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WEEKEND: The Big Lake at 1,000 feet above the surface: Dave French offering custom tours in his seaplane

LACONIA — Late one afternoon last week Dave French flew a family of five on a tour of Lake Winnipesaukee, including a pass over their home on Lake Wicwas in Meredith, as darkening clouds rolled in from the west. When he touched down on Paugus Bay the wind kicked up, the waves crested and the rain poured down. Chest deep in the water, French and wife Colleen wrestled the plane to the dock. Their passengers scampered to the kiosk, soaked to the skin. "Thank you," one of the boys exclaimed. "That's the coolest thing we've done in a long time."

French, who spent much of his youth on Pine Island off Meredith Neck and flew seaplane tours for four summers between 1979 and 1982, returned to open Lakes Region Seaplane Services on Union Avenue, between John's Corvette and Barton's Motel in 2010. Calling himself a "lake brat" who knows the lake and its history, he has been offering flights to the public for the past four summers.

Although French docks his plane off Union Avenue, he will pick up passengers at their docks or beaches around the lake. Colleen, who manages the bookings, said that many flights mark special occasions and often come as a surprise. "We've had a couple of proposal flights," she said, recalling that the plane arrived at his dock, which was strewn with roses and lit by candles, with a violinist aboard. "He had the whole thing planned," she said. "She said yes and they flew off." French said he has flown to celebrate anniversaries, birthdays and reunions.

French flies a Cessna 206, fitted with both floats and wheels, which seats five in addition to the pilot. Tracing a typical tour, French said he flies up Paugus Bay to The Weirs, climbing to about 1,000 feet above the water, then makes toward Pine Island before sweeping around the Castle in the Clouds, crossing over Moultonborough Neck and circling past Welch Island and Governor's Island to The Weirs. But, he said "we're flexible," explaining that people often want to pass over their homes , a summer camp or some other special spot.

French operates between 10 a.m. and sunset, noting that the mornings and evening are the most popular times to fly. Prices vary according to the number of passengers and time in the air. The fare for a 30-minute tour with four or five passengers costs $65 person while a 25-minute tour with three passengers costs $80 person. Two passengers are charged $260 for a 30-minute tour and $240 for a 25-minute tour. However, Colleen explained that couples are urged to share the plane to lower the cost. "The more people in the plane, the lower the cost per person," she said. There is a minimum charge of $400 to collect passengers at their dock or beach.

French has logged more than 12,000 hours in the air, including 25 years as a commercial pilot, and has flown passenger jets out of four states and and seaplanes in Maine and Alaska. "I'm back where I belong on local water flying a seaplane," he said.

To book a flight call or text (603) 387-7575 and for more information visit SeaplaneTours.net on Facebook.


CAPTION: With a hand from his wife Colleen, Dave French of Lakes Region Seaplane Services jockeys his Cessna to the dock on Paugus Bay after flying passengers on a tour of Lake Winnipesaukee (Laconia Daily Sun photo/Michael Kitch)

Last Updated on Friday, 11 July 2014 10:27

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WEEKEND: Sunday's Sprint Cup race will mark NASCAR's 22nd year at Loudon speedway

LOUDON — The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series returns to New Hampshire Motor Speedway for the 22nd consecutive year on July 13 in the form of the Camping World RV Sales 301. The sponsor joined on in 2013 and kept the long-standing tradition of the extra mile at the mile-around oval.
This crucial Race for the Chase can play a big role in building a driver's momentum toward a championship run. From 2010-12, Jimmie Johnson, Ryan Newman and Kasey Kahne used wins in this race to carry themselves into the NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup, but in 2013, Brian Vickers upset the field for his first win since 2009.
Less than three years after being diagnosed with blood clots in his legs and lungs, Vickers battled through medications, blood thinners and rehabilitation before watching it all culminate with a win at the Magic Mile last year. He is currently in 16th place in the point standings and is hoping for a win which would qualify him for a shot in this year's Chase.
New this year in the Sprint Cup Series is the ''win and in'' formula which rewards drivers for wins by making the winners of any of the first 26 races automatic qualifiers for the 16 open spots in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, which is currently led by 6-time champion Jimmie Johnson with three wins. Points leader Jeff Gordon with one victory is currently in seventh place, trailing Dale Earnhardt Jr., Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Carl Edwards and Kevin Harvick, all of whom have two wins.
The importance of winning was underscored last Sunday in the rain-shortened Coke Zero 400 at Daytona when Aric Almirola survived two major wrecks unscathed and claimed his first career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory and moved into 10th place despite being 21st in the points standings.
Running the iconic No. 43 with the U.S. Air Force on the hood for July 4 weekend, Almirola's win came on the 30th anniversary of team owner Richard Petty's 200th Cup victory and was exactly what NASCAR had been hoping for with the ''win and in'', putting a team which had never qualified before into the Chase.
In all, 23 different drivers have won at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, led by Jeff Burton with four. Current drivers with three wins include Jeff Burton, who has started all 38 Sprint Cup races at NHMS, Jimmie Johnson, Ryan Newman, Kurt Busch and Tony Stewart.

