Summer on the Lakes
High summer on Maine’s inland waterways means it’s time to break out the classics
- By: Virginia M. Wright
Here come the boats! There’s a sturdy wooden Chris-Craft, a half-century old, and next, a royal blue rowboat, curved from bow to stern like a sliver moon. Here’s a lapstrake-hulled Lyman, and a slender kayak, its cedar hull varnished to a shine. Antique boats, beautiful boats, draped with red-white-and-blue bunting and flying the stars-and-stripes from their sterns. It’s Independence Day in the Belgrade Lakes, and the boats are on parade.
The oldest boat leads the pack. That’s usually Joe Tinker’s Belgrade Lakes guide boat, built in 1925 by Everett Cummings for a family who owned tiny Blueberry Island on Great Pond, one of the five Belgrade Lakes. Tinker, a carpenter who takes good care of his craft, motors ever so slowly into the mouth of the Mill Stream on Great Pond’s western shore, a string of forty to fifty other vessels close behind. Their destination is Belgrade Lakes Village, an enchanting cluster of shops and small restaurants on a narrow strip of land separating Great and Long ponds. All along the one-mile route, they are cheered by hundreds of flag-waving spectators on the stream banks or in boats of their own.
The annual parade is testimony to a distinctly Belgrade Lakes phenomenon: It seems an unusually large number of lovingly maintained heirloom boats skim the waters of this summer resort community ten miles north of Augusta. “Many of the same families have been coming here for generations,” explains Gail Rizzo, a Belgrade native and real estate broker who organizes the parade for the Belgrade Lakes Business Group. “We have five, six, eight generations of families, and they have handed down their boats.”
Jack Schultz learned to water ski behind the 1956 Lyman that he pilots in the parade. “So did my wife, Diana,” he says. “Her family were our neighbors when I was growing up.” Retired, the couple now live year-round in Belgrade, of which Belgrade Village is a part. (Other Belgrade Lakes communities include parts of Rome and Sidney.)
Bill Whitkin’s 1965 Lyman came with the Hoyt Island house he and his wife, Joan, purchased thirty years ago. “I was not a boat person,” he says, “but you become one if you live on an island. Ours is a very romantic kind of boat, and the parade is fun.” He adds with a chuckle, “It’s like the Kentucky Derby — 150,000 people turning out for a two-minute race.”
Tinker’s guide boat is a true survivor. The canoe-like vessel had been given the death sentence — it was banished to the dump! — after it was used, supposedly for the last time, to carry town elders in Belgrade’s American bicentennial celebration in 1976. Resident William Ackroyd rescued it, and Tinker helped him restore it. After Ackroyd died, Tinker bought the boat, which he uses regularly. “It doesn’t have the original engine,” he reveals almost apologetically. “The engine is a 1940s four-cylinder Kermath, about twelve horsepower. It’s very fuel efficient.”
When Tinker and his floating followers reach Belgrade Lakes Village, they ceremoniously circle and slip back downstream toward Great Pond. The folks gathered on the lawns amble into the village to sample local food, race frogs, and listen to bands until night falls and fireworks burst over Long Pond, heralding the start of another summer on the lakes.
- By: Virginia M. Wright