Top Navigation


Featured Articles

Day Tripping: Delivering Mail on The Sophie C

Kathi Caldwell-Hopper - August 19, 2013





The Sophie C.

The Sophie C.

A day trip in the Lakes Region can involve any mode of transportation but, more often than not, it occurs when I set out in my car to simply meander around the area. Nine times out of 10, I can find a fun, unusual day trip location. Now and then, I take a train or a bike or hike to find a day trip location.

It isn’t often I take a floating post office to satiate my day tripping wanderlust. That, however, is exactly what I did on a brilliantly sunny and warm Saturday in August. I did not so much stumble upon the US Mail Boat Sophie C, which docks at Weirs Beach, as make the decision ahead of time to take a ride on the boat.

I am a believer in re-exploring attractions that cater to the tourism market; I live in the Lakes Region year-round and occasionally I like to see it through the eyes of a summer/seasonal vacationer. I wrote about the Sophie C for The Laker many years ago and I was hankering for a return ride to see the lake again from this unique mode of transport.

My daughter happened to be home for a few weeks before heading back to college and I invited her to go along. “That’s the boat that delivers the mail, right?” she asked, recalling taking the boat with me in the distant past.

(She and her brother, when children, visited more unusual places than anyone I know for my story assignments. She often vetoes a trek with me these days because she knows from past experience that she might be nipped by a farm animal, chased by a dog if we get lost and stop for directions, or end up taking a hike on an unknown trail as dusk approaches!)

However, she remembered the Sophie C as a fun childhood adventure and immediately said, “Yes, I’d like to go along.”

I must advise readers, if taking the boat on a busy summer’s weekend day, to arrive early for parking. There are many parking lots but the traffic is heavy at the Weirs Beach area and the mail boat must keep to a schedule.

The Sophie C docks next to the most recognizable symbol of the Lakes Region, the M/S Mount Washington. You can’t miss the ticket office for the Mount on Weirs Boulevard. Sophie C tickets are sold from the same office, and then it is a brief stroll down to the docks where the vessels are docked.

As we approached the Sophie C, the crew was preparing to go for the 2 p.m. mail delivery trek. Passengers already were seated on the open-air rooftop section of the Sophie, clearly eager for the boat ride on the sunny, warm day. We opted to start our trip by sitting inside where a fun snack and gift shop area are offered.

There was plenty of seating on charming (and comfortable) wooden benches. Windows slid open so passengers could get some cool lake air and be a bit closer to the water.

The Sophie C captain for our trip was Bob Reed. From our seats we could easily watch all that went on as the captain and crew (Mail Clerk Anne Nix and a deck hand named Tom) prepared to depart.

Soon we were underway and the mail boat glided out over the Weirs harbor area and onto the open water. Captain Reed pointed out the islands and points of interest over a loudspeaker; this was very helpful for those who do not know the names and stories of the many Winnipesaukee islands. I have heard the narrative in the past but there is so much unusual “bet you didn’t know this” current and historical information that I never tire of hearing about the islands and their stories.

We were told, first of all, that the M/V (motor vessel) Sophie C. is the oldest floating post office in the U.S., and the only U.S. mail boat on an inland waterway. The tradition of delivering the mail on the lake dates back to 1892; the current Sophie C was built in 1945.

With two mail delivery treks a day, Sophie delivers to Loon Island, Bear Island, 3 Mile Island, and East Bear Island on her morning run, and to Camp Lawrence, Birch Island, Sandy Island, Cow Island, and Jolly Island on her afternoon run (this was the tour my daughter and I chose).

We passed Stonedam Island and were soon at Bear Island, the second-largest on Winnipesaukee.

Our first mail delivery was to YMCA Camp Lawrence. I noticed Anne Nix was handing over a lot of mail (in mail sacks) to a waiting camp staff member on the dock. (Anne later explained to me that each island has a person in charge of getting the mail or it is put in dockside mailboxes.)

Mail Delivery

Islanders and their dogs gather around Anne Nix to pick up their mail.

Next on the schedule was Perch Island where a number of islanders were waiting and socializing on the large dock area. We spent a bit of time at this stop, as Anne stood on the dock chatting with islanders. Three friendly island dogs wagged their tails and watched Anne expectantly, hoping for a treat. I was reminded of how close-knit the island families are; they live in a self-imposed, geographically close community and everyone must indeed know their fellow islanders. When the Sophie C arrives, it is a chance for the island children to get an ice cream from the snack bar on the mail boat and for everyone to chat with the Sophie C crew.

