SARATOGA SPRINGS — In the early 20th century, you could take a steam-powered yacht named Alice on a moonlight cruise — from the White Sulphur Spring Hotel on Saratoga Lake’s south end north to Kaydeross Park.
After crossing the lake and exiting the 72-foot vessel, you could dance to vaudeville music at the park’s casino and, on occasion, watch fireworks light up the summer sky.
Before then, starting in 1881, the Lady of the Lake — a three-deck steamship with space for 1,500 people — would bring visitors to and from various hotels along the lake’s shore.
It’s been over 80 years since public cruises brought excitement to the lake’s tranquil waters — the nautical joy rides dissipated in the late 1920s and early 1930s — but one captain is looking to bring back the tradition cherished by local history buffs but unknown to some.
Hal Raven started small last May when he launched Adirondack Cruise & Charter Co., by offering rides on a 22-foot pontoon boat, which seats nine.
“It was a big hit,” he said. “We moved 806 people on that pontoon boat last season, so we were looking for a bigger boat. We wanted to keep that old Saratoga tradition.”
Raven’s search for a bigger boat brought him to Hartford, Wisconsin, where Paul Raasoch was looking to sell the 1900s replica Fantail Launch he built and was using to to give tours of the Rock River. Raven flew out to see the boat in February “and by March it was on a truck, headed back to New York,” he said.
Raven, a lifelong boater who grew up on Lake George, waxes nostalgic as he describes the 50-foot boat’s canopy with scalloped curtains, mahogany interior, oak trim and polished brass accessories.
“It just really looks like it belongs here,” he said, “and it looks like it’s straight out of 1900.”
He named the boat, which carries 25 passengers, General Schuyler at a christening ceremony on Saturday, June 3. It’s been plying the waters of Saratoga Lake since early May, with the first public cruises being given on Mother’s Day.
Raven said he narrates the 90-minute rides with stories of the lake’s history — like how the railroad arrived in 1881 at the same time as the Lady of the Lake.
“We tell them about the steamboats and that bygone era,” he said. “We really just give people a chance to get back to the glory days of the lake and take a ride on an old boat.”
This summer, the new boat is hosting cruises five days a week, and six days a week starting in mid-July. The rides include coffee cruises on weekend mornings and, in July and August, elegant dinner cruises for a limited number of guests, Raven said. He’s still using the pontoon boat to give smaller groups rides up Fish Creek.
“We’re going to do a brunch cruise eventually, as well — a little Sunday brunch cruise,” he said.
Raven also plans to work with local wineries and breweries to host a “sip and sail” cruise once the summer track season kicks off — which added popularity to last year’s pontoon rides.
Raven spent the past four years captaining the Adirondac and Horicon cruise ships on Lake George, and he’ll continue doing that this summer. But he said he has turned his attention to Saratoga Lake because “this was just something that Saratoga needed.”
“Unless you owned your own boat, there was nothing like this,” he said. “You couldn’t be down at the track or downtown, get out on the lake for an hour or two and be back at your hotel for dinner without going to Lake George and back.”
He added, “It’s a tradition that I felt needed to be brought back to the area.”
Rides on the General Schuyler cost $25, $20 for veterans and $15 for children 10 and younger. They can be booked by visiting adkcruise.com.