Thousand Islands Searchlight Boat Tours

Though I haven’t had the privilege of experiencing a searchlight tour, my fascination with them brought me to include an important searchlight boat tour scene in my latest story, A Summer at Thousand Island House.

But what are they? In essence, a searchlight boat tour takes passengers on an evening tour through the Thousand Islands. In the darkness of night, the boat creeps along the channels and shines a searchlight on interesting things they come across.

I can imagine it’s a mixture of excitement, fear, and a bit creepy, and my characters experience all of these. The Thousand Islands in the St. Lawrence River was known for such a thrill, from the late 1800s until today.

Here’s a little taste of a searchlight tour:

The setting sun glowed a dramatic orange as Liam escorted Addi onto the gleaming white St. Lawrence steamer, along with several hundred other passengers. He led her to the bow’s upper deck railing, facing west. A large flag fluttered in the gentle breeze on its bow, another on a tall mast near the wheelhouse, four smaller flags midship, and an enormous US flag hung on the stern.

Midship, a trio played a haunting tune on a harp and two violins, echoing down the hallway and dancing on the water, creating a most pleasant beginning to what he hoped would be a magical evening.

Addi leaned on the railing, closed her eyes, and smiled. “Isn’t the music wonderful? It sounds like a sunset.”

As if she’d forgotten something, her eyes popped open just as the orange ball exploded into reds and yellows, and then burst into the prettiest purples and lavenders Liam had ever seen. She gasped and spread her arms as if she were a bird taking flight, almost smacking him in the face. She didn’t even notice, so absorbed in the moment.

He loved that.

“Oh, Liam, I’ve never seen such a dramatic, beautiful, wonderful sunset. Can you imagine what heaven must be like if it’s this lovely here on earth?”

He studied her angelic face, aflame with the colors of the sunset. “I cannot. But just now, your loveliness comes the closest to an angelic being as I’ve ever seen.”

“Oh Liam, you say the sweetest things.” She peeked out of the corners of her eyes, barely turning her head.

“Miss, I only speak the truth.” He pasted his hand on his chest as if offended.

The captain stepped out of the wheelhouse and onto the deck. The crowd quieted. In a booming voice, he addressed his passengers. “Ladies and gentlemen. If you think that sunset was lovely, that’s just the prelude. Our one-million candlepower searchlight with its forty-eight-inch parabolic mirror will take us on a unique and magical tour of the islands. In the dark, starry night, you’ll see the Thousand Islands like you’ve never seen them before. We’ll navigate through narrow channels and around islands. We may even see a muskie, happily popping its head out of the water to bid you good evening. Now, enjoy the refreshments, the music, and the magic of our Thousand Islands Searchlight Tour.”

The crowd clapped and cheered, and the familiar whistle, whose distinctive chime note could be heard whenever it left the dock, sounded loud and clear.

Liam chuckled. “You’ll hear those hisses of steam from the whistle throughout the evening. One blast signals something is dead ahead, two is for starboard, and three is for port. They sound it when they spot buoys and other official markers, when they see private markers, or when something else might prove a danger. Navigating the river in the day is tricky enough. Night navigation must be done with the utmost care.”

“Is it safe?” Addi’s eyes flashed with fear.

He took her hand in his. “I wouldn’t bring you if it wasn’t. Fear not. This crew has been navigating these waters, day and night, for years.”

To read the rest of the story, pick up a copy of A Summer at Thousand Island House.




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