Diving from the docks

Islanders prepare to dive off the dock as the Sophie C. prepares for departure.

We were treated to a charming tradition as the Sophie C pulled out from the dock. Two children and a man (islanders) in bathing suits dove from the pier. Tom, the Sophie C crew member, told us that it’s a tradition at many of the stops for islanders to do this eye-catching dive for the entertainment of the mail boat passengers.

On the Broads area of the lake, it was a bit windy but we moved to sit in outside seats nevertheless. From our open-air seats, we got great views of passing boats, beautiful sailboats, and charming tiny islands,

At the end of The Broads, we stopped at Sandy Island where a mail representative waited on the dock to fetch the mailbag from Anne. After that stop, we passed Ragged Island, owned by the Science Center of New Hampshire. The island is a bird sanctuary and a natural habitat that the science center uses for research.

At each stop we made, Anne was a definite magnet for islanders, for the simple reason that she brings the mail. But it was more than that, I observed. Her energy and people-person attitude saw her repeatedly surrounded by children, adults … and even family dogs! If it looked like controlled chaos as Anne stood on the docks of the various islands, chatting with inhabitants, it was really a daily greeting among old friends.

The narrated tour by our captain told us many interesting facts as the mail delivery route proceeded. For instance, Cow Island (once called Guernsey Island) was thus named because the first Guernsey cows brought to America were kept and bred on the Winnipesaukee island.

I spotted a wonderful couple from my church at one island stop and we looked at one another with a “what the heck are you doing out here?” gaze. From my seat on the boat, I explained I was taking a ride for a day tripping adventure and they told me they were the overnight guests of a family member who owns property on the island.

After our stop at Cow Island, Anne took a much-needed break and sat with me to chat about delivering the mail around the lake. “I am a mail clerk hired by Winnipesaukee Flagship Corp. and I’ve been doing this job for 13 years. My brother is Captain Jim Morash of the Winnipesaukee Flagship Corp. [the company that owns the Mount, Sophie C, and Doris E vessels]. We’ve been on the lake and around boating all our lives,” she explained, excusing herself to resume her mail delivery duties as we prepared for docking at Jolly Island.

That last stop was a memorable one. The island has a lot of history associated with it. I had once read that a group of ministers purchased it in the 1870s. Much of the island has been passed down through the generations.

Once the mail was delivered and ice cream and postcards were sold to the islanders, Anne resumed her seat and answered more questions about her life as an islander.

Anne’s family has lived on Bear Island for years. The first family cottage was built in 1896 and the family is now in its sixth generation of island property ownership. “I’ve not missed a visit to Lake Winnipesaukee in 60 years. I keep coming back to the lake; it’s in my blood, I guess! I do know a lot of people on the islands.”

She explained that the Sophie C is the oldest floating post office in the United States. At the floating, full-service post office, island residents may purchase postal supplies and stamps.

“We follow the schedule that the old mail boats followed,” Anne commented when asked why the Sophie C makes two trips per day instead of just one trek. “The mail delivery is an island tradition; there has been a mail boat on Winnipesaukee for years. We think tradition and nostalgia are great and the passengers and islanders love the mail delivery service. Our Sophie C passengers love to get an up-close and personal glimpse into life on the islands.”

As well as delivering the mail, Anne and Tom and other staff members are trained to handle the boat in the unlikely event of an emergency. Anne also is a nurse, working in the medical field the rest of the year. “I plan to continue delivering the mail as long as I can. It is physically demanding because the mail bags are heavy and I am on my feet all day, but I do love the job and being out on the lake!”

All too soon, the mail delivery run was drawing to a close as Weirs Beach came into view. Before the boat ride ended, I just had to ask Anne what happened to the elderly lady I remembered waiting on the dock for her mail on one of the islands a number of years ago. The lady arrived at and stayed on her island property all summer, with grandchildren often coming to stay for a week or more. Anne said she knew exactly the islander I was referring to and smiled as she explained that the lady was a favorite of the Sophie C crew. Unfortunately, that woman has passed away, but she lives on in the memory of the Sophie C crew and is a bit of a legend among the islanders.

Docked once more at Weirs Beach, I really hated to leave the unique floating post office. I reflected that this was certainly a unique day trip, one that involved a boat versus a car. But it would remain in my memory as one of my top favorites of all the roads I have explored and unusual places I have to privileged to discover.

The M/V Sophie C departs from the Weirs Beach dock from Monday through Saturday at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. from mid-June to mid-September. Call 603-366-BOAT for ticket information or go to www.cruisenh.com

What Do You Think?