephen Shay - the Wood Shepherd, October 2019.)
My work is in homes, galleries and museums across the North Country and Canada. Of course, I had to make a model of ANNA. She has proven to satisfy and brings smiles galore to her new owners.

Another view of the hand carved "ANNA" by Stephen Shay, the Wood Shepherd, Maitland, ON.

I believe ANNA was traded to Ron Trottier, the owner of Anchor Marina to satisfy storage and docking fees which “captain” Stiefel confirmed. While there remain (and will continue to remain) a variety of stories, ideas, dreams, hopes and legendary myths, one fact remains: ANNA is a beauty and everybody loves her!
What is to become of the well-loved Mystery Boat of Cape Vincent? I have come across two stories of people wanting to purchase ANNA. They didn't. Perhaps
someone would like to still. ANNA has reached “tourist attraction” status. Should she be purchased and moved to public village land near to the River for liability's sake and for the public to see? Probably. Should she be made seaworthy, probably not.

Can this idea actually happen, as it has elsewhere? It only takes one person with a vision to form a solid ANNA Salvation Plan (ASP). With local support and broad community consent, one can launch a funding plan like “Go-Fund-Me ANNA.
From the beginning the idea needs to be embraced and promoted by a legitimate group of local citizens. That might be a local Lions Club, the Village of Cape Vincent or the Town of Cape Vincent, the Tibbetts Point Historical Society, the St. Lawrence River Historical Association, or even Clayton's Antique Boat Museum.

It is critical that public park or other Village owned land be made available to make this happen. No plan, no municipal buy in and approval, no land, no money, no successful project. Simple? No! Is it doable? Absolutely yes! But it must be done while there is something left of ANNA. There will never be a better time than now to do it.

In the words of John Steifel, ANNA is set for “A sad and undignified death unless we rally the community and form a “SAVE THE ANNA” group that can raise the funds, and put in the time required for such an effort. This is a near impossibility. Stiefel sees two options. Option 1, restore her to be sea worthy again. Option 2, restore her exterior and properly remove all oil, fuel and any liquids so she could be safely displayed at a suitable location in town.” I am sure there are hundreds of people who love her that would support a worthwhile project like “Save the ANNA.” Is it easy, few things that are worthwhile ever are. You can do this Cape Vincent!

Note: The header photo is by Alan Goldstein.

By Stephen Shay, the Wood Shepherd, Maitland, ON, Canada, thewoodshepherd@gmail.com

Stephen Shay was born in Penn Yan, NY. He grew up on Keuka Lake and spent several summers on the St. Lawrence River between Clayton and Alexandria Bay at Point Vivian. Stephen spent his life around boats, as he says, "drawing them, carving the, and driving them." He is a retired clergyman, now living and building boats in Maitland, ON. Canada, on the St. Lawrence River. He is known as the Wood Shepherd.
Rev. Stephen Shay the wood Shepherd

PS. The author pledges $100 USD when a funded plan comes to fruition.

PPS.  The Editor of TI Life pledges $100 USD too!

Posted in: Volume 16, Issue 7, July 2021, History, sport, Artists, Current


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