Wind, waves and Winnipesaukee

The Winnipesaukee Sailing Association aims to reach more sailors, both young and adult

By ADAM DRAPCHO, LACONIA DAILY SUN

GILFORD — Now in its 30th season, the Lake Winnipesaukee Sailing Association gives youth and adults access to a sport that would otherwise be out of reach for some. The association is gearing up this year to reach more people than ever.
"This all started out with four little sailboats, one instructor and a handful of kids. It's come a long way," said long-time volunteer Al Posnack.
Last year, the nonprofit association served 175 children, who spent a week or more at the association's headquarters on Davis Road in Gilford, perfectly situated on the shore of quiet Smith Cove.
The association's fleet has grown to include 37 sailboats, which range in size form 8-foot dinghies to sailboats up to 26 feet long, as well as five motorboats and a couple of kayaks for coaches.
Most of the association's youth students, who start as young as 7, are repeat customers. The new students often sign up because they heard about the program from a friend. Posnack and Executive Director Amy Tripp see that as a sign that they're doing something right.
"We want our camp to be safe, to be fun, and we want kids to learn to sail – in that order," said Tripp.
This season figures to be a banner year for the Sailing Association, with early-bird registrations well ahead of last year.
"There's been huge amounts of interest this spring," said Posnack. If the pace holds up, the 30th season will see more sailors than ever before. Still, he and Tripp see the opportunity to grow much more, by reaching out to more adults, as well as children who come from socioeconomic groups that aren't typically associated with sailing.
It's been a persistent challenge for the association to bring in students from families that don't have a history of boating. There are scholarship funds available, so home finances shouldn't be a barrier, but previous efforts to bring in students from moderate- to low-income homes hadn't proven effective, until last year, when the association reached out to parks and recreation departments in the towns of Meredith, Laconia, Belmont and Gilford, and an after-school program was started last year.
"I think it went great. We introduced some different kids to sailing that we didn't reach (before)," said Posnack. Enrollment was limited in its first year so that the new program could be ironed out. This year features an expanded after-school roster, including many of the students from last year.
Amy Lovisek, assistant recreation director in Laconia, said the after-school sailing program serves a need in this area because there are so many lakes, and it provides a great introduction to the sport.
"It's a really cool program," she said. "It gets people interested in sailing so they can go on and get more training in Winnipesaukee Sailing Association's summer program. For those who are interested in learning the skill, it's a great introduction."
Last year, Laconia sent three students into the program, and she said they're hoping to increase the number of participants this year.
"The people teaching it are certified instructors, and that's huge," she said.
The program, which runs from May 22 to June 25, from 4 to 7 p.m., is open to those 11 and older, including those with little or no experience.
There's still time to sign up for the after-school program, for young people who live in Meredith, Belmont, Gilford or Laconia. Posnack said interested parents should contact their local parks and recreation department to inquire about availability.
Partnership with the parks and recreation offices has worked as a serviceable bridge to students whose parents might not have considered sailing as a possibility. The association is looking for another bridge they can use to reach the many adults in the region who might be interested in the sport. Posnack noted that the association's email list is an effective way to reach interested young sailors, but it has proven a challenge to fill the available spaces for adult lessons.
Adults who have taken lessons through the association usually were referred by an acquaintance. That's the case for Shelley Richardson, who was looking for a gift last year when a friend suggested a lesson.
"I did it on a whim for my husband's birthday," said Richardson, adding that her husband had always been interested in sailing. It ended up being a fateful gift, as they ended up buying a boat later that summer – a 23-foot San Juan. They will likely sign up for a few more lessons this summer, so that their adult children can learn the ropes.
"The people there – so nice, oh my gosh, they could not do enough for you. We had such a great experience, I'm so glad we did it," said Richardson, who said that she didn't think they would have bought a sailboat had it not been for the confidence gained through the lessons.
For young people, Posnack said the experience of being in control of a sailboat can be a powerful one, with benefits well beyond the technical skill of sailing. They develop concentration, sportsmanship, tenacity, independence, self-confidence and teamwork, he said.
"There's a whole string of things that go beyond learning to handle a boat," he said.

Adults benefit from the joy and relaxation of being in tune with the wind and the water, in partnership with the natural forces around them.
The Lake Winnipesaukee Sailing Association's budget for summer sailing camps is about $55,000, which is covered by tuition. Other costs are covered by the sale of donated boats.
In addition to serving the general public, the Lake Winnipesaukee Sailing Association also provides sailing excursions for a local summer camp that serves children with special needs, and the Patriot Resilience Leadership Institute, which provides therapeutic outdoors experiences for military veterans.

