An old boat gets a charge from a new powerplant

Union Leader Correspondent
August 17. 2018 4:08PM
Bill Porter sits at the helm of his 1926 Johnson Laker on Squam Lake. He recently replaced the gasoline engine with an electric powerplant, improving the old boat's reliability and lessening the impact on the environment. 

The Porters’ 1926 Laker sits at the dock on Squam Lake. The yellow extension cord keeps the new electric motor charged. (Bea Lewis/Union Leader Correspondent)

HOLDERNESS - Bill Porter is doing his part to assure the serene Squam Lake that he loves is enjoyed by future generations. His 26-foot 1926 Johnson Laker has recently returned from Lakes Region Wooden Boats of Wolfeboro where it was fitted with an Elco EP12 electric motor.

At the dock, instead of a rainbow sheen of gasoline ringing the classic wooden boat, a bright yellow extension cord now runs from the shore to charge the four lead-acid batteries that power the 12-horse motor that gives a new meaning to the word stealth. Turning the key dockside, Porter announces the motor is running and points to the green light on the console as visual evidence that electricity is playing its silent role.

Porter, who taught architecture at MIT for 40 years, purchased the Laker in 1970 after discovering the rare find in a garage. He concedes its golden oak woodwork was in less than ideal condition. Such graceful launches, he explained, were originally built to ferry people to their larger yachts moored offshore.

“It’s been rebuilt more times than I care to say,” he said, sitting on the screen porch of a camp his father purchased in 1946.

His daughter Eve Porter-Zuckerman said the camp, nestled just feet from the water’s edge, was built in the 1900s and the porch is a favorite family venue. “It’s so great to be both out and in,” she said.

A green light on the console indicates that the boat’s electric motor is running as Porter’s daughter Eve Porter-Zuckerman casts off a mooring line.

The family’s roots run deep on Squam, as Porter’s grandparents first came to the lake at the turn of the century to Rockywold-Deephaven camp.

The Laker has helped make many memories for the family. Decorated with daisies, it carried Eve to Church Island for her wedding to Duncan Porter-Zuckerman. Her father piloted the vessel to the Mount Chocorua side of the island, the direction the outdoor pews face, so that guests got a prime view of the wedding party and its unique mode of transportation. Eve’s sister, Quayny, got the same Squam star treatment when she married her husband, Wyatt Porter-Brown.

Retrofitting the Laker “makes the boat a permanent part of this place,” Porter said.

Several gas powerplants proved less than dependable; the family named it Pegasus after the constellation that is most visible in August — typically when the boat was finally up and running for the remaining few weeks of the boating season.

When it was still powered by a gasoline engine, noise, fumes and vibration seemed to go hand and hand.

Eve recalls that when the boat ran on gasoline, they would motor onto the lake at dusk. But to enjoy the tranquility and to be able to hear each other talk, they would shut off the engine and drift. When wind or waves pushed them in the direction of a rocky outcrop or towards shore, the engine would be restarted to reposition the boat. Such was the necessary rhythm of a boat ride.

Recharging in three or four hours, the Elco electric motor has enough power to provide the joyful feeling of skimming across the water on a hot summer day, but it also proves ideal for just a slow cruise to take in Squam’s scenery and wildlife.

The investment — about $30,000, all told — was worthwhile in many ways said Porter. The gasoline engine was so undependable that other members of the family shied away from using it. 

Now, “it can become part of the whole family’s skillset, a more permanent and stable part of the house and more democratically shared,” he said. “It’s a different boat now, more accessible.”

More information about the Elco’s electric boat engines can be found on the Web at

EnvironmentOutdoorsTechnologyTransportationOn the WaterHoldernessNewHampshire.comPhoto Feature

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