New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman will drive the pace car for the Camping World RV Sales 301 on Sunday, which begins at 1 p.m. and will be broadcast live on TNT.
''As a punt returner in the NFL, I know all about teamwork, high-speeds and collisions on Sundays. But my goal on Sunday, July 13 will be to get those guys around the track safely before they drop the green flag for what is sure to be a highly-competitive race," Edelman said in a track-produced news release.
"I am honored to be chosen to drive the pace car at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, and I can't wait to take in my very first NASCAR race from what will certainly be the best seat in the house.'' said the man who led the Patriots in receiving last season.
The 1.058-mile track in Loudon has hosted 38 NASCAR Sprint Cup races, one per year from 1993 through 1996 and two per year since.
The first NASCAR Sprint Cup race at NHMS was held on July 11, 1993 and was won by NASCAR Hall of Famer Rusty Wallace. At that time the track was owned by Bob and Gary Bahre of Alton, who sold it to current owner Bruton Smith, who owns seven other NASCAR tracks, in 2008. The Bahres bought the track, the former Bryar Motosports Park, in 1989 and it had a seating capacity of 52,000 when the first NASCAR race was held in 1990. Since then it has expanded to seat over 100,000 people, making it the largest professional sports event site in New England.
Sunday's race caps a big weekend of racing at the speedway, which will feature two events today, the Sunoco 100 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour at 1 p.m. and the Nationwide Sta-Green 200, which will be run at 3:30 p.m.
The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour has run more races at NHMS than any other touring series. A day after racing the NASCAR Modified All-Star Shootout, much of the field will return to run the 60th series race in history on the Magic Mile.
Sprint Cup Series regular Ryan Newman tends to make an appearance in this event, but has not won since Sept. 2010. Since that time, Todd Szegedy, Mike Stefanik and Doug Coby have each won twice at NHMS, while Ron Silk has won once.
The race will run as the first in a doubleheader with the NASCAR Nationwide Series. Tickets for the day will allow fans to attend both races.
The NASCAR Nationwide Series has been a staple at NHMS since it first brought NASCAR to the Magic Mile on July 15, 1990. It has raced at the track at least once per year ever since and will race for the 28th time at the track in 2014. Kyle Busch has dominated the race recently in having won four of the last five NNS races at NHMS.

Last Updated on Friday, 11 July 2014 10:27

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WEEKEND: Roller Derby doubleheader comes to Laconia on Saturday (372 words)

LACONIA — Female Roller Derby, a throwback to the post World War II era, is coming to the city this weekend at the Laconia Ice Arena when the Granite State Roller Derby All Stars will take on the Hartford Area Roller Derby team at 5 p.m.

The event will be a double header with the second match featuring two of the Granite State's home teams — the Demolition Dames and the Fighting Finches.

Roller Derby is played in short bouts by five skaters from each team skating clockwise around an oval. One skater is a designated scorer or jammer who scores a point for each of the members of the opposing team she catches up to and passes.

At Saturday's event, each bout will begin with a demonstration so the audience will know how the game is played.

Women's roller derby is enjoying a world-wide resurgence and, according to an article in Sport Illustrated on line, was one one eight sports being considered for the 2020 Summer Olympics.

According to an article from the Altantic Monthly, the pros for including roller derby as an Olympic sport were that it is a female-based contact sport that involves intelligence, athleticism, and strength. Working against it was the idea that the International Olympic Committee wouldn't make enough money on it to support it and the sport's continuing penchant for using "outlandish costumes and bawdy nicknames" for its teams and players.

