Boat Mail Delivery on Sodus Bay

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Mail delivery by boat to the islands in Sodus Bay and Charles Point has been a long time service. Here are some fun facts:

 

1. This service has been in existence at least since 1907 and perhaps as early as 1904.  Pearl Rook who has spent the last 85 years on Crescent Beach has a postcard describing boat mail delivery  service in 1907. She believes it started 3 years earlier. In her book: Great Sodus Bay published in 1912 by Mrs. D.F. McNett, she describes it as    “Sodus Point, is a government port of entry. Mail service by Marine Route is prompt and satisfactory.”

 

2. According to the United States Postal Service, Sodus Point is one of 12 places in New York State where mail is moved by boat.

 

3. According to the United States Postal Service, New York has more locations where mail is delivered by boat than any other state.

 

 

Story from Lakeshore News, July 31, 2013 addition.

 

Boat Mail Delivery Goes the Extra Mile on Sodus Bay  by Neil Thompson; photos by Bill Huff , Jr..

 

Art Putnam

 

Art Putnam pulls his 19-foot, V-6 Chaparral from its Sodus Point dock and heads for Charles Point.  He notices the 5 miles per hour marker in the water, and waits until he passes it before kicking up his Chaparral to about 20 miles per hour.  Once he arrives at Charles Point, he carefully pulls up to a dock, trying not to put another scratch on his well-worn boat.  He opens a mail box and places a bundle of letters inside.

 

It’s about 8:30 a.m. and Art has just made his first delivery of the day.  He’s dressed in a blue pullover shirt with a postal service logo, white shorts, and sneakers.  He doesn’t pound the pavement. He doesn’t even work directly for the U.S. Postal Service.  Instead, he works on a contractual basis.  But for 45 households along his 8-mile mail route through Sodus Bay, he’s the mailman.

 

Boat Delivery Route

 

Next, he heads to Crescent Beach to leave another bundle.  One envelope says “Do Not

Bend.”  Unable to stuff the envelope in the mailbox at the end of the dock without

bending it, he gets out of his boat, steps up to the dock, and walks the envelope to the

front porch of a cottage. “Personalized service,” he says.

 

One of his regular customers on Crescent Beach is Pearl Rook, 90, who has been

spending summers at her Crescent Beach cottage since her childhood in 1925.  She

enjoys seeing Art pull up with the day’s mail, and they sometimes visit for a few minutes

before he moves on.

 

Pearl Rook

 

 

When he leaves Crescent Beach, his next stop is Newark Island.  “Hey, how you doing,”

he calls out to a Newark Island resident after leaving the day’s mail.

 

He pulls back out and heads for Eagle Island.  Art, 63, knows this route well.  He’s been

navigating it for 20 years.  He knows where the rocks are, and where the water is

shallow.

 

He stops his boat to stay out of the way of a bass boat speeding between Newark Island

and Eagle Island. He wonders if its driver knows he is moving through water that is only

two feet deep.  The bass boat makes it through.  “He’s lucky,” Art says.

 

Art knows the bay.  He has “driven” the bay with an amphibious vehicle.  He’s been over

the waters countless times on boats.   As a scuba diver, he’s been below the bay’s surface.

He’s even been on the bay with water skis.

 

At Eagle Island, he stops at a large mailbox and places a large bundle of mail and

newspapers inside it.  Island residents know to come to this community mailbox.  If a

piece of mail simply says “resident’,”  it’s no big deal.  The islanders can sort it out.

He heads for his second stop on Eagle Island, trying not to create too much wake in

deference to those fishing out of a nearby boat.  Stopping at a dock, he puts a bundle in

the mailbox and raises the mailbox flag to let residents know that mail waits for them.

It’s the opposite of land-bound mail service, in which a raised flag lets a mailman know

to stop.

 

Not much can stop him from delivering the mail.  But recently, the Wayne County

Sheriff’s Department Water Patrol, the U.S. Coast Guard, and the Alton Fire Department

were on the bay using sonar to search for a drowning victim.   Art honored their request

to cut short that day’s mail delivery.

 

He talks about his job as he guides his boat through the bay.  He estimates he spends

about $3,000 on 91 octane fuel in a typical season, which lasts from May 1 to Oct. 30.

He’s piloting his fourth boat in 20 years, and says it won’t be long before he needs to

replace it.  He continues on, passing docks on Eagle Island, some of which he installed.

 

At his fifth Eagle Island stop, he hands a hose clamp to the waiting resident. He brought it

from home, knowing the islander needed it.  “It’s just a little extra service,” he says.

 

He can also sell stamps and boxes.  “Whatever the post office offers, we offer out here,” he said.

 

Art pauses to take a cell phone call.  Gone are the days when he used ship-to-shore radio.

 

“I don’t know how they all get my cell phone number, but they do,” he says, putting the

phone away and continuing his journey.

 

He pulls out a rubber band and places it around the mail for his sixth and final stop on

Eagle Island.  Bundling the mail with a rubber band is important, he said or else you

could lose a piece of mail in the wind.

 

Heading back to his Sodus Point dock, he talks of the changing lifestyles on the islands.

He notes that with more two-income families, some island families are spending

weekends on their island cottages, rather than the full week.  “Sometimes I’ll look

around. Where’s the fishermen?  Where is everybody?  I’ve got the bay all to myself,” he

said.

 

For some, the mailman’s arrival is the highlight of the day.  Islanders are always glad to

see the Shopper and newspapers.  Bills?  Not so much.

 

It’s about 9:45 a.m. when he pulls back into his dock and hoists up his boat.  He points

out a 19-foot Larson V-8 on the other side of the dock. That’s his, too. He keeps it handy

as a backup in case his Chaparral has mechanical problems.

 

With the day’s mail delivered, Art takes a few minutes to talk about some of the

requirements of his mail delivery job.  For instance, he insures the two boats he uses for

$500,000 each, and is also required to keep liability insurance on the vehicles he uses to

take mail from either the Sodus or Sodus point Post Office to his boat.  In all, he has

about $2 million in liability insurance, which he said costs him about $1,700 per year.

 

Art also has a pistol permit, and is sometimes armed with a .45 caliber handgun. It’s a

precaution. Nobody has tried to rob him during his Sodus Bay mail runs. But you never

know.

 

Art likes his job. Twenty years ago, he traded a school bus for a boat when he retired

from his job as a bus driver at Sodus Central School District. He is happy he made the

move.  In good weather, it’s all pretty smooth going  He knows his route, and he knows

his customers.

 

He remembers having to track one customer down to get a signature for a piece of

certified mail.  He found the customer – on a sailboat.

 

He laughs when he recalls putting mail in the mouth of one customer’s dog, which was

trained to walk the mail to its owner.  The mail wasn’t much worse for the wear from a

little dog drool.

 

Art took over the route from his brother-in-law, Ed Krenzer, who had it  from 1966 to

1993.

 

Ed, who together with his brother Paul used to own Krenzer Marine, remembers the boat

route fondly.  Ed said he enjoyed seeing his postal customers each day.  Ed in turn

learned the route as a boy when the late George Helfer used to let him ride along.

 

Neither the postal service or local historians could pinpoint when boat mail delivery

started in Sodus Bay.  But clearly, mail delivery by boat has become one of the unique

layers of life in Sodus Bay.

 

As Art is putting away his boat, a mail truck rolls by. A fellow mail mover.  But the

driver does not look out the window to check the waves or the wind.

 

Lyman Islander