Lakes Region; Gilford; Laconia; water; landscape; mountains; views; scenic; boat; waves; calm; sunshine; reflection; clouds; new hampshire; karen bobotas
By ADAM DRAPCHO, LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — For many, there's no better way to spend a summer day in New Hampshire than on Lake Winnipesaukee in a power boat. For many more, though, who are new to the area or just didn't grow up in a family that owned boats, boating might seem intimidating. And then there's the cost – boats are expensive to buy, and costly to store and maintain, leaving the world of boating seemingly behind a locked door. But, the door's not locked – in fact, several marine businesses around the lake offer boat rentals, effectively jamming their foot in the doorway to keep boating available to everyone.
Bob Andrews, president of Anchor Marine Corporation, has been renting boats on Lake Winnipesaukee for 34 years. Most of that time he was at Weirs Beach, though he has since moved his operation to 1258 Union Ave. in Laconia.
Anchor Marine has rentals available in increments as small as two hours, for less than $200, up to a week for less than $2,000. About half of his business is for clients who rent a boat for a week.
Andrews said boat renting is a great way for someone to dip a toe in the boating scene.
"Especially if you are new to the area and don't know what you want, you can rent several different kinds and see what fits for your family," he said.
Don't have a boater education certificate? Anchor Marine is a state licensed test location and can print out a temporary certification, good for 14 days. About one in 10 of his customers, though, either don't want to bother with the test or just don't want to pilot the boat themselves. For them, Anchor Marine offers the services of a captain to go along with the boat rental.
The number of boats on the lake has risen since he got into the business, said Andrews, and he now says that the best boating is found during the week instead of the weekend.
Business "has been very good, repeat business is the biggest thing," said Andrews. A growing part of his clientele is made up of people who once owned boats but have since divested themselves, preferring the ease and affordability of hiring a boat for the few times each summer that they want to get out on the water.
"Renting is so much easier," he said.
Management at Irwin Marine noticed how busy Andrews was, and decided to get in on the action. Shawn Minor, who manages the rental business at Irwin Marine, said the company, which has locations in Lakeport and Alton Bay, began renting boats in 2011. It was a good business move – more boats have been added to the Irwin rental fleet each year, and profits have steadily grown, too, said Minor.
"Upper management here saw an opportunity to start a rental program, seeing that there weren't enough boats to go around," said Minor, who called Andrews the "heavy hitter of the rental game on the lake." Irwin's fleet is up to 15 boats this year, split between its two locations. Irwin isn't likely to overtake Anchor Marine any time soon, because, unlike Anchor Marine, which focuses exclusively on rentals, Irwin faces the logistical challenge of juggling dock space between rentals, service and sales.
Like Anchor, Irwin Marine can administer a 25-question, computer-based state test that, if passed, will grant someone a temporary boating certificate. The test taker must answer at least 20 of the questions correctly; if not, he or she has to wait at least 24 hours before a re-take.
All of Anchor Marine's boats are powerful enough to require a state certificate to pilot. But, at Irwin Marine, there's a 25-horsepower boat that Minor calls the "Putt-putt pontoon" that anyone can rent – if it's available.
"That boat is out all the time," he said.
Also like Andrews, Minor has noticed that many of his rental customers are former boat owners who decided that they didn't use their boats enough to justify the cost of ownership – which is easily several thousands of dollars each year – but still want to go boating a few times each summer.
Most of the Irwin Marine rental customers, though, are what Minor calls "green" boaters – people who have limited or no experience in boating. With these clients, Minor said it's possible to pass the state's test without any practical knowledge of boat operation. If necessary, he or another Irwin employee would be happy to go out on the water with them for a short lesson.
"We'll take them up the bay here, if we think we have to, to get them their confidence with operating the boat," he said.
He also gives them a few sage words of wisdom when it comes to boating on Winnipesaukee. He tells novice boaters to visit The Weirs, perhaps "circle Governor's Island "to see how the other half lives," head into Meredith Bay, or if they want a longer adventure, to cross the lake and visit Wolfeboro.
