Winnipesaukee Travel By Hovercraft!

When are some times you will see a hovercraft on Winnipesaukee? Keep an eye out for George Randall!

Hovering to and fro: Island dweller navigates ‘ice soup’
By GEOFF CUNNINGHAM Jr.
Article Date: Tuesday, April 22, 2008
Picture

COW ISLAND resident George Randall is among the select few who turn to a hovercraft for transportation each year when the surface of Lake Winnipesaukee is a slushy mess that prevents boating or snowmobiling.
(Geoff Cunningham Jr./Citizen Photo)

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There comes a point each year where George Randall faces a dilemma that is unique to the few hearty souls who choose to make island dwellings on Lake Winnipesaukee their year-round residences.

Each fall and spring the temperatures shift and the ice is too thin to cross via foot or snowmobile and too thick to pass through on a boat so an increasing group are turning to hovercraft as a means of staying connected to the mainland.

Randall has lived on Cow Island in Tuftonboro for the past 28 years and the summertime barge operator turns to his four-passenger HoverStar hovercraft as his primary mode of transportation during times when the lake turns to what he refers to as “ice soup” — a term he uses to describe the chunky ice conditions that annually accompany the springtime thaw.

Randall said he enjoys the peace and quiet of living on an island but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t want to attend the orchestra or head to his contra dancing gigs.

Picture

Citizen Photo/Geoff Cunningham Jr. COW ISLAND resident George Randall makes a sliding turn on Lake Winnipesaukee on Moultonborough Neck in his 100 horsepower HoverStar hovercraft on Monday.

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In recent years, more and more island residents are buying new and used hovercraft, which glide over ice, snow, water or land on a cushion of air.

Randall has owned three hovercraft over the past decade or so and understands full well what they mean to his ability to live on the island during the late fall and early spring when lake conditions prevent boating or snowmobile travel.

This January Randall’s older-model hovercraft broke down, and he was stranded on Cow Island for the better part of a month.

“I was stuck,” said Randall with a laugh from underneath a long while beard and sunglasses.

Randall’s freezers are plenty stocked with food so he was in no immediate threat, but he has a social life and wasn’t happy about being isolated on the island.

Island dwellers can be an interesting breed and Randal has a love for nature that isn’t without a sense of humor.

On Monday he stood at Harilla Landing on Moultonborough Neck — the place he lands his hovercraft — and joked as a flock of ducks passed overhead letting out loud quacks.

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Citizen Photo/Geoff Cunningham Jr. GEORGE RANDALL stands in his hovercraft on the shore of Lake Winnipesaukee. Randall, who lives on Cow Island, relies on the hovercraft every year when the surface of Lake Winnipesaukee is a slushy mess that prevents boating or snowmobiling.

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“If that was the only noise I could make, I would just shut up,” said Randall with a smile.

However, the longtime Lakes Region resident admits that he makes is fair share of noise when he arrives in his hovercraft.

In fact, one drawback of the craft is the sheer amount of noise they create when they fire up.

Randall’s 2001 HoverStar is a larger model that is equipped with a small covered compartment for the driver, complete with windshield wipers and even a defroster.

It is powered by a 100-horsepower engine that is inspired by snowmobile motors and can run at upward of 5,000 rpms.

The engine powers a large, 12-blade fan which pushes air into a duct that fills the bladder underneath with air that is released in small slits in a nylon skirt that surrounds the craft. The hovercraft will float in water even if the engine is off, but gets its forward momentum by actually lifting off the ground or water.

Hovercraft are steered by turning handlebars that shift the direction of fins in the back to change the direction of air rapidly leaving the fan.

Randall said hovercraft are extremely versatile as they can travel over water, land or ice, with the latter creating the least friction.

He estimates he has traveled more than 70 mph in a hovercraft, but said he rarely goes fast because of the limited maneuverability of a vehicle that has no brakes and needs to reverse direction to slow down.

“You have to do doughnuts to slow down,” explained Randall.

He said learning how to drive one is tricky, as one must anticipate turns and the need to brake much earlier than craft with brakes or even a boat, which slows down quickly due to the friction created by its contact with water.

A hovercraft, on the other hand, will continue to move forward with little or no friction until it is turned around or loses momentum on its own.

Randall admits he is still perfecting the piloting of the craft, which can be registered either as a boat or an off-highway recreational vehicle like a four-wheeler.

“The other day I came up [onto land] and tickled a rock,” said Randall.

Owning a hovercraft is not cheap, but is a necessity of island living.

The skirts underneath hovercraft are made of a tough, nylon-type canvas, but they can sustain damage or get pulled off if they strike something.

“It’s a wear item … like tires on a car,” said Randall.

Randall’s purchased his 2001 HoverStar from the Oakland, Mich., Sheriff’s Department, which he said used it as a rescue vehicle before buying a larger and more powerful model.

He said a new version of the hovercraft would have cost $20,000-plus, but many island dwellers pick them up used and bear the burden of keeping them running.

“They are not cheap and they are labor-intensive,” explained Randall.

Randall said the craft regularly experience break-downs and they can take a beating in the harsh winter months.

While the hovercraft allow operators to glide over virtually anything without any problem, they do require earplugs, as the fans can be compared to a house fan on steroids.

“The are definitely loud … sometimes I feel bad when I pull up [to shore],” said Randall.

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