Join The Choir
Reflecting on today, plotting tomorrow.
Love the ride
Set Your Heading

Damn The Torpedoes!

Late 19th Century Ballast Bottle
Found while bottle diving
Middle Saranac Lake

     Monroe Bull Rush Bay Camp Prep, 2019: I dragged Dad’s old 12 foot aluminum Grumman canoe from behind my shed, cleaned it up, replaced bow and stern lines, then spray painted it camouflage greens and browns over a base of flat black.

    I cleaned and lubed the canoe’s oar locks, retrieved a pair of old wooden oars and paddles from my basement, sanded them down smooth and painted them too.  I located my small umbrella style anchor, put that into service, bought two new life vests.

     The result was quite pleasing, but felt incomplete.  I bought some small paint brushes, two small cans of paint, one green, one tan, and went back to work.

     Freehand, I painted “Live In The Day You Are In” on the left, and “Rangers Lead The Way” on the right side of the canoe.  It felt good.  I continued.   Bow & stern left “ADK Outlaw” and “Chop Wood, Carry Water”, then “All The Way And Then Some”, and “Beneath Flowing Water Lies Firm Ground” on the right.

My hand painted Zen Boat canoe

     I then turned to paddles and oars.  On one paddle blade “Confront Fear”, & “Find Happiness”, and “Wind, Rain, Fish” & “I Call Bull Rush Bay Home” on the other.

My Zen Boat paddles

  On the oar blades- “Sing with Loons” & “Dance with Bears” on one, “May Your North Star Guide You” & “Be Forever Wild” on the other.

  I paused, stepped back, taking in my creation, like some fine work of art on a gallery wall.  I felt a wave of serenity, connected, complete.  I showed Robin, my wife.  I dubbed it “Zen Boat”.    

My Zen Boat
Gull Island
Middle Saranac Lake

        The sun set on June.  I loaded my newly christened Zen Boat and packed my pickup. I planned to row into camp via an old friend, South Creek.  At the launch site I met several other parties, coming and going from the Middle Lake.  They all admired and complimented my boat.  Some snapped pictures.  Caught off guard, I reluctantly but patiently stood with my oars and posed for a few. 

Paddling my Zen Boat
South Creek Canoe Access
Middle Saranac Lake

     My brother Ray ferried his flotilla upriver from town through both sets of locks. We rendezvoused at Bull Rush Bay and pitched camp. 

Our family’s Bull Rush Bay camp
Site 63
Middle Saranac Lake

Ray & I fished, swam, cooked, split wood, did camp stuff. Family& friends came and went.  After several days, I paddled out, drove home, mowed, did chores, resupplied, then headed back in.

Bull Rish Bay
Site 63
Middle Saranac Lake

     I was once again at South Creek, early in the day.  I had packed topo maps, lensatic compass, some small lengths of rope, and a knot tying book.  The plan, on the way in, was to stop at the small unnamed island between Ship and Shaw Islands just beyond the mouth of South Creek.  Dad always called it “Gull Island”.  I have too.  I was looking forward to a few hours of solitude there, using it as a vantage point to do some orienteering and practicing knots before rowing to camp.

A view across Middle Saranac Lake to Whiteface Mountain

     The day was quite bright.   I cleared the mouth of South Creek, crossed past the big rock and the channel, and headed for Gull Island.  The water was calm and clear.  As I glided in and prepared to disembark, something shiny in the water caught my eye.  I stopped and looked down.  It was a bottle, glistening from the rocky bottom muck.

     I immediately flashed back to memories my high school friend Chris had related, of an Island on Middle Saranac, a rope swing, and finding in the waters around that island old round bottom glass bottles, shaped like torpedoes.

      I could not tell from the boat if this was one of those, but from the blue hue of the glass, I was sure it was old.

    I did not have swim trunks, or a net, or a mask.  I surveyed the lake. There was no one else visible.  I landed, stripped down, waded in, dove down, and retrieved the bottle.   It was intact, beautiful heavy blue glass. It had a large conjoined “AB” in raised letters on the glass.  It was not shaped like a torpedo, but I was sure it was quite old.

