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The Mount stretches its legs for 137th year

THE M/S MOUNT WASHINGTON returns to Center Harbor after completing its annual pre-season “Shakedown” cruise Monday. Brendan Berube. (click for larger version)
May 05, 2009
CENTER HARBOR — The familiar sound of the M/S Mount Washington's horn once again echoed across the surface of Lake Winnipesaukee Monday morning as the Lakes Region icon set out to stretch its legs and brush away the winter cobwebs during its annual pre-season "Shakedown" cruise.

Hosted by the ship's owners, the Winnipesaukee Flagship Corp., the invitation-only shakedown cruise (which has become an annual rite of spring in the Lakes Region) serves as the official start of the season, with the state Fire Marshal and Marine Patrol inspecting and licensing the vessel for operation.

A cadre of state senators, representatives, and executive councilors also boarded at Center Harbor Monday, along with Gov. John Lynch, providing officials from the Mount's three ports of call (Alton, Laconia, and Wolfeboro) with an opportunity to network with the upper echelons of the state's government.

The 230-foot Mount (which has a maximum capacity of 1,250 passengers, a banquet capacity of up to 650, and a reception capacity of 1,000) will ply the waters of the Big Lake for its 137th season this year, with cruises running from Mother's Day through Columbus Day.

The 2009 Mother's Day Champagne Brunch cruise (the first public cruise of the season) is scheduled for Sunday, May 10.

The two-and-a-half-hour scenic cruise, with departures from Weirs Beach scheduled at 10 a.m. and 1:30 p.m., will include a complete champagne brunch buffet and live entertainment.

The season proper is set to begin on Saturday, May 23 (Memorial Day weekend), with special offers on tap for children 12 and under (who will cruise free during the day that weekend) and veterans and military personnel (who will receive a $10 discount on all cruises).

In a further effort to stay afloat in the midst of the recession, the ship's owners have scaled back on the number of cruises being offered this season, and also plan to offer a wide array of new season pass options this year, including a single daytime season pass (priced at $99); a single daytime pass with the option of bringing along a guest ($189); a family daytime pass for two adults and two children ($200, plus $25 for each additional child between the ages of four and 18); a single day and evening pass ($249); and a single day and evening pass with guest ($489).

Alton selectmen Steve McMahon (who boarded the Mount for the first time Monday morning) and Dave Hussey felt that it was vital for area residents and visitors to keep the ship running in the face of the declining economy.

"I think it's more of a legacy thing than anything else," Hussey said. "If it's gone, people will definitely miss it. It's the last of a dying breed."

"When you mention Lake Winnipesaukee, the first thing people think of is the Mount Washington," McMahon said, adding that he considered a cruise on the Mount to be "the best way to get around the whole lake."

"It's a window into the past," Hussey added, explaining that passengers can "forget about everything" while enjoying a cruise on the lake.

"It'd be a shame to shut it down," he said.

For Wolfeboro Selectman and former Carroll County Commissioner Marge Webster, the attraction of a cruise on the Mount Washington (which she described as "the gem of Lake Winnipesaukee") was the chance to take in the natural beauty around the lake.

"Where else can you see the whole lake?" she mused. "We take it for granted … the people who live here take it for granted, all this natural beauty around us."

New additions

Passengers will find a new face in the wheel house this summer belonging to Bob Reed, a longtime crew member who received his captain's bars from Lynch during a special ceremony Monday.

A native of Long Island, N.Y. who was raised around boats, Reed discovered Lake Winnipesaukee while attending the now-defunct Camp Idlewild on Cow Island as a child, summered in the area with his family for decades, and joined the Winnipesaukee Flagship Corp. as summertime skipper of the U.S. Mailbooat Sophie C. in 1994.

After retiring from a 30-year career as a Physics and Chemistry teacher in 1999, Reed signed on with the company full-time, serving as pilot, engineer, chief electrician, and divemaster until his promotion.

Pilot and General Manager Jim Morash announced during a press conference Monday that the company had also acquired a new vessel for its fleet (which includes the Mount, the Sophie C., and the M/V Doris E.) in the form of the "Mini-Mount," a replica of its flagship donated by former owners Jack and Allison Miller of Wolfeboro, who he said contacted the company over the winter looking to place the Mini-Mount in good hands.

"I assure you, Jack and Allison, it will have a good home," he said to a burst of applause from the audience.

Jack Miller voiced his hope that the Mini-Mount (which he said took him seven years to build) would be a "great addition" to the Flagship Corp.'s fleet.

"It's been amazing to see how people have bonded themselves to it, and now we're going to have that happen to Jim," he said. "They'll have fun with her, and we'll have fun watching them have fun."

For more information about the 2009 cruise season, or to request a brochure, call toll-free at (888) 843-6686, locally at 366-5531, or visit the company's Web site, www.cruisenh.com.

Brendan Berube can be reached at 569-3126 or bberube@salmonpress.com

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