May 15, 2020
Boats and boating are ingrained in the culture of this lovely town on the shores of Lake Winnipesaukee. By Ray Carbone; Photography by Karen Bobotas
Before retiring to Wolfeboro in the 1970s, George Johnson was a talented mechanic who managed the Barnes Municipal Airport in Wakefield, Massachusetts. When he arrived on the shores of Winnipesaukee, he was aghast to see locals discarding the old wooden boats that were once standard on the state’s largest lake in favor of newer, fiberglass models. It bothered the old “tinkerer,” so he began collecting and refurbishing the boats, restoring them to their gleaming original forms.
Today, many boaters credit Johnson with initiating the wooden leisure boat revival. “He basically created the whole hobby of saving and restoring wooden boats,” says Lisa Simpson Lutts, the former Executive Director of the New Hampshire Boat Museum, appropriately located in Wolfeboro.
While Wolfeboro is arguably the epicenter of classic wooden boats in New England, you don’t need to own a vintage Hacker-Craft or Lyman to visit what many consider the best natural freshwater harbor in the region.
“It’s really the quintessential bay,” says Steve Durgan, General Manager of Goodhue & Hawkins Boat Yard, a historic 113-year-old marina. “It has that clamshell shape—a narrow entrance that widens out. And it’s naturally protected.”
Wolfeboro is an exceptionally picturesque and friendly community for boaters. Mary DeVries, Executive Director of the Wolfeboro Area Chamber of Commerce, loves to brag about the variety of aquatic activities in her town. “We have powerboating, kayaking, canoeing, swimming,” she says. In addition, Wolfeboro is extremely walkable, with scores of restaurants, shops and other diversions within an easy stroll of the waterfront.
WELCOME BY WATER
Approaching Wolfeboro by boat is a uniquely New England pleasure. On the bay’s eastern shore is the rolling green campus of Brewster Academy, a 200-year-old private school. “And when you look due north, your eye is met by white Colonial buildings, everything from mansions to smaller private homes lining Main Street,” points out Durgan. “It’s very, very special.”
The bay is wide and deep, so it can accommodate everything from the historic M/S Mount Washington passenger vessel to personal watercraft without losing its intimate charm. Dave DeJager, who owns the Cottages of Wolfeboro, says the town has made boating access to Winnipesaukee very easy. There are public docks and a launch ramp at the Dockside (Grille and Dairy Bar) facility on Lake Street and in Back Bay, both with free public parking nearby. Tie-up limit is three hours. If you wish to access the Back Bay docks or launch at the public ramp there, you’ll have to pass below the Main Street bridge (clearance around four feet) to get to and from the lake. “Depending on the water level, you should be okay in anything up to a 19-footer,” DeJager says.
Other public docks and launch facilities managed by the town are located at the Libby Museum in Winter Harbor (north of Wolfeboro Bay) and at Mast Landing on Crescent Lake.
For such a small town, Wolfeboro has an uncommonly large number of restaurants. Garwood’s is popular with boaters because it offers free dockage for patrons, as does the Dockside Grille & Dairy Bar, located on the town dock. The latter is known for its classic diner fare and fried seafood, as well as ice cream and other treats. Another option is El Centerario, which specializes in Mexican cuisine and is a short walk from the waterfront.
After a hearty meal, take time to explore the downtown area, which features lots of interesting shops, including Black’s Paper Store, a local institution where you can buy anything from a newspaper to furniture. You’ll likely find a new burgee, or have one made to order, at Flags Over Winnipesaukee, while the Country Bookseller is a marvelously diverse bookstore owned and operated by Karen Baker, with assistance from her friendly pooch, Dickens.
And don’t forget to visit the aforementioned New Hampshire Boat Museum. Its small but fascinating collection includes several classic wooden boats (some restored by Johnson) and a 1920 stern-steering iceboat, as well as vintage canoes, kayaks, outboard engines and other boating equipment. “Some visitors are rabid boaters who want to see the DK fiberglass and the wooden boats, while some are more casual,” says Lutz. “People like to relive the nostalgia for that period when wooden boats were in their heyday. There’s still a lot of connection with those boats that resonates with people.” George Johnson would have liked that.
Winnipesaukee Boating Regs
Boating License: A boating-safety certificate is required to operate a powerboat with an engine of 25 horsepower or more in New Hampshire. The certificate requires passing a boating- safety exam, or proof of equivalent certification in another state. For information, call (888) 254-2125 .
