RELATED | Photo Gallery | NEWA Jet Ski Races on Pontoosuc Lake
LANESBOROUGH -- Amid the roar of engines and under sunny skies, about 200 people lined the shore or sat in boats to watch Jet Skis zipping through Pontoosuc Lake on Saturday.
The North East Watercraft Alliance races at Pontoosuc were hosted by Matt Reilly's Pub and sanctioned by the International Jet Sports Boating Association.
With about 40 racers in a variety of classes, the races started at about 11 a.m. and were wrapped up by 4 p.m. They will run again today at the same times.
The racers reside in states from Maine to Ohio and as far south as Virginia.
Organizer Wayne Ordon, of Albany, N.Y., said racing takes a fast boat, and racers who are agile and have plenty of endurance. As fun as it might be, he added, it takes talent and strength to maintain through choppy waters at high speeds.
"We love the spectators, the boaters (watching from) the back stretch, all of it," Ordon said.
He said the fastest crafts have engines that kick out about 400 horse power.
Helen Reilly, owner of Reilly's Pub, said the planning began in March, when "you couldn't even see the lake behind all the snow banks."
She said it was a good idea for the area.
"It was great opportunity for the economy all over -- we had a very hard winter," Reilly said. "The exposure for Berkshire County alone is worth it, and everybody seems to be having a good time."
She noted that the pub is usually packed every Saturday and Sunday in the summer anyway, so she didn't expect a huge boost in her sales, but it was likely to boost sales in other businesses around the area.
"It's such a beautiful lake and it should be used," Reilly added. "We need the tourists."
Jillian Salafia of Sandown, N.H., came to town to race with her husband, and spend a rare kid-free weekend.
She said they both love the sport, and that she has been racing for more than 10 years. She started racing after she met her husband.
"He races, and I wasn't going to sit around and watch, so I started racing too," Salafia said.
She admitted she may not be the fastest racer in her class.
"I'm not the best," she said laughing, "but it's really all about the fun anyway. And it's great to be able to hang with the other racers every now and then. We all know each other pretty well."
The races drew folks from around the Berkshires who wanted to check out the action, including Brian and Jenn Cook with their 6-month-old son Jackson.
"It's something different," Brian Cook said. "It looks like a lot of fun. We should have more of this kind of thing."
According to Lee Hauge, president of the Friends of Pontoosuc Lake, not everyone was thrilled with the idea.
He had some concerns about the possibility of zebra mussels contaminating the lake from jet skis that came from infected areas, and there were worries about the noise.
But James McGrath, Pittsfield manager of open space and natural resource programs, worked with the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation to set up a wash station at the site to eliminate the zebra mussel liability before the boats hit the water.
And, Hauge said, Ordon made sure to tell the racers to keep their Jet Skis in the area of the race course to keep the noise level limited to that part of the lake.
Hauge noted that Friends conducted an email survey of its members. Of 150 surveys sent to members, 12 respondents were in favor of the Jet Ski races, two said they didn't care, nine were opposed, and 22 were strongly opposed. The rest didn't respond.
Hauge said he checked out the scene Saturday.
"The race seemed to be well organized and people were enjoying it," he said. "And from my place across the lake, I could hear it, but it didn't bother me. That was probably the case for most people."
Hauge added that if they seek to do another race next summer, as long as they prepare for zebra mussel prevention and noise limitation, "we'll probably be OK with it."
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