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The Year on the Lake

Sailing Into Summer

At press time, Malletts Bay, the Inland Sea, and Missisquoi Bay are still frozen over, but ice fishing equipment has largely disappeared from that rotting ice. Out on the broad lake, the water never stopped moving. It hasn’t frozen over since 2007.

Spring is in the air, though, and that part of the population with a fondness for water sports is beginning to tingle in anticipation. All it takes is one nice weekend, and even those folks whose boats are still in winter storage mosey down to the shore to check things out.


KEY

  1. Shore Acres Inn & Restaurant 237 Shore Acres Drive, North Hero
  2. Lost Cove Yachting 445 Brickyard Road, Colchester
  3. Fox Marine Service and Sales 356 Prim Road, Colchester
  4. Saba Marine 390 Prim Road, Colchester
  5. Lake Champlain Transportation Co. 1 King St., Burlington
  6. Waterfront Diving Center 214 Battery St., Burlington
  7. Yipes Auto Accessories 740 Marshall Ave. #30, Williston
  8. Shelburne Shipyard, Inc. 4584 Harbor Road, Shelburne
  9. Small Boat Exchange 2649 Shelburne Road, Shelburne
  10. Shelburne Farms 1611 Harbor Road, Shelburne
  11. Point Bay Marina 1401 Thompson’s Point Road, Charlotte
  12. Adirondack Guideboat Inc. 6821 Ethan Allen Hwy., Ferrisburgh
  13. Tom’s Marine Service 1100 Basin Harbor Road, Vergennes
  14. Chipman Point Marina 68 Chipman Point Road, Orwell

On average, the ice goes out of Malletts Bay the second or third week of April. The last few years, though, it’s been early by as much as two weeks — around April 1. We all remember the spring of 2011 when melting snow and endless rain sent the lake level to over 103 feet. This year, the level sits at a bit over 95 feet. Hard as it is to even picture an additional eight feet of water, memories of the 2011 spring flooding, while not completely disappeared, are fading in the wake of two superb summers and the cusp of a third.

Some lake-related companies aren’t seriously affected by lake levels. Take Vermont Sailing Partners on West Canal Street in Winooski. The company makes sails and does sail repairs.

“In 2011, the local boaters didn’t get as early a start, so we lost some of our repair business,” says Bill Fastiggi, the owner and manager, “but we didn’t lose much, and the new sail business was OK. Mostly what it meant was that in May and the first part of June, we got to go home at 5 instead of staying late.”

“We’re fairly steady year in and year out,” Fastiggi says. “Powerboat owners usually think of boating as something they do; people who sail identify themselves as what they do — as sailors.”

Mark Saba, the owner of Saba Marine in Colchester, says he’s had an increase every year for the last three years. “Last summer was a particularly good summer; you couldn’t pick a bad day to go out,” he says, “and we just had the boat show. People are saying, ‘We’re not going to miss another summer.’ These are first-time buyers and folks who have recently bought waterfront property. We had our best January in three years this past January.”

On Dec. 28 of last year, Saba closed on his purchase of Malletts Bay Marina on West Lakeshore Drive. “For us to grow,” he says, “we needed to expand to a marina.”

In the future, the plan is to develop new infrastructure, working with the town and state to flood-proof what’s there, Saba says. “Certainly this year, we’ll get our docks in as early as we can, because docks can ride the level of the lake, but only if you get them in in time.”

The marina has been renamed Bay Harbor Marina, and the official reopening day is April 1. “I think the ice will be out the first of April,” he says. “We’ll have the docks ready to go.”

The 2011 flooding affected the entire lake but, fortunately, damage was limited at Chipman Point Marina in Orwell. “Our picnic area was flooded,” says Pat Ullom, the owner, “and we had the 20-pound propane tanks and picnic tables floating. I watched my sandbox go by with the toys in it. When the water left, we had somebody come in and do some work with new drainage.”

The biggest problem, Ullom says, was the docks. After managing to get one set in, her son, Erle Taube, who manages the marina, tied up two houseboats for people to walk across.

Last year was good, which surprised Ullom because of the economy. “You’d think that a boat is a luxury item, and if the economy were dropping it would be one of the first things to go, but I think people just figure this as a family recreation.

This year is also looking good for the marina, which has about 80 percent of the same boaters returning each year. “We’re just keeping our fingers crossed and hope that 2011 was a hundred-year thing,” Ullom says.

“High water doesn’t affect Point Bay Marina’s property on Thompson’s Point Road in Charlotte as much as it does some other places,” says Todd Smith, Point Bay’s general manager. “We’re kind of on a hillside, so it affects where we launch boats, and we’re able to work through it. So for us, we don’t know what is the lesser of the two evils: low water or high water.”

A few years ago, Point Bay elevated its lower parking lot, which used to flood occasionally in springtime, and put in a large retaining wall.

All in all, says Smith, 2013 is shaping up to be a very good year.

“We had a better year in 2012 than 2011,” says Shelly Eriksen, owner with her husband, Tom Jr., of Tom’s Marine Service in Ferrisburgh. “The difference with us is that we are on the river, and we have floating docks, designed so that high water, low water, we have usage no matter what. Poor Tom was out there in the pouring rain last night putting docks in.”

That chore was necessitated by the fact that the Middlebury College rowing team has begun practicing at Tom’s.

In 2011, it was a vastly different picture. Although the docks were in, Basin Harbor Road was closed until the first week in July — “closed right before our business,” says Eriksen. This meant that the Eriksens missed all the sales they usually pick up from the Mother’s Day traffic heading to Basin Harbor.

Things are hopping at Fox Marine in Colchester. “From what I can tell,” says Mike Lucas, the general manager, “most people have their camps back in order after the 2011 spring floods.”

Last year was a good year for the company and sales this year are strong, says Lucas, “probably a hair above where we were last year. We’re in a recreational business, so it’s a roller-coaster thing with us. But I have no complaints about what’s going on in the last six months.”

Lucas says the biggest credit goes to the improving economy. “I think if people first turn off the news and stop watching all the bad press, they’ll see that everything’s still there, that everyone’s still alive.” •