Vaino Anderson – River Boatman and Boatbuilder

By: Rick Casali

Volume 18, Issue 5, May 2023

The Thousand Islands are known for many things. One of the most unique, and true treasures of the North Country, are the hardy people who inhabit our islands year-round. This is especially true for islands such as Grindstone, which are not connected to the mainland by bridge or ferry. One of my fondest memories of such an island resident is Vaino Anderson. Captain Anderson lived on Grindstone Island from 1945 until his passing in 1970. This gentle but strong man loved the River and was a skilled boat builder. He was only 59 years old when he sadly succumbed to a heart attack.

Vaino was born in Finland in 1911. He left the life of sailing on ocean freighters in 1942 when he came to the United States. He met his future wife in New York City in 1944, and they relocated to Grindstone Island the next year. They divided their time between the family farm on Flynn Bay, and our cottage at the Lower Town Landing. He maintained our lovely home and the eight acres of land as well as our ‘woodies.’

Vaino, or “Wayne” as many of us called him, was the boatman and caretaker for our summer cottage, The Orchards, on Grindstone Island. He and his wife Ida (Mary) Pananen Anderson lived in Flynn Bay on Grindstone when not in residence in our summer cottage. Vaino was a wonderful boatman and took excellent care of the yachts under his control. His varnish work was fantastic. He took great care and pride in the Chris Crafts, Lymans, and other boats that he operated and maintained. Vaino also knew the River like the back of his hand, and always brought us home safely and without any concern, despite the weather or the time of day.

My family was lucky enough to have Vaino and Mary Anderson caring for our cottage from 1948 until we sold it in 1970. When we arrived at the village docks in Clayton after our trip from Pittsburgh by train, automobile, or plane, Vaino would be there to greet us. His warm smile and sky-blue eyes were a welcome sight as we transformed back into River life. He had a great sense of humor, and his blue eyes twinkled when he told us stories of his years in the Finnish Navy or on commercial ocean freighters. His tattoo of a clipper ship on his massive, strong, forearm was always of great interest to my brother and me. Vaino was always neatly dressed in a navy blue or khaki long-sleeve shirt and trousers.

Vaino and his daughter, Sylvia in their Iceboat. [Photo courtesy the author's album]

During his lifetime, Vaino built several iceboats. He would cut and mill the timber from hardwood trees on Grindstone. He designed and constructed the iceboats, and even laminated, shaped, and balanced the large propeller mounted to the Lycoming aircraft engine. His skills as a boatbuilder were apparent when you saw the workmanship in his watercraft. During the summers, Vaino kept his iceboats in the skiff house of our boathouse, so we were able to sit in them and imagine what it was like to speed across the ice.

This homebuilt iceboat could reach speeds of 100 MPH over the ice. [Photo courtesy the author's album]

We heard stories from Vaino, Mary, and their daughter Sylvia about their adventures on the cold River and the ice, in their iceboat. Vaino’s homebuilt iceboat could hit speeds of around 100 miles per hour across the ice. He sometimes chased foxes running from island to island over the ice. The stainless runners threw up ice crystals, so between the wind and pellets of ice, it was a very cold ride. Mary and Sylvia would seek refuge from the cold under a tarp or blanket. Vaino, of course, was not able to get any protection from his elevated helm seat and controls in front of the loud aircraft engine. Sylvia was often taken back and forth to school in Clayton in the iceboat. It was an exciting way to go to school!!

Vaino also built a wooden runabout with an outboard motor. Vaino, Mary, and Sylvia would commute to their farm on Flynn Bay in this home-built outboard runabout. The Andersons ran the 250-acre farm along with Mary’s brother, Matti Pananen.  Sylvia Anderson Shoultes inherited the farm from her parents and uncle, and just recently sold a portion of the property. Sylvia continues to live on Grindstone during the summer season, and in Cicero, NY, for the balance of the year. There, she lives in the home that her father built, which also includes a wood-fired sauna of the type that are so popular in Vaino’s native Finland. Sylvia owns and operates the Acorn Studio gift shop on Grindstone Island during the summer season.

Vano Anderson cleaning fish at The Orchards [Photo courtesy the author's album]

Vaino Anderson was also known for his ability to locate fish for the guests aboard our boats. He would read the charts and fathometer with great care. He also provided excellent water tours of the St. Lawrence River and found great spots to anchor for lunch, or made trips to Potter’s Beach for a refreshing swim. And in the afternoon on return to our cottage, we would go down to the boathouse or pier to watch Vaino clean the day’s catch. Among our favorite activities was going to Canoe Point for a shore dinner. Vaino brought firewood, large iron skillets, and all the fixings for a shore dinner of freshly-caught perch and bass. I can clearly remember him and my dad frying the fish over a smoky wood fire.

Vaino had a special place in his heart for my brother Butch.  When the Anderson’s son Lauri tragically drowned in our boathouse at age five, Vaino informally adopted Butch. They spent hours together fishing, cleaning fish, and hearing Vaino tell stories of his years at sea. So, when Butch suffered a serious head injury in a car accident while at Ohio State, Vayno took that news very hard.

Mary Anderson passed away in 1990. She and Vaino are buried in the Grindstone Island Cemetery. We have wonderful memories of this warm and loving river couple from our years on Grindstone Island. We keep in touch with Sylvia, and trade stories and photos of the 18 years that they cared for our boats and The Orchards cottage, on Grindstone.  My family was so fortunate to have had the Anderson’s as a major part of our River heritage.

By Rick Casali

Rick Casali is a resident of Wellesley Island.  During his youth, his parents had a cottage from 1947 to 1970 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 Seaway 24 Seafarer named "Miss Annie" and they live on Tennis Island.

Be sure to see more of Rick Casali's tributes and reviews. They are not only interesting but provide an important historical review of River life.

Dan Casali, Vano Anderson, Gene Battisti, Abe Golumb, Hiney Klein, Paul DIetz and Al Kline on the pier at The Orchards. [Photos courtesy the author's album]

Posted in: Volume 18, Issue 5, May 2023, History, People, Places

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