‘I’ve never hated women’ - Rep. Fisher, under fire, maintains his right to serve

Laconia lawmaker testifies before state legislative committee

By THOMAS P. CALDWELL, LACONIA DAILY SUN

LACONIA — Rep. Robert Fisher, R-Laconia, has denied any continued involvement with a misogynistic online forum he created and said he finds it more effective to debate his colleagues in Concord.
"I have been far too busy between work and Concord to spend time with internet debates with strangers," Fisher said after attending a hearing that may determine his future in the New Hampshire House.
The state Legislative Administration Committee met Tuesday morning to hear testimony on his role in the online Reddit forum "The Red Pill" and whether it disqualifies him from serving in the legislature.
Top Republican leaders, including Gov. Chris Sununu and House Speaker Shawn Jasper, called for Fisher's resignation after The Daily Beast published an exposé identifying Fisher as the creator of The Red Pill. Many local officials, however, said his comments, however distasteful, were irrelevant to his work in the House, and should not disqualify him from serving.
Speaking at the hearing, Fisher said, "I have never hated women. ... Some of the views that have been alleged here are certainly not reflective of what I stand for or what I have done in my time here in Concord."
Fisher has said his comments "from five to 10 years ago" were taken out of context, and he denied a subsequent report by The Daily Beast that connected him with more recent statements using a new pseudonym.
"It's starting to look like a zany conspiracy theory by a liberal rag to me, but I'll give you guys the scoop: It's false," he said in an email to The Laconia Daily Sun prior to Tuesday's hearing. He said he is eager to "get back to the important work we have to do," and called the hearing "a poor use of legislators' time."
The new Daily Beast article, posted on Monday, alleged that Fisher, using the alias Pk_atheist, had claimed to have retired as moderator of the Reddit forum, while actually creating a new online identity as redpillschool. The change came about after Fisher lost his first campaign for a House seat, when he had run as a Democrat.
Relying on security and intelligence firms capable of tracing online registrations, The Daily Beast learned that redpillschool, along with other identities and websites, were connected with Fisher's personal email address.
"This suggests that Fisher fabricated a passing of the torch — and indicates that, as redpillschool, he has maintained control of the forum for the last four years, growing its followership to over 200,000 users and dedicating over 80 hours per week to the forum's upkeep," the article by Bonnie Bacarisse and Brandy Zadrozny stated.
If true, Fisher's online comments would be relevant to the legislative probe, since a legislator can be held accountable only for actions taking place during the current term.
"I wasn't there long," Fisher said of his involvement with The Red Pill. "I left The Red Pill when it was under a hundred users."
Explaining his use of the pseudonym Pk_atheist, Fisher said, "On many blogging or forum websites, it is the norm to use a pseudonym. On some sites such as Reddit, they actually have a policy against discussing personal information. The reasoning for it, I would guess, is to avoid every individual from having to go through the gauntlet of threats and harassment that my loved ones and I have experienced in the last month. Everybody risks being misinterpreted, quoted out of context, or worse."
Fisher denied being redpillschool, explaining the connections to other identities and websites by saying, "I am a reseller for a web hosting company. As a defender of free speech, I give out low-cost and free hosting accounts to a lot of people, many of whom I've never met. I am not responsible for the content on these sites, nor am I endorsing anything on them. ... My email address was the default for DNS records when somebody didn't provide me a different address."
He said, "This is clearly a malicious attack on my character, based on fabrications and lies. It's injuring my ability to not only do my job in Concord but also to earn a living."
Aside from his unpopular ideological stance that drew angry residents, politicians and advocates to testify before the committee in Concord on Tuesday, Fisher's attendance record also has been an issue.
Fisher has cast votes only 46 percent of time this year, missing 58 of 126 votes, according to the House website. Of the missed votes, 44 were excused absences, while 14 were unexcused.
"One of the most obvious differences between me and many of my colleagues in the House," Fisher said, "is that I am not retired, and in fact work full-time to afford rent and groceries. When we have multiple session days a week, I do my best to either attend both or prioritize votes that are at risk of going in the wrong direction. I coordinate with other representatives to keep track of expected votes. I have been open about my schedule each time I ran, and I believe my constituents understand and even appreciate having a representative who has personal experience in the job market of today."
He cited an example of the service he is providing in Concord: "I'm very happy with the work I've been doing to find relief for Eversource customers who have recently received what I consider unfair disconnect notices. While we are still working on language that all parties can agree to, Eversource took notice of the problem and relaxed their policy right away. I'm also very happy with work I've been pursuing to bring relief to bar owners who don't feel they're getting a fair shake with the liquor commission's appeals process."
He also cited his work on behalf of the transgender community.
"One of my most recent debates was on the controversial transgender bathroom bill, which I very publicly supported. I wrote about it, submitted to papers and did radio interviews in hopes to convince my colleagues that this bill was pro-liberty and did not put anybody at risk, as was commonly purported."
He sees the complaints about his participation in the forum as attacks on free speech.
"I think, in order for the First Amendment to mean anything, it must necessarily protect speech that some may find unpopular or unsavory. Anyone who understands the difference between free speech and hate speech can see that we should not condemn words or debate, but the actors who pervert those words to justify harming others.
"I think in the recent years, I've noticed there are many with a political agenda that want to blur that line, conflating any disagreeable speech with an actual threat to harm somebody. A great example of this is the quote floating around about rape. It's been suggested that it condones rape, and that it's hate speech. That simply isn't the case, but the truth isn't going to get more clicks. Not liking a discussion doesn't make it hate speech."
As to his support for men's rights, Fisher said, "I have spoken with many men who have been through terrible experiences, not limited to false rape accusations. I've seen men struggle to survive unfair treatment by the family courts, falsely accused of abuse or neglect. It's a problem that the world doesn't want to hear. I've gotten postcards over the past week mocking the idea that men even need rights at all. I think that common attitude is why it's difficult for men to speak out about issues they face."
Among those testifying at the hearing on Tuesday was Zandra Rice Hawkins, executive director of the advocacy group Granite State Progress.
"What we would like the committee to focus on," Hawkins said, "is that Rep. Fisher, when confronted with his actions, took two steps that are unbecoming of an elected officer of the state. First, he lied to the public and media about his role with the Red Pill. Second, he took actions to cover his trail, thereby admitting guilt in the process... These knowing, willful and purposeful acts of deception which were taken by Rep. Fisher during his current term in the Legislature bring dishonor and disrepute upon the New Hampshire House of Representatives and are by themselves sufficient to justify action by this body."
"As a public official," Fisher said, "I don't think it's unfair for the public to want to know if this stuff is my actual position. But when a partisan blog publishes misquotes without context, it does mobilize a lot of people to take action against my family and me and lets them believe they're totally justified. I don't think there's any justification for anybody to be harassing my girlfriend or family, but they are.
"If I've learned anything from the past election year, there's a vocal minority in our country that expects the discussion to end once they take offense. I've watched national media and social groups conduct what amounts to witch hunts against a lot of people simply because they disagree, were falsely accused of something, or crossed a special interest group. And right now, these types of attacks hold a lot of power. They don't care about me; it doesn't matter if I were still involved or if their misquotes were even correct. They want to send a signal to others. Don't discuss male issues or we'll do this to you."
The Legislative Administration Committee will be making a recommendation to the full chamber next week on whether to reprimand him, expel him or take no action. Any action would require a majority vote of the House.

