You can sail on Lake Massabesic

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MANCHESTER, NH – If you’ve ever wondered about the sailboats on Lake Massabesic, here’s the inside story. Founded in 1938 and incorporated in 1941, Massabesic Yacht Club of Manchester is still true to its mission of promoting the skill of sailing. From the beginning, both men and women have participated, using boats they build or buy.

That’s the official story, and now here is mine: My husband, Mark, learned to sail as a boy attending camp on Cape Cod. When we honeymooned in the Caribbean, I could see how peaceful, engaged, and happy he felt on the water. But he didn’t own a boat at that time. One day, we were walking around the lake and noticed the fleet anchored at one end. I urged him, “Let’s go take a look!”  So we slowly drove down Rt. 28 Bypass a half-mile past the rotary until we saw the entrance, which we had passed many times without noticing it.

A narrow, unpaved loop ends at a pair of removable docks. Row boats are stacked to one side, and a couple of work boats are lashed to the docks. Beyond, sailboats are moored. The club house is a small, A-frame structure with portable potties nearby. A canopy provides shelter to picnic tables and grills with a fine view of the water. This is a simple, functional setup without luxuries. But it is a familiar, comfortable summer place for the generations who have tended it with care.

Sunday is race day

Sunday afternoons are when the sailors race, and that is when the club is bustling. Parking overflows to the road. Sailors prepare their boats and call out greetings to each other. A helping hand is always available. By race time, the “race boat” is positioned mid-lake, and the captains, many with a crew of one or two, are positioned, waiting for the horn that indicates the start of a timed, specific route. Relying only on the wind and their skills, the sailors vie to get the best times in their classes, which are determined by the type of boat used.

When the race is finally done, over an hour later, each sailor attaches the boat to its mooring, lowers the sails, stows all equipment, covers the boat, and returns to land. Before long, the grills are hot and old friends share a cookout on the patio.

Mark is in his second year as race chairman, responsible for staffing and scoring. But he didn’t start out that way.

Boats and marriage  

First, a joke: My friend wanted a boat more than anything. His wife kept refusing, but he bought one anyway. “I’ll tell you what,” he told her. “In the spirit of compromise, why don’t you name the boat?”

Being a good sport, she accepted. When her husband went to the dock for his maiden voyage, this is the name he saw painted on the side: “For Sale.”

Mark was full of anticipation as he filled out the form to join a waiting list, and he was delighted when a slot opened not long after that. But there was one catch: He needed a boat, pronto.

Fortunately, a small, weird-looking boat was available for barter in a field of tall grass in a small town in Connecticut. We drove home towing “The Frog,” a Sailstar with leeboards. Mark always came in last, but he was still pleased to be out on the water and competing.

Eventually Mark turned up another barter, a faster boat. The only catch: It needed structural work. Parked in our yard for a year, it was the project that never happened.

Finally, Mark bought a used boat in good shape, a Rhodes 19, for $1,500. He gave away one old boat and sold the other. But, as always happens, the new one needed repairs and new hardware, and oh by the way, he wanted a nifty new life vest that lies flat until it inflates. Around $2,000 dollars later, the boat is in fine shape and Mark is focusing on getting into first place in his class.

As for me, I love a day when the wind is brisk and the boat “heels,” tilting from side to side as we scramble to position our body weight on the high side. But I don’t have the patience for a race, much less a muggy day without a breeze, when it’s a struggle to get any wind in the sails. (The worst was in a rental boat out of Burlington, VT, when there was no wind. I mean NO wind! Finally, somebody noticed and towed us in to shore.) As we New Yorkers say, “Fuh-gedaboudit.”

This makes me what I call a “boat widow.” I’m on my own nearly every Sunday in season, plus Saturdays in June when Mark teaches the Learn to Sail course, plus meeting nights. But it’s OK; I’m independent and have my own hobbies, plus writing for you. The year he bought the third boat, I traveled to Spain with our daughter. In December, I’ll meet her in Japan. A very fair deal, all things considered.

You’re may be wondering …

What does it cost? The answer has two basic parts: Membership and the boat.

The cost to join is a $280 initiation fee and dues are $300 per year. There is a waiting list, which is shorter for those who commit to racing.

The cost of buying a boat varies wildly, from freebies that need work up to $20,000. You can get a nice used boat for $5,000.

The non-basic parts really add up, though: A spiffy, inflatable life vest, comfortable clothing, a hat with a clip to your shirt, gloves, and a warehouse full of sun screen. Oh, and various ropes, hardware bits, replacement sails, repairs, and on and on. Get friendly with a marine supply salesman. But look at it this way, it will keep you occupied and out of trouble most of the time – May through September when you sail – and the rest of the year, you get to fix your boat, browse nautical catalogues, and go to meetings.

You can phone or email the club, or walk in any time the gate is open.

And you’re probably also wondering …

Because Massabesic is the city’s water source, why are they allowed to sail there? Why are motor boats allowed but not swimmers? I spoke to the city water chemist, and this is what she explained: The water commission, which owns the lake, prohibit any body contact with the water to prevent bacteria. Any by-products of the motor boats evaporate quickly. Kayaks, canoes, and sail boats are OK, including small engines on sail boats. Motor boats are limited.

The lake is very clean, and the city water tests prove that it is exceptionally pure. Just TRY not to fall in!

Learn to sail

The club runs an annual program called, “Learn to Sail a Sailboat” during the month of June. The cost this year is $90 per person, or $80 for two or more family members. It is limited to 35 applicants, so if you are interested, send your application in early for 2019. Learners attend one night of education, and four Saturdays on the water, weather permitting.

Public launches

There are three public launches located on the lake, owned and operated by Manchester Water Works:

  • In Auburn Village just past the Town Hall
  • Off Rte. 121 near the Manchester-Auburn town line
  • At Deerneck bridge on Rte 28 by-pass, only for kayaks and canoes

Check restrictions before boating. The lake is regularly patrolled.

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