by Linda Rowe
CAPE VINCENT, NY — Clayton Island Tours owner/operator, David Kay, has been a member of the Cape Vincent Chamber of Commerce since 2007. Twelve years sounds like a long time, but is only the tip of the iceberg in describing his business.
He is the third generation to take the helm and is in his 16th year doing so. David has a newspaper article about the business operating in the 1940s as the original St. Lawrence Chateau.
As the business of giving island tours and providing “rooms to let” grew, David moved the tour boats to a boarding point in downtown Clayton. Over the years, more parking was desperately needed, so he returned boarding to its current location. Here he operates four tour boats from the opening of Boldt Castle in mid-May to October, weather permitting. He offers happy hour tours, a two-nation islands tour with stop at Boldt Castle, a Grindstone Island two-nation tour, and a glass-bottomed boat tour, the only one to visit the Rock Island Lighthouse.
Clayton Island Tours has a group tour department that can help plan multiple types of tours, offering step- on guides and coordinating visits to area resort hotels, restaurants, craft breweries and wineries. They arrange chartered trips, including wedding party shuttles to islands. They work with Save the River Organization to offer nature-themed tours for school groups.
David Kay and his wife of 43 years, Ginny, worked together to operate the business, with help from their employees, sometimes as many as 30 in summers. Ginny passed away in late 2016 but he and his employees continue to provide what he considers his business essentials: an up-close and intimate view of this spectacular St. Lawrence River, with personal customer service. He and his team derive a joy from introducing this river to their guests that never gets old. They love hearing boaters’ excited voices whenever the glass-bottomed boat passes over
a really big fish.
Available on-site are also five charming themed rentals, which include Boathouse Room, Lighthouse Room, Fish Camp Room, Nautical Room, and St. Lawrence Suite. All are delightfully decorated. Fish Camp room was most surprising to me, because I expected a very primitive look, shall we say. As its door opened, I was
pleasantly greeted by a tastefully simple design and an air of warmth. St. Lawrence Suite is like a bird’s nest in a tree looking out over the river, cozy and private. I could go on. Each room that is rented for a minimum two-night
stay comes with a free boat tour.
David said their business really increased when they began taking online reservations. Contact them at claytonislandtours.com and chateaucountryinn.com. Check them out on Facebook, their website and other social media. Phone (315) 686-4217. Summer hours begin at 9 a.m. Scheduled tour times are three hours or less and are available online. “Quitting time” depends on charter arrangements.
I wanted to know what prepared David for this kind of work and had no idea what a treat I was in for. He said he didn’t start out with this business in mind as a career. He earned a B. S. in Business, which has come in handy. In high school he got a summer job as a narrator and deck hand for Thousand Island Tours. He moved on to become a chief mate on the cruise ship Victorian Empress, which sailed between Kingston and the Gulf of St. Lawrence at Montreal.
When that ship was sold, he went to work for Cruise West for 10 years, taking ship passengers between Alaska and Mexico. For the last 17 years, he has been employed with National Geographic Expedition Tours. When he’s not at Clayton Island Tours, he’s at National Geographic Expedition Tours. Awesome!
David’s grandpa originally purchased St. Lawrence Chateau in 1946, which his parents ran and later purchased themselves. When his parents retired, David came home with Ginny to take over as the third generation.
He loves being on the water, whether river or sea. He enjoys his two adult children, DeDe and David, and his nonagenarian mom, Dorothy Kaye, is still active and visits back and forth from her residence in Florida.
I asked David if he had any advice for a would-be entrepreneur. He said “It’s a lot more work than I planned.” If you’re interested in making something you love a business, “think not just about the part you love, but plan for the other parts too. Research how to do this.”
I asked about a funny or unexpected tour from their many years in business. The funniest one they decided to keep to themselves, but did say that for one tour involving a wedding rehearsal dinner party, all guests arrived in full pirate regalia. I asked jokingly if David had any hobbies and he laughed as he said working is his hobby. He enjoys sharing his knowledge of this river with every person on a tour, kids and adults; the small group or the boatload. He and his capable staff at Clayton Island Tours are ready to share a memorable tour of this river with all of you.