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On Lake Winnipesaukee, a map-making rivalry

Jim Davis/Globe Staff

Stewart Woodworth at the helm of his boat as he looked for uncharted rocks on Winnipesaukee.

By Globe Staff 

LAKE WINNIPESAUKEE, N.H. — The cartographic rivalry began suddenly, and with a loud bang, about 800 feet east of Pistol Island in Lake Winnipesaukee.

The year was 1993, and Stewart Woodworth, who had bought a summer house on Black Head Island the previous year, was driving his boat across what his map showed to be a clear stretch of water when his propeller suddenly smashed into a large boulder beneath the surface.

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“It should be coming up just ahead,” Woodworth said recently as he motored up to the spot, much more slowly this time.

He peered into the water and spotted several shiny bits of metal. “Those are other people’s propellers and outdrives. I discover a new one every couple years.”

Woodworth’s accident did $2,400 in damage to his boat, but it also did something else — it got him questioning the Old Green Map, which had been the standard navigation chart for New Hampshire’s largest and most popular lake since the 1960s.

“I contacted the mapmaker and he just shrugged his shoulders and said ‘That’s the best anybody can do,’ ” Woodworth remembered. “I decided I could do better.”

In 1996, after poking around every buoy and 178 miles of shoreline with a hand-held GPS, Woodworth published his first edition of Bizer’s Map — Bizer was the nickname for the family dog — beginning a Lake Winnipesaukee map-off that is approaching a quarter century.

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Through edition after edition, Woodworth and his competition, the Duncan family, have established a rivalry that is neither fierce nor friendly; it is matter of fact. Both simply think their map is better, and go out of their way to point out the faults in their competition.

On the website for Duncan Press, which is run by descendants of the late Duncan Fitchet, a Dartmouth-trained cartographer who published his first navigation chart for the Lakes Region in 1967, there are numerous digs at Bizer’s Map, including a whole page devoted to features it lacks. Duncan Press, maker of the rival map, also likes to point out that its map was created by “qualified cartographers.”

Woodworth admits he’s no cartographer, but he was a navigator in the Coast Guard and is a licensed pilot. “What that means is that I don’t get lost,” he said. “When we go on vacation, my wife drives and I navigate.”

Jim Davis/Globe Staff

“The rock is still not on [the rival’s] map,” said Woodworth, using a hand-held GPS device while navigating the lake.

And he’s not just out to map a lake; he’s out to right a wrong.

“This rock is still not on their map,” Woodworth said incredulously of the propeller graveyard he now refers to as Bizer’s Rock. (The Duncan map does now advise boaters to proceed with caution through that general area.)

Hidden rocks are something of an obsession for Woodworth, but after two-plus decades on the hunt he is so certain that he has found every rock that could be a boating hazard on the 72-square-mile lake that he has stopped looking for them; instead, he offers a $250 reward if you find one that is less than six feet deep and hasn’t been marked on his map.

The last person to claim one was a scuba diver a couple of years ago, who found one five feet below the surface, deep enough to not present a hazard to the vast majority of boats, but Woodworth paid the reward anyway.

Woodworth, 72 now, is retired from his career as a computer programmer, and he sold the Winnipesaukee house years ago. He lives in Weston and spends his summers on Buzzards Bay, but he still rents a boat on the lake for a few days each September, once the summer throngs have left, and investigates new developments and concerns that people have raised. And, of course, he checks on Bizer’s Rock.

He puts out a new edition of Bizer’s Map every few years, when he thinks there have been enough changes to warrant it — the 11th came out in 2016 – and says that while he still enjoys it, it’s not quite the passion it once was. “It’s somewhere between a business and a hobby now,” he says.

But through it, he says he’s happy with where he ended up all these years after he was jolted into his quest by that rock.

“I said I could make a better map, and I think I did,” he said. “The rocks are all accounted for.”

The islands, that’s another story, one that he has only dabbled in recreationally, for there is a long-running debate over just how many inhabitable islands there are on the lake.

“When I started this project, it was said that there were 365, one for each day of the year,” he said as he motored along the lake on a perfect late-summer day. “I say there are 264, but then you get into the question of ‘What do you consider an island?’ I have my own definition, but I don’t want to get too worked up about it.”

Jim Davis/Globe Staff

For the past 25 years, rival mapmakers have insisted their versions of Lake Winnipesaukee hazards are more accurate.


Billy Baker can be reached at billybaker@globe.com
Follow him on Twitter @billy_baker.