The flat-track version of the sport evolved in 2001 and has grown to encompass nearly 400 leagues throughout the world. Granite State Roller Derby began in 2010 and is a registered non-profit organization that works with local charitable organizations.

To the best of anyone recollection, this will be the first time roller derby has come to Laconia. The doors open at 4 p.m. and the Granite State All Starts meet the Greater Hartford Roller Derby at 5 p.m.

Fans will have an opportunity to create posters, participate in raffles and sign up for prizes including tickets to the Camping World RV Sales 301 NASCAR race on Sunday.

Tickets are $10 in advance or $12 at the door. Children under 5 are free. Advanced tickets can be purchased through the leagues website at www.granitestaterollerderby.com or at the Spank Alley Stake and Board Shop at 59 South Main St. in Concord.

Last Updated on Friday, 11 July 2014 10:26

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WEEKEND - Winnipesaukee Watershed Assoc. offering 'Floating Classroom" tours this summer

MEREDITH — While Lake Winnipesaukee is a perennial summer playground, this year the Winnipesaukee Watershed Association has converted it to a classroom by offering floating educational tours designed to encourage stewardship of this unique and valuable natural resource.

The "Floating Classroom" includes an introduction to the geology, history and ecology along with practical experience assessing different aspects of water quality under the direction of a qualified environmental scientist. Passengers can collect water samples, measure water clarity and take water temperatures as well as watch what is living in the lake on the monitor of an underwater camera.

Leaving the dock at The Weirs, Captain Dave Joyce headed across the lake, rounded Spindle Point and snaked through Sally's Gut, the narrow passage between the foot of Meredith Neck and tip of Stonedam Island. Naturalist Heidi Baker noted that Stonedam Island, the last home of the Abenaki on the lake, is a nature preserve owned by the Lakes Region Conservation Trust. Clearing Sally's Gut, the boat anchored on the northeast side of the island in 40 feet of water.

Baker, who trailed a plankton tow through Sally's Gut, explained that plankton — from the Greek meaning "wanderer" or "drifter" — may be either plants, like algae, or animals, like protozoa, and the first element of the food chain. Then she tested the clarity of the water by lowering a Secchi disk, which is divided into black and white quarters, into the lake and measuring the depth at which the white quarters became invisible. Noting that a depth greater than four meters indicates good water clarity, she found that the disk disappeared at 8.4 meters. "Between eight and 10 meters is common on Lake Winnipesaukee," Baker said.

The water in the lake, Baker said, is divided into three layers, with the warmest at the top and the coldest at the bottom, and turns over twice in each year in the spring and in the autumn. At the surface, the water temperature was 74 degrees Fahrenheit, but dropped 23 degrees, to 51 degrees, 30 feet down.

With a rig called a Van Dorn Bottle, Baker collected water samples at various depths, which she said could be sent to the University of New Hampshire to be tested for levels of phosphorus and nitrates, the major pollutants in the lake.

Pat Tarpey, executive director of the Winnipesaukee Watershed Association, said that stormwater, which carries phosphorus into the lake, is the primary source of pollution. The watershed stretches over 381 square miles and encompasses 19 municipalities, eight of them fronting the lake itself. Tarpey stressed the role of trees and shrubs, whose roots hold the soil while absorbing and filtering the stormwater run-off, in reducing the level of phosphorus and protecting water quality. "To ensure water quality in the lake, we have to look to the land," she remarked.

The "classroom" pontoon boat will carry eight passengers in addition to the captain and crew. The tour runs for approximately 90 minutes. "The Floating Classroom" departs from Weirs Beach on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 10 am. and 1 p.m. Tickets cost $20 for adults and $15 for children younger than 16. Tours must be booked two days in advance by calling (603) 581-6632 or registering on-line at www.winnipesaukee.org.

The project is funded with grants from the Samuel P. Pardoe Foundation and New Hampshire Charitable Foundation and enjoys the support of 16 corporate sponsors and underwriters.


CAPTION FOR FLOATING CLASSROOM: Naturalist Heidi Baker explains the workings of a Van Dorn Bottle to Laconia City Councilor Armand Bolduc during a recent "Floating Classroom tour of Lake Winnipesaukee. The device is used for collecting water samples at various depths. The tour was hosted by the Winnipesaukee Watershed Association. (Laconia Daily Sun photo/Ed Engler)

Last Updated on Friday, 11 July 2014 10:25

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