Summertime in the Belgrades
July 29 – August 4
The "Big Day" on Great Pond
by Rod Johnson
Every now and then something happens that we witness or hear about that really is a Big Deal. The true story I am about to tell you, I do believe, falls into that category.
One warm August day in 1960, the youth of Great Pond were doing what they did best — waterskiing. In that era, water skiing was in, and there were some powerful boats around the lake that could do the pulling. One such boat was a nearly new 23-foot Lyman, powered by a Gray Marine/AMC 8 cylinder engine. No ordinary engine, this 260-horsepower puppy had been equipped with dual side draft carbs to give it a lot of extra soup!
Dr. Richard Dennis of Waterville had purchased the boat the previous year from Frost Marine in Portland. Mrs. Dennis named the boat Antigua. It was truly a beautiful craft, with varnished deck and rails, glossy white lapstrake hull and trimmed with bronze and brass hardware. Dr. Dennis or his son Dick were often seen coming into the Belgrade Lakes Village stream to purchase fuel and supplies from Day's Marina, or the store located across the street. A few of you newcomers probably didn't know the marina was located in what is now the Lakes Resource Center annex and post office.
A little aside here for history's sake: The marina was a congregating spot during most summer days, with boats coming in to refuel and get snacks from the store. Dick and a local boy Joe Tinker both worked at the Day's Marina for a season or two, and neither was a stranger to the lake. They were both good skiers as were many of the "lake kids." Tink and I had learned as early teenagers using Camp Abena's old 15 h.p. Evinrude on a Richline aluminum boat. (Tink's parents owned the Abena girls camp at that time.)
The "Big Day" started out with Dick towing a couple of skiers up in North Bay, just off the sandy beach of Bear Spring Camps. Before long, a group of teenagers had formed and someone suggested seeing how many skiers could be pulled at one time. After borrowing some additional skis and ropes from other boaters and camp owners, and not without difficulty, a record of six people got up at once and were towed around the cove. The scene got lots of attention from local camp owners along the shore from Bear Springs up to Jamacia Point, one of whom was Howard Gray who worked for the Waterville Morning Sentinel.
After the boat returned to the beach and the skiers dropped off, Mr. Gray came down and asked Dick and the skiers if they could perform that feat the next day. He would have the newspaper's photographer properly set up to take some photos, with the promise that they would get posted on the front page of the Sentinel. Of course they all agreed and were sure they would get the notoriety of the Cypress Gardens skiers!
The "Big Day" arrived and the group had borrowed some more lines and skis. At the intended hour the next afternoon, Dick had the Lyman warmed up and the crew had upped the ante to attempt ten skiers at once, an unheard of feat on Great Pond. With ten lines to the hitching post on the boat, and ten skiers in the water, Dick slowly tensioned all the lines with the big V8 loping at idle.
When given the thumbs up go sign, Dick put the hammer down and the big engine began its work with a roar. After struggling mightily with skiers' arms getting tired, the big boat made progress and one at a time the skiers all got up and going. Memories say there were three people with slalom skis and seven on pairs. Dick remembers that the boat planed out at 26 m.p.h. with all skiers up, rather than its normal 36 m.p.h. A true feat for man and machine and well recorded it was by Howard Gray. True to his word, the photo appeared on the front page of the Waterville Sentinel.
Most of the skier's names have been lost to time, though the Dubord boys, Steve and Bill, were two of the slalomers. We hope some of our readers might recall this event, or perhaps were on the tow lines some 56 years ago.
Rod Johnson was born and raised in the Belgrade Lakes in the 1950s and '60s.