Sdie Trip Summary
Brockville, between Rockport Ontario, and Alexandria Bay, New York
The story is a tragic tale of love and loss. In 1900 the proprietor of New York’s opulent Waldorf Astoria Hotel, George Boldt, started building a castle for his wife, the love of his life, Louise. The Boldt’s and their children spent four summers living in the Alster Tower, one of the first buildings to be completed as workers continued their efforts on the 120 room monument of love which included a power generating station, drawbridge, playhouse, clock tower, Italian garden, elevator, gazebo, bowling alley, billiard room, hennery, underground tunnels and the best of everything money could buy.
Then in 1904 Louise passed away suddenly and George sent a telegram that all construction was to stop immediately. The 300 workers put down their tools and the unfinished structures commenced 73 years of deterioration. Roofs collapsed, walls crumbled, and vandals helped speed the decay to the point it was about to be condemned for being too dangerous even though it was unoccupied. In 1977 the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority purchased the property from the US government for $1 and set about investing many millions in restoration efforts that will continue for years to come.
It’s hard to imagine the destruction when you enter the first floor. Perfect walls, immaculate flooring, pristine woodwork and gleaming brass are everywhere. It’s only once you reach the upper levels of the six storey castle where they have preserved what some of the rooms were like before restoration began, with large photos showing how close it was to all being demolished.
If you’re a diver and you have visited the wrecks around Rockport then you’re already very familiar with Boldt Castle since this is where the boats come to have passengers clear customs during the summer in the post-9-11 era.
A number of ferry boats do nothing but take people across to the castle, which was originally designed as a summer home. Be warned, this place is to “summer homes” what climbing Mount Everest is to “casual Sunday walks”. It’s gorgeous, huge, and totally unfair unless you have a couple of your own collecting dust somewhere just as nice. Built on five acre Heart Island, hearts abound throughout the structure from outdoor planters to wrought iron and masonry work. Across a short stretch of river is the boat house located on Wellesley Island, designed to hold three yachts including tall masted sailing vessels based on the size of the doors. The largest of the slips is 128’ long and 64’ tall.
The castle has been visited by over five million guests since being taken over by the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority, including 750 weddings, and is well worth your visit during their open season from May through October. More information can be found at their gorgeous website.
Brockville or Rockport, Ontario
Upright listing to starboard, down a slope
The Jodrey is THE technical-level wreck in Southern Ontario. It attracts divers from all over, and for good reason: there are few places in the world where you can dive a modern freighter over 600′ long. To put that length into perspective, it is over two and a half times longer than the Keystorm, Rockport’s other great freighter dive.
Similar to the Keystorm it lies down a steep slope, starting at 140′ and going down to 235′ at the break where it starts to get shallower. Due to the depth and darkness it’s a hard wreck to get a read on, allowing you to only see as much of her as your light can illuminate (unless the visibility is particularly good).
The pilothouse on this style of freighter is towards the bow which means some of the most interesting parts of the wreck are also the shallowest part of the forward section. Going deeper you will find the iron ore loading mechanism and cargo holds. As if the wreck and location did not present enough challenges, divers have strewn it with lines, perhaps in an effort to aid their navigation (which does not seem necessary at all). Great care should be taken to avoid these lines, and if the line seems to move by its own accord, it might be one of the resident eels.
The only lines that are actually useful are the two that run from the shore to the stern of the wreck. It is possible to get dropped in downstream of the Coast Guard station and find the lines which start at 30′ and end at the port rail just forward of the stern at 130′. Following the lines can be a bit of a challenge as the current can be ripping, forcing you to go hand over hand for some of the trip to the wreck which takes between seven to ten minutes depending on the flow. Or, you can swim down the wreck, letting the current carry you to the stern, and then exit via a stern line. For some divers the stern is more interesting than the bow, and I would have to agree. The prop, rudder, anchor, funnel, radio tower, and rear cabins make for some interesting pokin’ around with plenty of damage evident.
For those who are really up for a challenge when diving the bow try to find the chain locker and take a look inside there, tight squeeze but a pretty darn interesting place.
Half upright listing to starboard, half upside down
For a ship that was only about 150′ long the Oconto managed to find a rather creative way to scatter itself across the bottom of the St. Lawrence Seaway, with some of it right side up some upside down (potentially due to two failed salvage attempts, and two slides into deeper water).
Lying in 180′ of water where there is perpetual current, this is not a particularly easy dive, but well worth it for those properly trained. Large sections of rail are still in tact, and other items of interest include the two precariously tangled anchors at the bow, boiler, one remaining blade of the prop (evidence of the collision), and a sizeable portion of overturned hull that can be entered.
There’s also a small rowboat which is wedged between the two main hull sections. Since it’s made of metal with an aluminum gunwale I can’t see how it could be original from the Oconto. This could be part of the source for the belief of some people that there are actually the remains of two wrecks here. My guess is this little boat sank up river and was carried by the current until it found somewhere to rest… but it’s at 180′, it was likely narced out of its little mind and didn’t know where it was. It kinda reminds me of some divers I’ve seen on this wreck.
The number of decent shore dives in Southern Ontario is very small, and people are always asking about a cheap alternative to renting a boat. Well, here ya go.
Just off the shore in Rockport, in front of the Boathouse Restaurant and hotel, is a site that just about anyone can do. There are the remains of an old wreck called the Sophia, a rowboat, ladder, propeller, what could be a barge, miscellaneous bottles and even a kettle.
If you are really adventurous you can make the swim to the Kinghorn from this location, but it is a lengthy swim from shore and there can be a slight current.
Situated just a couple hundred yards from the dock in Rockport, this wreck was (re)found in 1995.
Still the source of much debate, some no longer believe it is really the Kinghorn and the leading contender for the true identity is the "dith Surwell. Well, at least it was until someone suggested the Surwell (or Cirtwell) was a fishing tug that has yet to be found, and that this particular wreck is the Sophia (which actually lies not far away). Due to the sources who say it is the Kinghorn (namely wreck guru Rick Neilson), my money is on the Kinghorn.
Sitting upright in 88′ this is an aging steel hull with no superstructure. It has several openings on the upper deck (one reportedly from an anchor dropped a little too close to the target) so there is a good deal of light penetration into the hold which can be explored easily provided you have good finning technique (if you don’t you will be in the middle of a silt storm and other divers may finally have a use for the dive knives they have been carrying around for years). The upper deck is collapsing at a steady rate, and any penetration should be done with great caution if at all.
Close to the down-line is a "Canadian" toilet, still in relatively good shape (this item which was clearly not original, has since been removed). Plates and cups are scattered around the upper deck and inside the hold on the stove, many having reportedly been "returned" (read: planted) here (so if you take one thinking you have a genuine artifact, you are most likely sadly mistaken but other divers will take the opportunity to laugh at you, and then turn you over to the local constabularies since removing items from Ontario wrecks is illegal).
Don’t miss the ship’s wheel lying on its side on top of the stern, then find and the windlass, bilge pump, stove and rudder assembly which make for a decent amount to see. The wheel is now devoid of all its wood, but a sizeable portion of the steering gear is still attached and reaches nearly to the bottom of the hull. A small stove what was once on the deck, then in the hold, now appears to be missing entirely.