On a warm summer evening, as the sun’s last light played tag with the water, we made our way slowly passed Gilligan’s Island.
Wait a minute!
This reporter distinctly remembers watching the reruns of the popular TV series, which ran from 1964 to 1967, to the point of humming the theme song: "Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale, a tale of a fateful trip...So, join us here each week my friends, you’ll sure to get a smile; From seven stranded castaways, here on Gilligan’s Isle!"
While the sitcom was set in the Pacific Ocean, on the island of Kauai in Hawaii, our Gilligan’s Island is located in the northwest portion of Silver Lake.
Wyoming County Sheriff’s Deputy David Richardson has been a part of the department’s Marine Division for 23 years, making him an excellent guide on our water adventure. Although Silver Lake falls under the New York State Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation Department, the Marine Division augments the state’s Park Police in patrolling the drink.
Silver Lake is approximately 3 miles long and one-half mile wide. With more than 800 cottages and houses on the lake, it plays host to approximately 600 boats, not including jet skis.
“Many of the properties around the lake have been handed down through generations,” Richardson said. “A public boat launch was put in about 10 years ago (at Silver Lake State Park); that has to be the number one asset to the lake. And in recent years, there has been a boom in party and pontoon boats out here. Even with the large number of boats, it is extremely rare that there are issues on the water.”
The biggest weekend of the year on the lake is during the July 4 Ring of Fire, not only are deputies out on the water all weekend, they are the lead boat in the annual boat parade.
In his more than two decades on the lake, Richardson says there hasn’t been anyone stranded on the water “in forever,” nor have there been any deaths, drownings or serious injuries. And with more than 50 to 60 boats on water on any given Saturday or Sunday, the record bodes well for seafarers.
While all waterways are subject to New York State boating laws, towns and villages may have their own variances.
“Boaters under 18 years old have to take a boaters' safety course; the alcohol laws are the same as they are on the road, and all those who jet ski have to have taken the (safety) course as well.”
Additionally, the lake has a 5-mph speed limit when traversing less than 100 feet from shore, or a docked or moored boat; and those who jet ski are only able to do so from sunup to sundown.
The Marine Division operates a 2004 2000 Hydra Sports Bay with a center console, and an Evinrude 150-horsepower outboard engine. Think “Jaws” -- it’s basically a converted fishing boat with all the bells and whistles of a standard patrol car, which can sometimes play havoc when responding to a call on the lake at night.
“When we first put the lights on in the front (of the boat) we were blinded when we turned them on, so we put duct tape on the back of them.”
Although the boat patrol is only active only during the summer, Silver Lake is popular during the winter months, too. It’s a haven for ice fishermen. Formed by glaciers and rimmed by glacial drumlins, and with a maximum depth of 37 feet, it’s the first lake in the state to freeze over during the winter.
Known for its panfish (fish suitable for frying whole in a pan), the lake hosts several contests year-round, with the North American Ice Fishing Championship Tournament series being the largest. Participants can find walleyes, northern pike, yellow perch, bluegills and pumpkinseeds. Contestants placing in the top 15 spots are eligible to earn points toward the national championship title.
There is one last notable tidbit about the lake: the Silver Lake Sea Serpent. This legend, and “beloved mascot” of the lake, has lured many an onlooker since it was first “seen” in 1855.
For more information on boating regulations in New York visit http://nysparks.com/recreation/boating/.
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