|By Lori O'Brien|
SOUTH HADLEY It was smooth sailing as the 53-foot Lady Bea embarked on one of her daily excursions up the Connecticut River last Saturday afternoon.
Bob Larkin, a licensed U.S. Coast Guard captain, and Luke Brunelle, an owner of Brunelle's Marina who also served as first mate, were on hand to board passengers and review U.S. Coast Guard safety regulations before the 49-passenger boat pulled away from the dock at 12:05.
Throughout the 75-minute narrated trip that covers approximately eight miles, there were historical sites to see and facts of the area to learn either in the comfort of an air-conditioned cabin or upstairs on the open deck. Since it was the mid 90's, most of the passengers chose to stay in the cool comfort of the lower cabin.
During an interview with Reminder Publications, Captain Bob shared his love for the river and the enjoyment he receives when sharing his expertise of boating and the history of the area with passengers.
"I enjoy interacting with people," said Captain Bob, adding he encourages anyone interested in the workings of the 3-year-old Lady Bea to join him at the bridge and he will be more than happy to explain the latest technology aboard including its sophisticated GPS navigation system.
"The Lady Bea far exceeds Coast Guard requirements," added Captain Bob.
Brunelle also noted that the diverse landscape makes the Lady Bea a unique cruise since passengers see a variety of flat lands, lush vegetation, mountain views, cliffs and sandy beaches, as well as sites including the Summit House, the entrance to the Oxbow, the Mt. Tom Range and Mt. Tom power plant and Mitch's Island. Sightings of bald eagles are also a regular occurrence.
The Lady Bea, which averages about 1,000 passengers a year, also features a cash bar service, restroom facilities, XM stereo and a PA system. In addition, video monitors allow the captain and first mate to keep track of passengers on board at all times.
Daily cruises run now through the fall at noon, 2 and 4 p.m. out of Brunelle's Marina, 1 Alvord St.
One of Saturday's passengers, Fred Hanzalek of Suffield, Conn., had taken the trip with friends to see another view of the Connecticut River. Hanzalek explained that most cruises he has taken have been out of Hartford, Conn., so it was a nice change of scenery to see Western Massachusetts.
"The trip was quite nice," he said, adding "I would recommend taking the trip to others."
This summer, the Lady Bea also has several themed cruises planned including Dave Colucci presenting "Cruising with the Crooners Show" on Aug. 11, 17, Sept. 1 and 21; Ellen Cogen and Joe LaCreta performing jazz standards, blues and pop on Aug. 4, 25 and Sept. 15; Dave Houck playing a mixture of classic rock, folk and blues on Aug. 3, 5, 26 and Sept. 14 and 22, and The Rogues mixing it up with beach music, hits of yesteryear and Irish tunes on Aug. 12, 24, 31 and Sept. 9, 16 and 30. Entertainers also scheduled include singer and guitarist Tom Hodgins who will perform Aug. 10, Sept. 7 and 28; Ethel Lee and Richie Mitnick who will perform jazz and standards on Aug. 19, Sept. 8 and 29, and Wally Greaney and Mark Easton will present blues shows on Aug. 18 and Sept. 2. All tickets are $15 which includes a two-hour cruise. A full cash bar will also be available.
In the coming months, Brunelle hopes to add moonlight cruises and a karaoke night if there are enough requests. He added that he sees business growth in educational tours and encourages teachers to consider specially priced weekday school trips that feature the Connecticut River's history and native wildlife. Teachers are also encouraged to use their own curriculum and Brunelle noted they can help tailor a cruise to best meet the needs of a teacher's materials.
For more information on the Lady Bea, call (413) 315-6342 or visit www.brunelles.com.