BELGRADE — On Great Pond, dogs are excited to see their mailman.

From the Belgrade side of the lake, Rosco watches for mail boat driver John Govostes Jr. 

With his paws at the edge of the dock, the Norfolk Terrier shivers in anticipation of his special delivery — biscuits. After quick gobbles, he barks a please or a demand for Govostes to return and give him one more.

Rosco repeats this each day. 

“This is the best part,” Govostes said about feeding dogs on his route. That clear July morning, around eight came out for treats.

“My dog looks forward to this every day,” Carol Languet said from her dock at Camp Margaritaville in Rome as weimaraner Gracie lapped up her biscuits. 

Govostes is in his sixth year delivering mail to residents in Belgrade and Rome on the 8,533-acre lake, but he is not in a mail truck. He navigates his route on Great Pond in a 14-foot open boat.

John Govostes Jr. has the next delivery in his hand as he steers to another dockside mailbox July 25 on Great Pond in Belgrade. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan

Between June 15 and Sept. 15, Monday to Saturday except holidays, he navigates in and out of coves and inlets, weaving around rocks and docks and all sorts of watercraft moored in front of the lake cottages, including party and sail boats, inflated floats like a bucking bull and even a water bike pedal boat. 

The mail is the same that is delivered to a regular post office box — letters, bills, newspapers, RedBox videos and Amazon packages. 

But these are put into dockside mailboxes. 

Jane Murello of Belgrade lives on Great Pond year round and has had her mail delivered this way for 25 years. With the area’s population growing so heavily in the summer, receiving mail this way saves her a trip to the post office. 

“The town gets so congested this time of year,” Murello said. 

To receive mail this way, lakeshore residents on Great Pond need only to have a post office box at the Belgrade Lakes Post Office. Around 100 are “Water Route Box No.” recipients, most of whom are summertime residents.

The biggest delivery on this ride went to Pine Island Camp, where the large U.S. Mail bags full of care packages would be sorted out to the campers spending the summer at the boys’ camp, which has been in business for 100 years.

“It is the best service on the lake,” said Ed Gillick of Londonderry, New Hampshire, who resided in his Rome camp during the summer. Gillick has had his mail delivered this way for around 30 years. 

Mail boat operator John Govostes Jr., left, hands off mail to a customer July 25 on Great Pond in Belgrade. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan

The mail delivery is just part of the service Govostes provides. For many residents, his companionship at their docks is the start to their day. 

Jim Fitzgerald of Fair Haven, New Jersey, was in his 40th season on the lake, and he made his way onto his dock with the assistance of a wooden walking stick that he said Govostes had carved for him. 

“He made it possible for me to walk out and see him,” he said.

Since the 1930s, Govostes said, Great Pond has had mail delivered by a mail boat driver, including David M. Webster, who delivered mail from 1942 to 1991, according to a plaque at the post office. 

The driver is not a USPS employee, Govostes said, but is contracted for the position and provides his own equipment — including the watercraft.

Govostes, who lives in Rome, has just entered into is third contract, this time for four years instead of three. He thinks that is because he bid lower than he did for previous contracts.

Govostes retired recently from selling and installing phone systems. As a fisherman comfortable on the water, it was a position he did not mind filling after prompting from his father, a lake resident, who drove the mail boat before Govostes.

The route now takes him around two hours to complete. When he began, however, it took about six hours, as he weaved around 46 miles shoreline, identifying camps from a distance and developing a keen eye for hazards around the lake and each dock like rocks. 

“This is a hard one,” he said, slowly maneuvering the boat against the dock, fitting it snugly between the rocky shore and a large speed boat. Govostes slowed his boat’s momentum, grabbing the dock, and in a fluid action, he opened the mailbox and dropped the letters. 

“I have only dropped three newspapers in the water,” he said with a chuckle.

He has seen all kinds of things, like a beaver lodge built inside a boat house, to the dismay of the camp’s owner; a dog that would retrieve the mail; and even a youngster who told him, “it is about time.”

“And I was early!” he said.

As Govostes cut his engine, he pointed suddenly below the water surface where 3-feet down, a loon dived after its meal. He said he has seen moose, bald eagles, osprey, beavers and snapping turtles. 

And he has heard great stories of great fish caught. 

Charlotte, 9, who was spending part of her summer with Fitzgerald told Govostes about the 3½-pound, 18½-inch smallmouth bass she caught off the family’s dock the previous day as her grandmother Joan Fizgerald stamped a letter to be mailed.

Ed Gillick, top, waves as mail boat operator John Govostes Jr. pulls away from the dock July 25  after delivering mail and chatting on Great Pond in Belgrade. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan

A few times a week, Govostes is accompanied by up to four passengers as he gives tours of the lake. It is a little known attraction in Belgrade Lakes, riding in the mail boat.

A trip on the mail boat costs $20 per passenger, and he uses the earnings to pay for fuel.

Those interested in seeing the lake and riding with Govostes can contact the Belgrade Lakes Post Office on Main Street in Belgrade for reservations. The ride begins behind the Post Office in the village, where he docks his boat, and enters the lake through the peaceful, narrow channel that connects Great Pond and Long Pond. 

But riding is best on days when the weather is fair. 

Govostes delivers in all weather, even rain. On wet days, packages that might get wet are left at the Post Office until the next dry day.

“I have been surprised to see him delivering mail some days,” said Gillick.

Last year I was in a fog,” Govostes said, “and I could not find the other side.

“I thought I was over there,” he said pointing southeast of Ram Island, then pointed to the north of it, “but I was over there. It was horrible.”

But of any weather, it is wind that is most challenging and inhibits his travels. This was a postcard-perfect day, but after delivering at Pine Island, he cut east toward Belgrade — and into the wind, and the aluminum boat bounced over the choppy water. 

On a windy day, however, the chops could become white caps, throwing the small boat around and slowing his travel, adding an hour to his morning route. Govostes said he does not change his route.

“The wind is just awful,” he said, saying 95% of the time, he loves being a mail boat driver, except in that wind. “I love this, and I hope to keep doing it as long as I am able.”

Great Pond has been loved by generations of Govostes’ family since the 1970s. Living in Bath, his family had friends who owned a camp in the Belgrade Lakes area. 

“Whenever we were up here, we did not want to go home,” he said. 

In 1986, Govostes, who was originally from Massachusetts, moved to Rome and now he and his wife, Jane, own 50 acres below Mount Phillip. The couple has one son and four grandchildren who live in the state.

In his spare time, Govostes enjoys playing table tennis, chess and Yahtzee, rooting for professional New England sports teams, and fishing for salmon and trout locally and in northern Maine. Dogs are also his love, but ironically, his 50 acres of dry land is where Govostes’ Doberman likes to be most. 

“He will not go in the boat and he will not walk on the dock at the boat launch,” he said with an affectionate smile. “He does not like water.”


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