PITTSFIELD -- A nonprofit sailing club on Pontoosuc Lake is closing up shop.
Richard Cote, who founded Berkshire Community Sailing (BCS) in 2005, said the new private marina -- The Rusty Anchor -- that has opened in the former Ponterril boat house owns the land through which Cote's members could access the sailing club docks.
Insurance liability issues prevent the new marina from allowing a third party access to the property.
To continue his operation on city land or on another location at Pontoosuc Lake would require a financial investment BCS simply can't afford, Cote said.
So he's liquidating all the assets and closing the club.
"There really isn't anything doable that we can afford," Cote said. "It would be very expensive."
He noted that the loss of a sailing club on Pontoosuc is the end of a legacy for the area.
"There's been a sailing club there since the early 1900s, so for the first time since then there won't be," Cote said. "That's a legacy that's hard to give up."
Scott Graves, owner of the Rusty Anchor, said that when he first started the project last year, he hoped to be able to allow the club access to the docks. But as the project moved forward and he started investigating his insurance requirements, he discovered that allowing third parties to cross his property for boating activities could endanger his business should someone get hurt and file a lawsuit against him.
Every summer, Berkshire Community Sailing would operate out of two trailers parked between the end of the Rusty Anchor parking area and the city park land just to the south. From there, people could rent kayaks ($10/hour), canoes ($20/hour) or sailboats to go out on the lake. The club also conducted sailing lessons.
With about 55 members, and rentals to the public, Cote said several thousand rental transactions would occur every summer.
"The whole idea was to allow families to take their kids out on the lake without breaking the bank," Cote said. "It was never about making money."
Linda Caesar of Pittsfield has been part of the Pontoosuc sailing community since the mid 1990s, when Ponterril was still operating the boat house.
She owns two sailboats -- a 20-foot boat and a 25-foot boat. She said she is accustomed to being on the lake every day it's not raining. But because a sailboat requires assembly every time it goes into the lake, it is impractical to haul it to the lake, spend a couple of hours putting it together, sailing, then taking it apart and hauling it home.
"Now I can't sail at all," Caesar said. "So I have two large boats sitting in my driveway covered by tarps."
She is hoping someone will come up with an alternative.
Cote said he has been hearing from friends who are suggesting alternatives, but Cote won't be the driving force in establishing a new location for a sailing club. If somebody else wants to give it a try, however, he would be happy to give them advice and help with the logistics.
"I feel bad for them [BCS], but I'm just trying to get by, too," Graves said.
The Rusty Anchor has several members that keep their sailboats at its docks, and Graves said he plans to expand his sailboat docking capacities to attract more members with sailboats.
As for Cote, he said he hopes to wrap up the liquidation swiftly.
"There's a bitterness about the lake for me now, so I'm anxious to get out of there," he said. "I'm just going to exit quietly."
To reach Scott Stafford:
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