Age Limits: Unless accompanied by an adult, persons under 16 may not operate a boat with an outboard motor in excess of 25 horsepower. Persons under 16 may not operate a ski boat or personal watercraft under any conditions. Speed Limit: There is a speed limit of 45 mph on Lake Winnipesaukee during the day and 35 mph at night.
Chart: The Bizer Corporation publishes a chart of Winnipesaukee that also serves as a useful guide to marinas, motels, restaurants and fishing charters. The company also sells an app that allows users to see exactly where they are on the lake chart. Contact: (617) 413-3940.
Navigation Buoys: Ledges and channels are marked by a system of red and black spar buoys. Keep south or west of red buoys; keep north or east of black buoys.
Loon Protection: To protect loons, state law prohibits the use of lead sinkers and jigs in all fresh waters. The ban prohibits the use of lead sinkers weighing one ounce or less and lead jigs less than one inch long along their longest axis.
Wolfeboro Names & Numbers
- DOCKAGE, MOORINGS & SERVICE
DOCKSIDE GAS & MARINA (603) 569-6832
Fuel dock and marine supplies in downtown Wolfeboro.
GOODHUE & HAWKINS Boat Yard (603) 569-2371
Full-service boatyard and marina on west side of Wolfeboro Bay. Transient slips and moorings, gas dock, ship’s store, service and boat rentals.
HOLE IN THE WALL (603) 569-4653
Dock and boat rental, as well as fishing gear and boating supplies.
- LAUNCH RAMPS
BACK BAY PUBLIC DOCKS Free parking on-site. Note: boats must be able to pass below Main Street bridge, which has a clearance of 4.2 feet at full lake level.
DOCKSIDE PUBLIC DOCKS
Free public ramp off Main Street. Trailer parking available off Glendon Street.
LIBBY MUSEUM On Rte. 109, three miles northwest of Wolfeboro Village. No fee. Limited parking behind museum.
- BOAT, KAYAK & CANOE RENTAL
DIVE WINNIPESAUKEE (603) 569-8080
Rentals of scuba gear, canoes, kayaks, wakeboards, rowboats and waterskis.
GOODHUE & HAWKINS NAVY YARD (603) 569-2371
Full-service marina with boat rental.
HOLE IN THE WALL (603) 569-4653
Boat and dock space rental, as well as sporting goods, bait and tackle, and small-boat sales.
- WHERE TO EAT
GARWOOD’S (603) 569-7788
Dock-and-dine restaurant and pub serving lunch and dinner on an outdoor patio overlooking Wolfeboro Bay.
WOLFE’S TAVERN (603) 569-3016
Breakfast, lunch and dinner spot at the Wolfeboro Inn.
BAYSIDE GRILL & TAVERN (603) 515-1002
Lunch and dinner in a casual-elegant setting. Limited private dockage.
EL CENTENARIO (603) 569-3445
Spicy, authentic Mexican cuisine close to the waterfront.
DOCKSIDE GRILLE & DAIRY BAR (603) 515-1053
Popular spot on the town dock serving classic diner fare and fried seafood, as well as ice cream.
- COOL SHOPS
BLACK’S PAPER STORE (603) 569-4444
Wide selection of interesting gifts, souvenirs and home furnishings.
FLAGS OVER WINNIPESAUKEE (800) 589-8801
Flags of every color, size, nationality and description. Custom designs available.
THE COUNTRY BOOKSELLER (603) 569-6030
Grab a pastry, coffee or gelato while browsing this shop’s wide selection of titles, including new and classic children’s books and works by local authors.
- THINGS TO SEE & DO
NEW HAMPSHIRE BOAT MUSEUM (603) 569-4554
If you love boats and boating history, you’ll love this small museum packed to the gills with classic wooden boats and antique boating gear, including outboard engines, water skis, lifejackets, kayaks, canoes and more.
Explore the big lake’s underwater realm on a chartered trip led by professional divers. Instruction and equipment rental available.
MILLIE B. (603) 569-4554
Lake tours aboard a 28-foot, triple-cockpit replica of a 1928 Hacker-Craft. Private rentals available.
M/S MOUNT WASHINGTON (603) 366-5531
Historic passenger vessel offering daily tours of the lake, including fall foliage tours and dinner cruises.
WINNIPESAUKEE BELLE (603) 569-3016
Lake tours aboard a 65-foot replica 19th century, two-deck paddlewheeler. Also available for private events.
ABENAKI-SEWALL WOODS BIKE PATHS
Network of biking and walking trails from downtown to Sewall Woods Conservation Area and other locations.