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Lake Escapes: Diving at Lake Winnipesaukee 'more fun than challenging'

  • Patrick Laase (left) and Mitchell Ranzenberger emerge from exploring the "Lady of the Lake" underwater with Dive Winnipesaukee on Sunday, Aug. 10. (CASEY McDERMOTT / Monitor staff)

    Patrick Laase (left) and Mitchell Ranzenberger emerge from exploring the "Lady of the Lake" underwater with Dive Winnipesaukee on Sunday, Aug. 10. (CASEY McDERMOTT / Monitor staff)

  • The Lady of the Lake is one of Dive Winnipesaukee's most popular underwater dive sites. The boat carried passengers around Lake Winnipesaukee in the mid to late 1800s and sunk in 1895. (Courtesy photo)

    The Lady of the Lake is one of Dive Winnipesaukee's most popular underwater dive sites. The boat carried passengers around Lake Winnipesaukee in the mid to late 1800s and sunk in 1895. (Courtesy photo)

  • Mitchell Ranzenberger (left) and Steve Deshaies (center) recount their excursion to a dive site in Lake Winnipesaukee shortly after emerging from their trip underwater Aug. 10. Steve Saad also participated in the dive. (CASEY McDERMOTT / Monitor staff)

    Mitchell Ranzenberger (left) and Steve Deshaies (center) recount their excursion to a dive site in Lake Winnipesaukee shortly after emerging from their trip underwater Aug. 10. Steve Saad also participated in the dive. (CASEY McDERMOTT / Monitor staff)

  • The "Lady of the Lake" as she looked during her working days.

    The "Lady of the Lake" as she looked during her working days.

  • Site of the wreck "Lady of the Lake" off of Smith Cove in Lake Winnipesaukee.

    Site of the wreck "Lady of the Lake" off of Smith Cove in Lake Winnipesaukee.

  • Patrick Laase (left) and Mitchell Ranzenberger emerge from exploring the "Lady of the Lake" underwater with Dive Winnipesaukee on Sunday, Aug. 10. (CASEY McDERMOTT / Monitor staff)
  • The Lady of the Lake is one of Dive Winnipesaukee's most popular underwater dive sites. The boat carried passengers around Lake Winnipesaukee in the mid to late 1800s and sunk in 1895. (Courtesy photo)
  • Mitchell Ranzenberger (left) and Steve Deshaies (center) recount their excursion to a dive site in Lake Winnipesaukee shortly after emerging from their trip underwater Aug. 10. Steve Saad also participated in the dive. (CASEY McDERMOTT / Monitor staff)
  • The "Lady of the Lake" as she looked during her working days.
  • Site of the wreck "Lady of the Lake" off of Smith Cove in Lake Winnipesaukee.

Their first stop would be 1895, where they’d spend about 45 minutes exploring the majestic Lady of the Lake steamboat that shuttled passengers across Lake Winnipesaukee during the late 19th century.

Then, the six explorers who set out for Aug. 10’s adventure would return, briefly, to the modern age before setting out for a second jaunt to the 1950s. There, they’d find a web of pipes and bungees – plus an old tire, some fishing lines, a few golf balls and other lost trinkets – as they wove through the remnants of a U.S. Navy test site.

To be clear: No mad scientist is needed for this particular kind of time travel. A wetsuit, an ample supply of oxygen and some goggles, however, will come in handy.

Dive Winnipesaukee, overlooking Wolfeboro Bay at the middle of the town’s Main Street, leads chartered lake dives every Friday evening and Sunday morning at sites beneath the surface of Lake Winnipesaukee. The dive shop sells and rents water gear, and offers instruction in diving and other water sports.

Outside of the weekend lake charters, the shop can also arrange other dive trips – including international ones. According to its website, you can sign up for one heading to Costa Rica later this year.

If you’re heading out for the Sunday dive charter trip, you’ll want to carve out the better part of the day for that journey.

The boat leaves about 9 a.m., and you could be out on the water until 3 p.m. or later. The trip out to the Lady of the Lake is about 45 minutes from Dive Winnipesaukee’s dock, followed by another 45 minutes (or more) under water. Add on another dive site, and then the trek back to the dock – and, if you’re lucky to get out there on a clear day, you won’t want to be in a hurry to escape the panoramic views of the lake you’ll be able to take in along the way.

These dive site excursions are best pursued by those who have at least some prior diving experience, but Dive Winnipesaukee instructor Brad Swain said they’re suitable for even novices.

Mike Doherty, a recent Plymouth State University graduate who ventured out on last weekend’s charter to the old ship and Navy site, had only just done his first open water dives the week before. At school, he took a scuba class with another Dive Winnipesaukee instructor and decided to pursue further training. With last Sunday’s dives, he was in the final leg of the first level of certification.

Adjusting to breathing under water can be a bit of a hurdle at first, Doherty said, but “as long as you’re interested in it, it’s more fun than challenging.”

Also along for last Sunday’s dive was Steve Deshaies, a Massachusetts resident who said he started diving about a year ago. His first open water certification dive was “nerve-racking,” he said – he panicked a bit as he submerged through almost pitch-black water before discovering that, deeper down, the sun illuminated a shimmering scene of rocks and fish. Since then, he’s been hooked.

“It’s my meditation,” Deshaies said.

Swain and Patrick Laase, who navigated the boat and went along for the dives, led a group of four last Sunday, but they said they can usually take up to about 10 people for the dive charters.

Rarely are two Dive Winnipesaukee trips ever the same. In addition to the Lady of the Lake and the Navy test site, Dive Winnipesaukee’s website lists about 10 other underwater attractions including Rum Point, boasting “tremendous rock and wall formations” and ample fish life, or Horseboat Barge, another mid-1800s boat not far from Bear Island. But Swain said the list online is far from exhaustive – there are plenty of hidden options.

Indeed, Dive Winnipesaukee excursions are often open-ended. The group last Sunday knew they’d be heading out to Lady of the Lake, the company’s most popular destination, but they had several options from there.

After the group came up from exploring the barge, Laase proposed two other sites: They could check out an underwater rock pile, or they could explore the old Navy dive site.

Last Sunday’s group opted for the latter, and – after about an hour under water – the divers agreed that it didn’t disappoint. Deshaies found an old weight; Laase, meanwhile, returned to the boat with another weight, a stretch of what appeared to be stainless steel cable and some other trinkets. Usually they don’t find that much, Swain said.

“Well, it’s been a good day: We had two good dives, some treasure found,” Swain told the group as they made their way ashore that afternoon.

Nodding to Doherty, he added, “And let’s give a round of applause to Dive Winnipesaukee’s newest certified diver.”

(Casey McDermott can be reached at 369-3306 or cmcdermott@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @caseymcdermott.)

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