photo by Michelle Weissman
For many locals, the Portage Lakes is just a fun place to visit. But for Judy Narducci, owner of Portage Lakes Cruises, LLC, these waters are her office, her home and her getaway vacation.
The self-proclaimed Laker went to Coventry High School, but didn’t have much access to the lakes while growing up, other than swimming at Craftman’s Park. After retiring from a career in geriatric nursing, Narducci noticed that others had limited options for enjoying the lakes if they didn’t have a boat of their own or experience piloting one. Her knowledge of the area, people skills and love of the outdoors made launching a boat cruise service a natural course for her second career.
Initially underway in 2013, Narducci’s fleet added two more vessels in 2015 to accommodate the multiple cruises requested daily from June through August. When she’s not navigating locals or visitors on unique tours of the aquatic region she loves so dearly, Narducci helps local organizations like the Portage Lakes Historical Society, Friends of the Library and the Order of the Eastern Star.
Tell me about your crew.
JN: Well, as of this year we are all female, except for my mechanic. I have two other captains and a first mate who does the cleaning, covering, uncovering. It’s really fun that we all get to interact together as women.
How do all of you get along?
JN: They’re all just so pleasant to work with, I’m enjoying all of the girls that I’ve got on-board now. We take turns catching the boat for each other when we come in and just doing whatever needs to be done. They find a way to put the humor into anything we’re [doing].
What’s one of your favorite things about this job?
JN: I love getting the seniors and the kids with special needs outdoors. They can see something fun, and it doesn’t take a lot of energy, even for people in wheelchairs. I love accommodating those groups, seeing the looks on their faces when they come back and say [it was] so wonderful. That’s the best for me.
How do you get everyone on board?
JN: On one of my three boats, a wheelchair can be brought aboard. My docks are very wide to accommodate two people beside them, [and] we have handicap-accessible bathrooms. We find a way to make it work for everyone.
What kind of people do you usually meet on the job?
JN: I meet a lot of seniors, and of course that pleases me, as my area of expertise in nursing was geriatrics. I meet a lot of house hunters too, people looking around the lakes to see what’s available.
When you’re not running tours, what do you like to do for fun?
JN: I love going out to hear live music! I have a gentleman friend that goes with me and sometimes just girlfriends, but we’re always looking around the area for something live.
Is there a certain type of music you like listening to?
JN: We usually go for blues [or] jazz. Sometimes it’s rock [or] bluegrass. It can really vary. But any kind of live music in the area, especially on the water. We like to go out on the boat and hear the music from the water, which a lot of my cruises do, too.
What kinds of groups come out for cruises?
JN: I get a lot of return business [from] people saying my church group would love this, or my women’s group or book club or sewing club. There’s so many different groups out there that are looking for something to do.
What’s one of your favorite groups to captain?
JN: The Red Hat Ladies come, and that’s just a lot of fun. They come dressed up in their Victorian clothing and it’s a hoot to see them out there on the water. I created a new product this year. It’s a clip. One part clips to your shirt, and the other one clips to the back of your hat. So if their hats fly off, I don’t have to go get them anymore.