City gives firefighters modest raise

One-year deal rewards department members with paramedic training

By RICK GREEN, LACONIA DAILY SUN

LACONIA — City firefighters will get a 1 percent pay raise in July and another 1 percent hike in January under a contract approved Monday by the City Council.

"Anybody would like to see a bigger increase, but we're happy to have something, given the tax cap limit," Fire Chief Ken Erickson said. "We're all very pleased to have a job."

The current wage schedule gives firefighters with a paramedic certification a 5 percent pay differential over those with an emergency medical technician certification. This grows to 7 percent under the new contract.

Qualified paramedics are in greater demand than emergency medical technicians and are subject to recruitment by other departments. There are more medical procedures they can do and the certification requires more schooling.

"This is a 'thank-you' to the ones we have and an enticement for them to stay," Erickson said. "I watched them work a cardiac arrest on a 76-year-old man. They got the heart muscle restarted and got him to a catheterization lab, where an emergency cath unclogged a blockage. I sit back in astonishment at what they can do."

Erickson said half of Laconia's 36 firefighters are paramedics, which is helpful given that many of the department's calls are for medical service.

City Manager Scott Myers said the new one-year contract makes some changes to medical coverage. The drug plan goes from a three-tiered program to four, and the physician co-pay goes to $25 for primary care doctors and $50 for specialists. The co-pay now stands at $20 for all doctors.

Current wages range from $18.23 an hour for a probationary firefighter with emergency medical technician certification to $25.72 for a sixth-class firefighter with paramedic certification. For fire officers, a captain with a paramedic certification can earn up to $32.97 an hour. 

The pay increase in the contract is similar to the wage hike in an early agreement the City Council approved for the 36 members of the Laconia Administrative and Technical Employees bargaining unit.

Still to be resolved is a contract for Public Works employees. The council must also approve funding for contracts for police and teachers.

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