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Participants in the Governor's Conference on Tourism board the M.S. Mount Washington Monday morning for its maiden 2014 cruise. (DAN SEUFERT PHOTO)

Debut Cruise

M.S. Mount Washington makes its first cruise of the season

MEREDITH — Cloudy skies and chilly winds greeted the M.S. Mount Washington, which made its maiden voyage of 2014 on Monday morning, departing from the Meredith Town Docks with a boatload of participants from the Governor’s Conference on Tourism.

Capt. Paul Smith, who has been helming the 230-foot, 1,250 passenger boat since 1995, wished his passengers well as they boarded on the gangplank.

“It’s a little chilly, but it’s good to be out here again,” said Smith.

The diesel fuel-powered ship, one of two large cruising ships that have carried the name Mount Washington on Lake Winnipesaukee since 1872, had been kept in its winter port in Center Harbor a bit later than usual.

The annual Shakedown Cruise, which had been scheduled for April 28, was canceled because of the lengthy winter and later ice-out on the lake.

“We actually thought ice-out was going to be even later because it was such a long winter,” Smith said. “But Mother Nature decided to fool us. We can just hope the weather keeps getting better.”

Ice-out is called when the Mount Washington can safely reach each of its warm-weather cruise ports — Center Harbor, Meredith, Weirs Beach, Alton Bay and Wolfeboro. The first leg of the boat’s maiden trip Monday morning was from Center Harbor to Meredith.

The rest of the trip required the close attention of the ship’s crew, who know to watch for ice.

“It was so cold so late, we have to watch for ice pieces as we cross the lake, as well as other debris, sometimes bob houses are left out and we find them, or pieces of them, floating along our way,” Smith said.

The ship has gone through many changes since it was brought to Winnipesaukee from Lake Champlain in Vermont in the 1940s to replace the former M.S. Mount Washington, which was destroyed by a fire in 1939. During winter months each year, the crew carries out maintenance projects and improvements, not just to meet state codes, “but to meet our codes,” Smith said.

Jim Morash, chief of operations, captain and part-owner of Mount Washington Cruises, said this year’s major project was the installation of a new $30,000 fire suppression system for the ship’s engine room.

“And then, there’s the painting and new carpeting we do every year, which the customers don’t see, but we do it each year to keep to our own high standards,” he said.

The Mount Washington operates May through October, offering daytime and evening cruises, as well as special “theme” cruises. It is a popular venue for school proms, college gatherings, and large corporate celebrations.

It’s also one of New Hampshire’s prime tourist attractions, which makes it an ideal part of the tourism conference on Monday and Tuesday, said Lori Harnois, director of the state’s Division of Travel and Tourism Development. About 250 people are attending the conference this year, many of whom boarded the Mount Washington Monday morning.

“This ship is important to tourism in the state, so it fits well that way, but it’s also an opportunity for our people to mingle and network in a very relaxed atmosphere,” she said.

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