An excursion on the W.W. Durant is truly a special occasion. The tour boat is modeled after the steam boats that once cruised the Raquette Lake in the 19th century. She’s unequivocally adored by all who sail her but most especially the guy behind the wheel, Captain Dean Pohl. Pohl is both the designer and builder of the magnificent vessel as well as the town’s unofficial lake storyteller.
George and I met with family a few days ago for their Traditional Sunday Brunch Cruise having booked tickets earlier in the week through the Raquette Lake Navigation Company . We skipped breakfast and were mighty hungry when we arrived. The smell of a delicious smorgasbord wafted in the air while we waited in the unhurried queue.
We took our seats in the enclosed dining room at a six-top dressed in fine white linen. A college intern by the name of Tanya, presumably majoring in the hospitality industry, filled our glass mugs with hot coffee and encouraged us to visit the early buffet.
Syrup-drenched Belgian waffles and exotic juice on the first floor and chef-smoked salmon and fresh fruit awaited us on the upper deck. Two of Pohl’s own were hard at work in the galley preparing the main course, a creamy seafood Newburg and Tiramisu dessert.
Our flutes were repeatedly topped off with complimentary champagne while we sat back and enjoyed the narrated ride. To my dismay, Captain Pohl was able to recite 90 minutes of history and lore from the bridge – all without a script.
“Oh heck, I’ve done this tour so many times that I’ve got it memorized,” he said. Even so, I was impressed. Mastering 26 points of interest, from hotels to cottages to “Great Camps,” some still standing, other burned and gone, can’t be an easy feat. Pohl’s first mate (and wife) Donna provided everyone with a numbered map to help follow along.
The W.W. traversed a fraction of the lake’s 100 miles of pine-covered shoreline but odds are we visited the most picturesque. Around every bend we relived the fascinating days of yesteryear all the while aboard the boat’s namesake, William West Durant – the builder of the first “Great Camp” called Pine Knot.
“These summer estates were financed by wealthy tycoons of the 19th century like Vanderbilt, JP Morgan, and Collis P. Huntington.”
The upper deck got a bit windy, chairs were knocked around some, but the outing was a blissful blast into the past. The trip exudes an old-world charm that other cruises are find hard-pressed to match. For more information on dining, sightseeing and special event cruises, visit Raquette Lake Navigation Co.