Adolphus Busch Beer Bottle
Crown Top, Hand Blown
Circa 1892-1905
Found bottle diving off Gull Island
Middle Saranac Lake

     Excited and encouraged, I decided to wade around a bit and see if I could spot any more.  I slowly waded and scanned for more glass.  After a few moments, I felt something in the muck under foot.  I dove down.  Another bottle.

    I came up and shook it clean.  Thick, clear, bubbled glass, intact- a round bottom.  I had found one!  A torpedo!  Just as Chris had described.  I grid searched the entire small island offshore perimeter, and amongst several other bottles, found 3 more torpedoes.

Ballast Bottle

***Author’s Note: I later learned that these were not in fact, torpedo bottles, but “Ballast Bottles”, designed to hold seltzer water and lay on their sides so as not to dry out the corks. They apparently got their name from the fact that they were frequently stored in ship’s hulls, their weight serving as ballast. Several years later I would find several actual torpedo bottles while bottle diving in The Saranac River. For more on THAT adventure, see my story “Message in a Bottle”.

Top: Ballast Bottle
Bottom: Torpedo Bottle

     After over an hour in the water, I climbed out, dried off and dressed.  It was still early.  I surveyed the lake.  I had recently read Fran Yardley’s book “Finding True North”, describing the Bartlett Carry Club and some of the early 19th century great camps.  Judging prevailing currents and wind, I suspected my torpedoes were from that time period, likely artifacts from early explorers or patrons of the lake.

   I looked towards Ship Island.  There, high atop a tall dead pine crag, a bald eagle perched.  I admired him awhile through binos, then decided to head over, join him, and continue bottle searching around Ship Island too.  I loaded Zen Boat with torpedoes and rowed the next channel.  I was still alone on the lake.

     Ship Island is narrow, steep, shaped like its name.  Once ashore, I tied off and worked my way to the base of the dead tree where the eagle still perched.  Standing directly beneath him, looking up at his underside, then down at the ground around me, I realized I was standing beneath his direct line of fire.  I quietly retreated before I got torpedoed myself!

     Back down on shore, I once again disrobed and entered the water.  I worked my way around the island, finding numerous bottles along the way.  On the back side of the island, I found a really old one- a dark, heavy, amber glass whiskey type bottle with a blob cork top, very uneven, clearly hand-blown bubble glass, even older than the others. 

1845-1870 Double Collared Whiskey Bottle
Found Off Ship Island
Middle Saranac Lake

     After another hour in the water, I began shivering.  I worked back around the point to dry off and get dressed. 

   I rounded the point – ALERT! ALERT!  BATTLE STATIONS!  ALL HANDS ON DECK!  There, in Ship Island’s portside bay, sat a man in a canoe, with a camera, and a telephoto lens.  I stopped, waist deep.  He spotted  me and pointed up at the eagle.  Now I had a problem.  A guy with a telephoto lens was alternately shooting photos of the eagle, and my boat.  I stood shivering, unarmed and naked in the water.

     I retreated back around the island, hoping to wait him out.  I peered around the other side about twenty minutes later.  Shivering uncontrollably, I really hoped the photographer was gone so I could dry off, warm up, and dress.  Not to be.

     Instead a canoe/kayak paddler flotilla of reinforcements had appeared!  All admiring and snapping photos of the eagle, and Zen Boat, on smart phones.

     My situation was rapidly deteriorating.  I tried staying waist deep in the water and waiting folks out, but the crowd kept growing.  I was getting really cold.

     My teeth began chattering.  I sighed and realized I had no other choice.  Time to open fire.  I waded to Zen Boat, waist deep.  

       FIRE THE TORPEDO!  Turning my backside to the crowd, I exited the water, bent over, retrieved my clothes, dried off, dressed, and turned back around.

     The bay was empty.  I had cleared the deck.  Even the eagle had fled.

     I secured my torpedoes, boarded Zen Boat and rowed across the lake to join my family in camp.

     Over the remainder of the summer, I explored the entire lake from Zen Boat, above and below water. I was usually alone, but sometimes accompanied by Robin, my children, or Ray.  I generally remembered my swim trunks, but not always.  I found several more bottles, one more torpedo, practiced knots, camped with family, did some orienteering. I have never felt more at peace.


Until our trails meet again:

  Plot Your Course- Enjoy the Ride!