‘A Weird Thing to Have Happen’
Residents and a class from Slavin’s Haven preschool inspect the MV Kearsarge yesterday as it sinks into Sunapee Harbor in Sunapee.(Rob Strong photograph)
The MV Kearsarge photographed as it sinks into Sunapee Harbor in Sunapee. (Rob Strong photograph)
From left: Marine Engineer Fred Nashawaty, Sargeant Joshua Dirth of the State Police's Marine Patrol and Sunapee Fire Chief Dan Ruggles inspect the MV Kearsarge as it sinks into Sunapee Harbor. (Rob Strong photograph)
Doug Richardson, left, and Wilfred Gonyo, both of Sunapee, inspect the the MV Kearsarge. (Rob Strong photograph)
Sunapee — When Tim Fenton made his daily trip down to the harbor Thursday afternoon at Lake Sunapee to check on the MV Kearsarge, the 66-foot boat sat quietly alongside the main dock.
Though boats are typically dry docked in winter and the harbor was covered in ice, Fenton wasn’t worried — an electric bubbler around the Kearsarge prevented a freeze up.
“I live in the harbor and did a daily drive through around 4:30. Everything looked normal,” said Fenton, whose family owns the popular dinner cruise boat that plies the lake waters from May to October.
Three hours after Fenton made his rounds, the Keasarge began taking on water and the stern slowly sank in about eight feet of water.
“Whatever it was, it happened quickly,” Fenton said yesterday, adding that it was simply too soon to know what caused the boat to sink. “It is a weird thing to have happen. It is a fluke.”
The boat’s stern can now be seen listing to starboard with the water reaching nearly to the roof of the second deck. A small section of the bow is poking out of the water with some of the bottom visible. Lines running from the bow to the dock help secure the boat and hard booms surround it to protect against fuel leaks. With the bubbler shut off, a thin sheet of ice has formed around the hull.
Yesterday afternoon, a salvage team with divers arrived to assess the situation and determine the best way to raise the vessel. Fenton said last evening they sent a diver down to make sure the stern was resting on the bottom and safely balanced. He said the boat is not leaking any fuel.
“A rig has been set up so it won’t slip further into the water,” Fenton said.
The Department of Environmental Services was also at the scene to inspect the boat.
Today a crew will attempt to haul the steel-hulled boat — which Fenton estimates weighs as much as 25 tons — out of the lake using heavy equipment, including cranes.
Curious onlookers came and went all day yesterday, many snapping photos and recalling their experience on the Kearsarge.
“We hope they can get it fixed and back on the water,” said Gary Hall who had driven up from Surry, N.H., with his wife, Irene, after hearing about the sinking. “We’ve had dinner on it. It is beautiful.”
Al Peterson, of Sunapee, who has piloted the Kearsarge, viewed the listing boat from the parking lot.
“It is kind of sad situation,” Peterson said. “But the good part is that there was no one on board, no one got hurt and now it is hard against the bottom.”
Fenton said he checks the bubbler every day to be sure it is doing its job of moving the water.
“When I checked yesterday, there was still open water around the boat,” he said. “They go on three times a day, which is enough to keep the water from freezing.”
Peter Fenton, Tim’s brother, said they have never had any problems with the Kearsarge. An underwater inspection is done every year and the insurance company does a marine survey, he said.
The Fentons bought the Kearsarge and its sister ship, the MV Sunapee II, 10 years ago. Both boats take passengers on cruises around the 10-mile long lake, with the Sunapee used mostly for daytime and the Kearsarge for dinner cruises.
“They are great cruises,” said Lyn Gallup, a Sunapee resident who came to the harbor to have a look after a friend called her and told her what happened. “It is really wonderful. At Christmas, they decorated the boat with lights. It looked beautiful.”
The MV Sunapee is removed from the lake at the end of the season. Fenton said the Kearsarge was built in 1974 and six years later was cut in half and extended in length by adding a 20-foot section to the middle.
The Fentons said they plan to have the boat repaired and back in operation for the summer season.
“We love the boat,” said Tim Fenton. “The thing that is a bummer is the every year we try to make an investment in it to make it better so to see it like this is discouraging.”
Patrick O’Grady can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.