"The farther you get from Weirs Beach, and into the craziness of the lake ... the trickier the lake is to navigate," said Minor. Sections of the lake to specifically avoid are Moultonborough Bay, and a series of sharp rocks known as "The Witches" south of Timber Island. In these parts of the lake, sections of apparently open water are peppered with granite boulders in perfect position to ruin a perfect day.
If those hazard can be avoided, though, a rented boat can provide those aboard with a day of blue waters, green shoreline, mountain views, and – ideally – sunshine. Minor grew up boating on Winnipesaukee, and helping introduce the lake experience to others helps him to appreciate anew the Lakes Region's crown jewel.
"What's really enjoyable for me is that they get to enjoy an activity that I take for granted," he said. The boating party returns to the marina with smiles wider, and relaxation levels higher, than they were when he saw them depart. "You know they're going to go home and feel good about what they did," he said.
So, you've rented your boat, mastered the controls, and have enjoyed an hour or two of gorgeous scenery, gentle waves and maybe a swim. Now, you're ready for a bite to eat.
One of the reasons that Lake Winnipesaukee is favored by so many is that it offers both the beauty of the natural environment, and also the pleasures and convenience of dockside dining.
A member of the Common Man family of restaurants, the Town Docks in Meredith is located right next to, yes, the town's public docks. There's indoor seating, but the best seats in the house are outside, with umbrella-shaded picnic tables and sand to sink toes in. The menu is a match for the ambiance, with fried seafood, lobster rolls and salads, such as the ahi tuna plate, with really rare, sushi-grade tuna sliced and served over greens.
Wolfeboro is another favorite destination for hungry boaters, with many places to eat within easy walking distance from the town docks. Wolfe's Tavern, located within the Wolfeboro Inn, serves classic dishes with an unusual twist, such as a hamburger topped with mac and cheese. For waterside dining, though, steer under the Main Street and into Wolfeboro's Back Bay, and tie up at Wolfetrap Grill & Rawbar. Seafood, fresh and simply prepared, is the specialty, and the bayside seating, looking out over the water at Wolfeboro village, is the place to enjoy it.
But if a tropical, fun atmosphere is desired, be sure to stop at the NazBar, the NASWA's beach bar that has been a favorite spot for boaters for more than 30 years.
Cynthia Makris, third generation owner of the NASWA, located on Paugus Bay just south of the Weirs bridge, said she has many customers who come up to their weekend home on Friday night, park their car, and don't get back into their vehicle until it's time to leave on Sunday evening.
"People love doing that. That's what is so much fun about Lake Winnipesaukee," she said. People new to the lake are especially impressed by the opportunity to stop into a restaurant, or spend some time at a bar, without having to interrupt their day of boating.
And the NasBar can accommodate a great many of them. The NASWA's docks can fit 50 boats, and with the ability to raft the boats on either end of the docks – meaning, boats are tied to other boats that are tied to the dock – there have been as many as 100 boats at the NASWA dock at one time.
Those docks have been given an overhaul just in time for Memorial Day weekend. The docks have new decking, and better lighting for after-dark patrons. Makris is especially excited about the addition of under-dock LED lighting, which can project a myriad of shades into the water, and which she can control via her smart phone.
"We did a lot," she said.
The NasBar menu has been refreshed, with new items such as pulled smoked chicken tacos. There are special food and drink prices on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday nights, and live music keeps the party rocking on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday nights.
For fine dining, the NASWA's Blue Bistro is just a flight of stairs up from the beach bar, featuring a menu of Italian and seafood dishes. Upgrades at the hospitality landmark extended to the bistro, which has new floors and new menu items for this season.
Many other restaurants around Winnipesaukee cater to the boating crowd. Many of those establishments have regular customers who, as Makris said, have never seen the eatery's parking lot.
"There's a whole culture that just wants to be on the lake," she said. "They're raving Lake Winnipesaukee fans."