A 103-year-old wooden boat was salvaged from Lake Winnipesaukee Saturday after a boathouse had collapsed into the water, seemingly destroying everything inside.
“For a wooden boat to have survived this catastrophic of a structure failure above it was miraculous, and it was definitely a testament to the quality of its building 103 years ago,” said Tim McDonald, co-owner of Marine Solutions.
A recent winter storm had battered the 1910 boathouse, which sits on Paugus Bay in Laconia, N.H., according to the New Hampshire Boat Museum. The region received about 5 inches of snow Wednesday and Thursday, the National Weather Service said.
“We heard right away when it collapsed (on Thursday),” said Jaime Laurent, co-chair of the museum’s board of trustees. “The owner called us, concerned that if a beam had hit the boat, it would have sunk or been destroyed.”
The boat, a Consolidated long deck launch named the Fairhaven, has deep ties to the Lake Winnipesaukee area, Laurent said. The boat museum has included the boathouse and the Fairhaven in its tours for more than a decade, she said.
After the boathouse collapsed, McDonald said the boat owner, a friend of his, called him to see if he could recover the sunken pieces. Marine Solutions, McDonald’s company, specializes in diving and salvage services.
“I thought, we’ll dive and get inside the structure, and maybe there’s some pieces we can recover, some mementos,” McDonald said. “The owner put a lot of time and work into it — it’s irreplaceable.”
What followed was a three-day saga of aquatic engineering.
Using an underwater drone, McDonald surveyed the area beneath the submerged boathouse. Initially, he was unable to find the wreckage of the boat.
“But then I rotated the drone up, and the boat was half-submerged, completely intact,” McDonald said. “It changed the whole tone. It went from ‘let’s find a piece,’ to ‘we have this perfectly preserved boat. Let’s maintain this, get it out, and then start the restoration process.’ ”
It’s rare to find such an old boat intact after such an extensive collapse, he said. Wooden boats are much more fragile than their fiberglass counterparts because the panels can snap if pressure is unevenly distributed, McDonald said.
“Everyone became very enthused at that point,” Laurent said. “There was a resurgence of energy, everyone was saying, ‘Okay, maybe we can we can get this.’”
McDonald spent hours mapping the boat and its surroundings with the underwater drone. The biggest challenge was navigating the intricate network of displaced beams that could potentially damage the boat, he said.
To prevent further damage, the team cut a hole in the roof of the boathouse and pushed the Fairhaven deeper underwater, McDonald said. They were able to slide it gently from under the boathouse and use flotation devices to bring it to the surface, he said.
Throughout the entire process, the Fairhaven remained in near perfect condition, Laurent said.
On Sunday, Marine Solutions posted on Facebook that the owner, with the help of a few friends, had gotten the Fairhaven’s engine running.
“Boat salvage is a dream puzzle, and having this push to save heritage components like this is really neat,” McDonald said.