Q & A with Captain Jim about the U.S. Mailboat

Captain Jim on the U.S. Mailboat M/V Sophie C.

The 128th Season of Mail Service on Lake Winnipesaukee begins June 15, 2019.

 

Do you have childhood memories of the mailboat coming to Bear Island?

Absolutely. But not as one might think.  I grew up on the southern end of the island so my memories are of her passing by our cove and I going out in my little boat to “catch the waves”.

Did you stand on the pilings as it came in?

No, I was more interested in my ice cream.  Besides, back in my day, the pilings weren’t as sturdy as they are now. We would, however, jump in the water after she left so as to feel the backwash from her propeller.

Why did you want to be a Captain?

I never really thought much about it at first.  I guess it was a natural progression.  I did grow up around boats and have operated them since I was four years old so I guess it was in the back of my mind somewhere.

How did you get started?

It really all started when I was in college and I got a summer job as a deckhand aboard the Mount Washington.  From there I was in the right place at the right time and I loved what I was doing so I stuck around for 30 plus years.

How long has the mailboat been in operation?

There has been mail service on the lake since 1892.  In that time there have been many mailboats to service this route. The current vessel, M/V Doris E., is running in place of the beloved M/V Sophie C. which is laid up for repairs.

What’s the status of the Sophie C.?

As many devoted mailboat fans know, Sophie C has been in dry dock since last June. Her 74-year old, steel hull is thinning to the point of needing attention. We all wish there was an easy way to fix her but unfortunately there isn’t.  The old girl’s hull needs re-plating of the underbelly and that will take special craftsmen, time and a fair amount of money. Presently, the Flagship Company continues to research outside companies to do this project. I would not expect her back cruising anytime soon.  We will continue servicing the mail contract with our other small vessel, the M/V Doris E. It may be interesting to note that since the beginning of mail service on the lake back in 1892, there have been many mailboats to service the contract we service today.

How many Islands does it service?

It has five stops in the morning and five stops in the afternoon.  Some stops have multiple mailboxes to service and one stop represents two kids’ camps representing our most prolific drop.

I’ve heard the coming of the mailboat is a social event.

Yes, in many ways it is.  Whether we are stopping at an island or just passing by someone’s camp, Mailboat is used as a clock by the island residents.  Some come to get their ice cream fix others might be just relaxing and begin their cocktail hour when we pass by.

True there’s a post office on board?

Yes!

Does the boat have a cancellation mark?

Yes!

Who Operates the Post Office?

We do.  Basically, we are an independent contractor for Laconia Postal Route RFD #7.  We (the Flagship Company) hire a postal clerk, which happens to be my sister Anne, and she operates the post office.

True it’s the oldest floating post office in America?

Yes, and we can lay claim to this by an act of Congress in 1916, which created this route and gave to it a cancellation stamp.  We were the first official floating post office in America. I’m not sure we’re not the only floating post office in America.

Has the Internet, with email, had an impact?

Yes, but we still handle nearly 25,000 pieces of mail each season. Before email, we handled about 28,000 pieces each season.

What’s your favorite part of making the run?

I’d have to say the people.  For instance, meeting the passengers as they board and visiting with the island residents where I stop.

Least favorite?

Closing duties on a hot summer day, such as having to go below deck to shut down the engine.

Do you go through “rain or shine, snow or sleet” as the regular Post Office does?

Although we would never put any of our vessels in harm’s way, we do go out in most weather.  It can get nasty at times out on the lake, but the M/V Doris E. is a great boat and she handles pretty much everything “mother nature” gives it.

What do you see ahead for the mail run?

Since we just signed a new three-year contract, I see great things ahead.  With all that’s gone on with the U.S. Postal Department over the past few years, it comforting to know we are still an important part of their plans. I know the residents are glad as well.

Have a favorite?  M/S Mount Washington or the mailboat?

Yes, I do. I’m just not sharing.  Let’s just say they are both very special to me.


3 comments


  • Cynthia

    My gram used to take me to Bear Island maildock back in the late 50’s. They lived on the north side of Bear about 6 camps east. I still go to maildock when I visit Bear at my cousins camp 4 camps east on Bear island. Lots of history. My family owned Shep Shep Brown’s across from Bear Island mail dock. Lots of great memories before the Doris E; when the Uncle Sam was captained by Wilbur Bigalow, a friend of my familys.


  • Scott Law

    I spent most summers on the lake including some at camp Lawrence on Bear Island where the Sophie C. Used to stop. The mailboat was always special to me because its Captain (Capt Bigalow) was my elementary school’s music teacher. When not at camp I spent a lot of time at Wiers and saw him often there also. He was a very nice man!


  • David Brooks

    Thank you for sharing this information on the US Mail Boat. I’m glad to hear how exciting the job is.


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