Boating in Their Blood February 27, 2019
Four generations of the Fay Family Celebrate 75 Years on the Lake
It was in 1942–75 years ago–that Wilbur Fay started the boat yard in Gilford, New Hampshire, that carries his name. But the family’s roots go back further than that.
“My great-great-grandfather, Ebenezer Smith, was one of the original settlers of the Lake Winnipesaukee area,” says Merrill Park Fay, the son of Wilbur and one of the four generations of his family who have run the business. “He fought with John Stark in the Revolutionary War. That side of our family goes back to the 1700s.”
Wilbur Fay, Merrill’s father, started the boat yard. But Wilbur’s father, Park Fay, was active on the lake as a boater and a homebuilder on Pine Island and Bear Island beginning in the 1890s. Park Fay worked for George Merrill of Lakeport and learned the carpentry trade. Wilbur lived in Lakeport and maintained several boats there before starting the boatyard during World War II.
Merrill Fay began working in his dad’s company when he was 13 years old, and would often be seen delivering groceries and ice to the homeowners on the nearby islands. When Wilbur Fay died in 1959, Merrill took over the business. “I have been here ever since I got back from college,” he says.
After all those years, Merrill Fay remembers all the beautiful summer days when his customers and friends were out boating on the pristine waters of Lake Winnipesaukee. But Merrill also remembers the hurricanes and storms that have occasionally swept across the lake.
“I was out in a boat during Hurricane Carol in 1954,” he remembers. “That was a horrendous experience! Don’t want to see another one like that!” He also remembers Hurricane Bob in 1991. “Unfortunately, we got a lot of business from that one,” he said. “A lot of people were caught unawares and hadn’t secured their boats when it hit.”
Merrill does recall that the earlier days of boating on the lake were a little more relaxed.
“When I was a young man,” he said, “I could drive anywhere on the lake without worrying about traffic. There weren’t as many boats back then, and people didn’t drive the way they do today. Boats were mostly wood back then, and people were very courteous. It’s not the same these days.”
Merrill Fay, now in his mid-eighties, still shows up at the boat yard almost every day, but most operations have been passed on to his son, Jeffery. And the boat bug is big with that generation, too.
Jeffrey Fay is an antique boat and boat engine collector, and people from across the country often call on him for advice about old wooden hulls or ancient engine parts. Jeffrey is not only a boating historian–he knows all about the old McDuff Manufacturing motors once built in Lakeport, and is a walking encyclopedia on old Johnson motors as well–but he has spent years tracking the locations of old wrecks and diving down into the deep to find engine and motor parts, and bringing them up and restoring them. “You’d never believe some of the things he has found on the bottom of the lake for 75 years, but they were,” his father says admiringly. And now, Jeffrey’s son Stephen, has joined the company, making it four generations of Fay’s that have helped serve customers on the lake.
Today, Fay’s Boat Yard is located on some 1,000 feet of frontage in Gilford, and has some 500 boats in its slips during the season. That includes sailboats, as Fay’s is one of the few boatyards on the lake that sells and services sail-powered boats as well as powerboats.
Fay’s today is a busy dealer in new and used power and sailboats, with a fully certified service department, fiberglass, canvas and sailboat departments, two ship’s stores, seasonal and temporary slips, and winter storage. Plus, Fay’s permits boat owners space to work on their own maintenance and repairs if desired.