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Cruise ship transits locks in Massena Monday, docks in Clayton

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By KATHERINE CLARK

CLAYTON — The 335-foot Pearl Mist arrived Monday night in Clayton, the first time a cruise ship has stopped at the Thousand Islands Regional Dock.

“It’s absolutely great,” Town Supervisor Justin A. Taylor said. The ship was greeted with a “water welcome” from the Clayton Volunteer Fire Department fireboat “Last Chance.” Mr. Taylor, Howard G. Michelson and L. Terry Fox drove the fireboat with three hoses shooting water into the air. Mr. Taylor said it’s a tradition reserved for big welcomes, and Monday’s arrival was long awaited by a village eager to make itself a cruise ship port of call.

The six-deck ship with 108 staterooms, carrying 210 passengers and nearly 50 crew members, is on an 11-day cruise from Quebec City to Chicago. It was originally scheduled to dock at 8 a.m., but its arrival was delayed by complications with the locks on the St. Lawrence River between Quebec City and Montreal, said Nina Padder, a shore excursions manager with Pearl Seas Cruises. The ship tied up just past 6 p.m., and the passengers, after clearing Customs, came ashore at 7 p.m.

The village-owned dock at Frink Park is certified by the Department of Homeland Security as a U.S. port of entry. A temporary chain link fence was put up so Customs inspections could be conducted.

“This is the first time we’ve set up a secured facility for the arrival of a cruise ship,” said Kevin J. Patnode, village chief of police and port security officer. “We’ve welcomed private boats, cargo ships and numerous super yachts.”

Debbie L. Scholes, a sales representative for Clayton Islands Tours, said she has been working since February to organize an itinerary for the passengers’ visit.

“They were originally supposed be to in Clayton from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., so we had to alter the plans,” Ms. Scholes said. “We have charter buses waiting to take people to the Antique Boat Museum, and others have chosen to go to the Coyote Moon winery or just walk around town.”

Ms. Scholes said it was convenient there were many available places for people to visit within walking distance of the port. She said many of the downtown businesses stayed open late to welcome the cruise line guests.

Michael J. Folsom, the Antique Boat Museum’s director of marketing and communications, said the staff stayed at the museum after its regular 5 p.m. closure.

“Our staff’s going to stay late to get as many of the cruise passengers through the museum as possible,” Mr. Folsom said. “Try to give them the Clayton experience on a short schedule.”

Ms. Scholes said 100 of the passengers signed up to tour the museum, about 40 passengers were planning to attend a wine tasting at Coyote Moon and two small groups were going to walk around. She said even though the welcoming groups were “organizing on the fly” throughout the day, there is a lot within walking distance for them to see.

“They changed everything for us to stop. I think they wouldn’t have stopped if we weren’t on the ship,” George “Buddy” Byers Jr. of London, Ohio, said jokingly. Mr. Byers, his wife, Diane, and other members of the family were excited to visit Clayton because of the Antique Boat Museum.

“I have two boats at the museum,” said Mr. Byers, who used to drive boats professionally.

He donated two boats to the museum, the Chrysler Queen and the Emma Ho.

W. David Richardson, museum trustee, said the Chrysler Queen is a record-breaking speedboat that broke the fastest measured mile at 168 mph. The Emma Ho is a 1910 speedboat that Mr. Byers restored.

By 8:30 p.m., Mr. Richardson said, Mr. Byers and other passengers were heading back to the ship to go through customs before the ship left for Toronto.

Clayton Mayor Norma J. Zimmer said the port authorities were ready and the dock had been evaluated by the U.S. Coast Guard at 6 a.m.

“This is our first experience with a cruise ship, and this is a relatively new cruise line,” Ms. Zimmer said.

She said the cruise line took a chance picking the village of Clayton as a stopping port, but it is a great opportunity to bring new visitors and potentially more cruise ships into Clayton.

“This is going to be a great experience for both us and the cruise line,” Ms. Zimmer said. “We’re the only place qualified for cruise ships to stop between Montreal and Ontario.”

The Pearl Mist, registered in the Marshall Islands, is scheduled to dock at Clayton again in September.

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