- Associated Press - Saturday, May 7, 2016

ERIE, Pa. (AP) - Recreational boating opportunities on Presque Isle Bay and Lake Erie keep Pittsburgh residents Dennis and Rose Bowers visiting Erie nearly every summer weekend.

Their pride and joy is a 30-foot Sea Ray powerboat, “Wild Irish Rose,” which they have berthed at Presque Isle State Park Marina for the past 14 years.

On a recent sunny day, the couple spent an afternoon prepping their vessel for another season of fun on Erie waterways.

“We come up here and get the maintenance done,” Dennis Bowers, 56, said. “We wash it, wax it and get all the zebra mussels off of it. Last year was the worst year for the zebra mussels I’ve seen. Other than that, we like coming up here and we like boating.”

The Bowers, like many recreational boaters, have been scurrying to bayfront and Erie-area marinas in recent weeks to clean, wax, paint and perform maintenance on their vessels.

Dennis Bowers loves taking the boat into Lake Erie to fish for yellow perch. His wife says the lake and bay are perfect spots to entertain their seven grandchildren.

“It’s peaceful here, it’s beautiful,” Rose Bowers, 56, said. “The people are wonderful here. We have a good rapport with all the people on the dock. It’s real relaxing. You get away from work, get up here, relax for the weekend and go back home. Being out on the lake, you can spend a whole day there or go to the beaches.”

Late April and May are anything but peaceful and serene for those whose livelihood centers on getting all those recreational boats in the water.

Gerard Wieczorek, dock master of Bay Harbor Marina on Erie’s bayfront, said last week he and his crew still needed to place about 90 percent of their vessels in their slips by Memorial Day weekend.

“It’s going slow. The weather is killing us,” Wieczorek said. “People are coming down and waxing and washing them, but it’s like hit and miss. You get a couple of good days and then you get cold weather, and as soon as you get a northeast wind or northwest wind, it’s 10 to 15 degrees colder down here than it is south of here.”

Bay Harbor’s east and west basin have a combined 467 slips, which accommodate powerboats, sailboats and pontoon boats.

If weather permits, Wieczorek said he and his staff can place eight or nine boats in the water each day, but he expects that number to increase as their Memorial Day deadline approaches.

“It’s crunch time,” Wieczorek said.

For the past two weeks, Paul Schmitt, 67, and his wife, Rita, 63, have been working to get their 23-foot sailboat “Whim” sail-ready.

The Erie couple have kept their vessel berthed at Presque Isle State Park Marina for the past 10 years, as long as they have owned the boat.

“Boating is a fine activity, but I wish we had a slightly longer summer,” Paul Schmitt said.

After removing the tarps, the Schmitts have focused recent work on polishing, painting and affixing stanchions, lifelines, a battery, depth meter and motor.

“Last year we had the boat out about 50 times,” Schmitt said. “We’re retired, so weekdays, weekends, there is no difference. Whenever we can get out and whenever the weather cooperates, we do the bay.”

On a recent sun-filled afternoon, Dennis Bowers had removed his vessel’s outdrives, cleaned them and was ready to reinstall them.

“If you’re going to own a boat, you better enjoy working the maintenance and upkeep,” he said with a laugh.

The business of boat upkeep has been steady at Michalak Marine Sales & Service, 1540 W. 26th St., in Erie, since it opened for the season April 4.

“Every day, we’re going from 8:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. — we’re just running,” said John Michalak, manager and co-owner.

Michalak joked that he and his staff have “too many” boats on their premises to repair and work on.

“At any given time, there are probably 15 to 20 boats here,” he said.

Michalak Marine sells new and used vessels, typically powerboats and pontoon boats less than 25 feet and accessories. Repair work accounts for about half of his business, Michalak said.

U.S. powerboat sales in 2015 increased about 8 percent, according to the National Marine Manufacturers Association, a leading trade association that represents the recreational boating industry in the U.S. and Canada. National powerboat sales this year are projected to increase 6 to 8 percent, according to the NMMA, or about 250,000 boats. Sales are expected to increase, in part, from lower fuel prices.

“It looks like a good year and hopefully it will continue,” Michalak said.

The lake’s water level is several inches higher than it was at this time a month ago, and the lake is 14 inches above its average water level from late April 2015, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ latest Great Lakes water level report.

Lake Erie’s water level is projected to rise 1 inch in the next month, according to Corps data.

“Water levels are normal right now,” said Eric Guerrein, president of Lakeshore Towing Services Inc. in Erie. “Water levels were very low in 2012 and 2013, but now they are back up. Water levels seemed to drop at the end of last year. People on the dock are thinking the levels may fall some this summer. I’m guessing the levels will drop again. We didn’t have a big (winter) snowmelt and we’ve had a drier spring.”

Devin Rostron, 22, of Erie, spent a recent afternoon doing maintenance on his girlfriend’s 26-foot Sea Ray Sundancer powerboat, which was parked near Bay Harbor Marina.

Work on the outdrive, electrical work, waxing, cleaning and getting the top of the vessel waterproofed were priorities.

Rostron already is envisioning summer days spent perch fishing on Lake Erie.

“It’s nice to get out of work on a weekend,” he said.

“You get to take the boat out and you’re so close to all the beaches, you can take the boat over and hang out on the beach. If you feel like fishing, you can go two or three miles out and it’s a great fishing spot. I can’t wait to get out there.”

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Information from: Erie Times-News, http://www.goerie.com

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