The Year on the Lake 2014
Waiting for Summer
by Virginia Lindauer Simmon
This is the time of year when life on the lake is hovering on the brink. But as I write this, on March 20, just an hour or so after spring has been declared, Lake Champlain is ice-bound — frozen over for the first time since 2007*.
Ice fishermen are still active, and rotten ice is nowhere to be found. But like gardeners poring over seed catalogs, boaters are itching to see moving water. Dalliances in late March traditionally tend toward guessing when the ice will go out.
- Saba Marine 390 Prim Road, Colchester
- Waterfront Diving Center 214 Battery St. Ste. 1, Burlington
- Creative Sound 500 Lawrence Place, Blair Park, Williston
- Yipes! Corporation 740 Marshall Ave #30, Williston
- Bruce Hill Yacht Sales 4520 Harbor Road, Shelburne
- Small Boat Exchange 2649 Shelburne Rd., Shelburne
- Shelburne Shipyard, Inc. 4584 Harbor Rd., Shelburne
- Point Bay Marina 1401 Thompsons Point Road, Charlotte
- Woodard Marine Inc. 614 Creek Rd., Lake Bomoseen, Hydeville
Pat Ullom, the owner of Chipman Point Marina in Orwell, laughed when asked to predict when the ice will be out of the South Lake. “Well, I think it’s frozen to the bottom here,” she said. “I’m not even looking forward to it until the end of April unless we get a real warm-up. And then we might flood.”
That’s pretty much the opinion of everyone on the lake, no matter what part of it they call home base.
A laugh was also forthcoming from Jonathan Eddy, the co-owner of Waterfront Diving Center on Battery Street in Burlington. Waterfront Diving Center teaches a diving class to University of Vermont students, and each spring for 25 years, has brought students down to the waterfront in early April for open-water diving.
“One of my instructors was just in here,” Eddy said, “and we were talking about what we are going to do for our open-water dives in the spring.” Still, based on the thickness of the ice in the broad lake, he suspects there will be open water around the second week in April.
“The ice in Malletts Bay is about 30 inches thick,” said Dennis Fox, owner with his wife, Nancy, of Fox Marine. “We’re in mid March. I would be very surprised if you didn’t see it out until the later part of April. Of course, if you get winds or warm weather and rain, it’ll melt out fairly quickly.
John Freeman, who owns Small Boat Exchange in Shelburne, didn’t mince words: “The 20th of April.” Sounds like he might have money on it.
Freeman’s customers come from all over New England, northern New York, and into Canada, he said. “Probably 50 percent are from Chittenden County, another 30 percent within a 50-mile radius — into the Adirondacks and down to Montpelier and the Northeast Kingdom — and 20 percent into Canada, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut even.”
The long, cold winter might have made for some good luck for his business, said Freeman, who has seen people coming by to check things out and make some purchases. “Typically, I’ve found when we have a long, hard winter, a lot of people kind of reach for summer, and that could portend good boat sales. I think there’s pent-up demand. So summer will be good,” he added, “as long as the international situation doesn’t erupt and throw the world markets into a tizzy, I think it’s going to be a good year.”
Robin Doyle, the owner/director of the International Sailing School on Malletts Bay, is an optimist. “It is one of my best virtues,” she said. “With the climate change, sailors are on the positive end of things, because we always see wind and sun, and the season is extending a bit.” She is concerned, though, that the temperature might warm up too fast. “That could be scary, with all the ice buildup everywhere.”
“This time last year, we were putting our docks in,” said Shelly Eriksen, who owns Tom’s Marine Service with her husband, Tom Eriksen Jr. Tom’s is located on Basin Harbor Road, with docks on Otter Creek. Eriksen calls the location “The Otter side of Ferrisburgh.”
If the cold weather keeps up, said Eriksen, “we might be a month behind.” She skipped a beat, and added that she has seen some folks coming in to look at boats, “so maybe it’s not too bad.” She’s hoping the ice is out of the lake (and the creek) by Easter.
“The nice thing for us is we get the same amount of work, because we’re prepping or winterizing the boats anyway. So the only thing that affects us is the sales end.” Boaters are tending to be hanging onto their boats a bit longer, but there’s been a surge of interest in pontoon boats, which are showing up with added features such as tables, bars, and barbecues “so you can be tubing, fishing, possibly waterskiing, reading — I think they’re trying to make it a full family fun outing.”
“Right now,” said Mark Saba, who owns both Saba Marine on Prim Road and Bay Harbor Marina on West Lakeshore Drive in Colchester, “it looks like we’re going to have ice till May! But that said, we’ve had our best start in our five years in the boat business.” He echoed Freeman’s comment about pent-up demand. “It’s almost like winter started on November 1, and it’s been so brutal that people are thinking of getting out on the water and having a great summer.”
Bay Harbor is in the throes of rebuilding everything from scratch, Saba said, but he’s hoping to have everything open and ready for May 15. He’s expecting the dockage to be full, as it was last year.
Down at Chipman Point, Ullom also expects this year’s dockage to be full, as it has been in the last three to four years. The coming season will see some improvements. “We have a new toilet,” she said with a laugh, “and a new mast stepper with rails around it. And hydraulic work is going to be done on the Travelift.”
Fox of Fox Marine offered some advice for boat owners to take into the season. “Boat owners need to be looking at when the last time was they had a tune-up. Most people don’t think about their propellers until they have an issue,” he said, “but they should think about a new one every two to three years.
“This is not like Florida, where they use them a lot all year. Things deteriorate — the rubbers, etc. Also people need to be watching what they’re using for fuels, and be very wary of this ethanol thing.”
“I boat a lot,” said Freeman. “It’s one of the best things out there for quality family time. Buying a boat, you’re buying a piece of summer.” •
*Here’s a link to the National Weather Service Web page showing dates of Lake Champlain’s closing back to 1816. It’s an eye-opener. www.erh.noaa.gov/btv/climo/lakeclose.shtml.