Champlain Longboats: Notes from the Boatshop
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Boatshop Vocab

Lapstrake: Method of planking where planking overlaps.
Rib: Bent or sawn structural timber that runs across the boat conforming to the hull shape. 
Clenching iron: Heavy metal weight used to keep rivets from backing out when being installed.
Rabbet plane: Wood plane whose blade reaches the edge of the plane body allowing for planing in corners.
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  April 1, 2008
After intense discussion and three rounds of voting, students and staff from the Diversified Occupations Program, Champlain Valley Academy and LCMM have chosen a name for the new rowing gig, Bowfin. Bowfin is an ancient species of fish native to Lake Champlain. It is the sole representative of an ancient fish family dating from the Jurassic period, approximately 180 million years ago. The name was chosen out of respect for the fish's ability to survive and outlast most living creatures. Also we like how it sounded.

Justin Viau passing a hot rib

Justin Viau passing a hot rib into the boat. 

Has it really been just three months since we met at the University of Vermont Jericho Research forest for a field trip?  It seems impossible to have made this much progress on our new boat.  The planks are installed, over 45 ribs have been steam bent and over 1000 rivets installed, and we have even done some sanding on the exterior to get ready for priming and paint.  Nick and Sheila and Justin cut the wood for the gunwales yesterday. This is no longer a form of a boat to be, but a boat to be fitted out. .

Passing another hot rib.

Rose Jerome passes a hot rib to Stephanie Miller to install.

Steam bending is an amazing and magical process. When it is steamed the white oak ribs becomes flexible and when it cools they firm up and will hold whatever shape you give them. There is a very short one to two minute window of opportunity to get the rib in place once it comes out of the box. The teamwork is exciting and impressive to watch.

Backing up a rivet.

(left) Kalob Gagnon backs up a rivet on the bottom. 
 Once the rib is set comes the hard work. A rivet is placed through the rib at every plank lap. At times we have three teams riveting simultaneously. A team includes someone in the boat to drill the hole and cut and hammer the rivet, someone outside the boat to hold the backing iron against the rivet head and a communicator to help them get the timing right. If you can imagine being in a drum with three people banging rivets at the same time, all wearing hearing protectors and trying to communicate you can get the idea. When Kalob Gagnon, our newest member of the building team, hammered the last rivet in to the ribs yesterday, both Rosie and Polly gave a big sigh of relief. All the individuals on this team have learned to be a tight unit.  I am so proud of them.  We have seen the most unlikely pairs become a working machine while riveting. 

Boat Maintenance procedures.

Kalob Gagnon presents boat maintenance procedures on Parents Night.

We had our parent's night in the boat shop on March 13th. Over 50 people showed up to eat pizza and watch each student give a presentation on part of the boat building process. There was a lot of anticipation and anxiety on the part of staff and students but it all came together beautifully and everyone was rightfully proud of the student presentations. Student Justin Viau writes, "We were all nervous but when the time came we did a great job demonstrating our new skills. The most important thing I've learned so far is that I can speak in front of a group and not be as nervous as I thought I would be."

Alice Mae

(left) Alice Mae Peabody, daughter of boatbuilder Lianna Tennal, checks out the new ribs.
Everything is on track for a May 22nd launch. Launch procession begins at 11:00AM Mark that date in your calendar. You won't want to miss it!
We have also made huge progress on our fleet of eight rowing gigs. Maintenance and repair will have been completed on six of them by the end of this week and the other two will be completed by the beginning of our spring rowing season at the end of April. Student John Carter writes "The boat I am painting is the Northern Sun. The colors of the boat are red, orange and yellow. You have to make sure there are no runs or dry spots. I have learned how to check my work by standing back and looking closely in the light."

Riveting a rib to a plank


Rose Jerome riveting a rib to a plank with instruction from boatbuilder Lianna Tennal.
The attitude and productivity of this group of hard working students is a sight to see. Student Stephanie Miller writes,  "Our group really started to come together when we began working in pairs. We got better and better at working as a team. We also argue less and less and we put our differences aside. By working as a team we get a lot of work done."
Come on by for a visit if you have a chance. We would love to show you around.
Photos: Buzz Kuhns