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Steamboat whistles sound off on Lake Winnipesaukee

Kent Smith works with the engine on Halcyon, a boat built in 1897 and owned by Louie Francesco. Erin Plummer. (click for larger version)
September 15, 2010
MOULTONBORO — The low whistles could be heard past Lee's Mills and around the lake as a line of steamboats came back to dock at the end of their parade Sunday. The parade has taken place for more than three decades as part of Lee's Mills Steamboat Meet.

What started as a daylong event is now 10 days of boating and camaraderie.

Over 30 years ago, a small collection of steamboats met at the Weirs. After that gathering, the group decided to have another meet in Moultonboro.

"Just on a Sunday, just one day," said meet organizer Dave Thompson.

In the beginning, Thompson said the group approached the Board of Selectmen about having it and were told it had to be after Labor Day when the area was less busy. The event then went from a weekend to a few days and is now about 10 days long. Thompson said around 35 boats had taken part in the rally as of Sunday, and more are expected throughout the week.

"Seems to be a lot; there's more every year," Thompson said.

Saturday was the first official day of the rally, but Thompson said people started coming around Wednesday.

Thompson has had his boat for 16 years after buying it from a dentist in Vermont.

"He called one day and 'You want my boat?'" Thompson said.

George Aurelio of North Woodstock said he got his boat Gypsy in 2001.

"It was brand new, never been in the water," Aurelio said.

The 20-foot sidewheeler was built in 1986 and had not seen the water until Aurelio bought it.

Aurelio said he first became interested in steamboats as a child with his father, remembering an old steamboat he saw in Lakeport. He now has two boats.

He has been to about 12 Moultonboro meets in addition to going to rallies in New York and Canada.

"This is the best, this is the premiere, this is the granddaddy," Aurelio said. "More boats, more people, more fun, bigger lake."

Ken Forst of Tamworth said he picked up the book "Farewell Old Mount Washington" at Irwin Marine in 1971. He bought a steamboat soon after that.

Forst came to the meet with his steamboat Melvin.

"This lake is a very pretty place, it has a lot of history," Forst said. "We've had a lot of fun with it; it's easy, it's quiet. Maybe it's something that was."

The oldest boat at the rally was Halcyon, built in 1897. Louie Francesco has owned the boat for the last 40 years and it has been on Squam Lake. For the past 20 years, Kent Smith of Holderness has been taking care of the boat for Francesco, who is now 91 years old.

Smith said he originally met Francesco while sweeping the floors at the Holderness Bowling Alley, where Walter's Basin is today. He met up with Francesco again and agreed to help take care of his boat.

"I grew up on the lake with all the old powerboats," Smith said.

Halcyon rode in the boat parade with Smith as engineer with help from Jane and Mary Rice of Moultonboro.

Smith described the boat as a "piece of history."

On Sunday the boats paraded around the area, blowing their whistles and letting off tufts of white steam. Several people gathered at Lee's Mills to watch the boats come in.

Jane Thomas of Barnstead grew up in Moultonboro and said people in the area look forward to the event.

"As somebody who lives on this lake, hearing the steamboats is always a joy," Thomas said. "Everybody is excited when these things come around."

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