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Canal Sloop (Wreck C)

Wreck C was located off the New York shore during the side scan sonar phase of the 1996 Lake Survey Project. On sonar, the wreck appeared to be a sloop-rigged sailing canal boat in poor condition. Since the wreck was located at a divable depth, an archaeological diver verified this interpretation at the end of the 1996 field season. During the archaeological phase of the 1997 Lake Survey Project, a team of divers returned to the site to study it in detail. The goals of this project were to prepare a plan view of the site, to assess the wreck’s condition, and to understand the vessel’s design and construction.

Archaeological divers recorded the sailing canal boat with drawings, videography, and still photos

The cause of the vessel’s sinking is not known, although evidence from the site indicates that the vessel was intentionally scuttled. Many hull timbers show excessive wear, suggesting that the vessel had a long, active life on the lake. No cargo elements were found, and there is little evidence of artifacts that might represent the crew’s possessions or the ship’s equipment. These combined factors point to the conclusion that the vessel was deliberately sunk after its useful life as a canal boat on Lake Champlain had ended.

Hull Description

The hull of the Wreck C is in poor condition—the bow and stern are relatively intact, but both sides of the vessel have collapsed. However, since excellent preservation generally prevents thorough examination of hidden construction details, the hull’s decayed state allowed a more detailed investigation of the interior of this vessel than has been available on other sites of this type. The hull has a maximum length of 27.15 m (89 ft) and a maximum beam of 4.42 m (14 ft 6 in). These dimensions place Wreck C in the 1858 class of sailing canal boats. After the Champlain Canal lock system was expanded in 1858, large numbers of these larger canal boats were built to increase the amount of cargo they were capable of carrying.

Wreck C’s bow is in better condition than any other section of the hull; as a result, it now presents more complete construction information than much of the rest of the site. Since the bow has separated from the rest of the wreck, the archaeological team was able to gather detailed information on the bow’s interior construction. The bluff bow was built with pre-erected frames, a design feature that appears to have been quite common in this time period. Fourteen of the bow frames, accessible due to the fact that the bow’s caprail had been pulled away, were recorded in detail. These timbers were found to be relatively light, averaging 7.62 cm (3 in) sided and 9.53 cm (3 3/4 in) moulded.

A portion of the deck planking is still attached to the freestanding bow. This planking is 2.54 cm (1 in) thick and varies from 15.24 cm to 22.23 cm (6 to 8 ¾ in) in width. The deck planking supports the canal boat’s composite windlass. The windlass, which is supported by two bits, is interesting for a number of reasons. First, it is the largest windlass so far found on a Lake Champlain canal boat. Second, its placement in the bow is somewhat unusual. Typically, windlasses were attached to bits in the very bow of the vessel, which were in turn supported by a breasthook that joined the sides of the vessel together. In the case of Wreck C, the windlass was set back several feet from both bits and breasthook. This arrangement is unique among canal boats examined to date.

As mentioned above, both sides of the canal boat have collapsed, the port section inward and the starboard section out to the side. Like many other canal boats found in Lake Champlain, the central region of the hull was edge-fastened with more traditional plank-on-frame ends attached to the sides. Unfortunately, the collapsed port side allowed only limited access to the structural timbers of the vessel’s bottom. Wreck C’s keelson is 19.5 m (64 ft 2 in) in length, and three sister keelsons on either side of the principal timber provided additional longitudinal strength. A similar arrangement was also found in the bottom construction of Wreck G.

The stern of Wreck C is in fair condition and thus yields rare information on the construction of an 1841-class sailing canal boat. The vessel was steered by means of a tiller mortised into the top of the rudderpost, which is 24.1 cm (9 1/2 in) in diameter. The rudderpost protrudes through an opening between two transverse timbers. This system was also observed on Wreck G and appears to have been common throughout the construction history of these vessels.

Remains and measurements of the rudder indicate that its design matches that of the Wreck G rudder and others, a similarity which suggests that rudder design had apparently been standardized on the Champlain Canal by the onset of the 1841 class. Starting around that time, canal boat rudders seemed to be of composite construction of wood and iron, and generally had a sliding vertical extension that could be raised and lowered to accommodate the shallow canal. The main rudder extends 1.2 m (4 ft) from the rudderpost, and the extension adds an additional 61 cm (2 ft).

Wreck C has a single mast tabernacle, which now lies upside down along the centerline approximately 9.14 m (30 ft) aft of the bow. Its present location corresponds to the positions of the tabernacles on the Isle La Motte canal sloop and the North Beach canal sloop, but this location may not represent its original position on Wreck C. However, since no other mast supports are present, the vessel probably had only a single mast and was therefore a sloop-rigged vessel. The sides of the tabernacle are made of two timbers, both 2.44 m (8 ft) long, 25.4 cm (10 in) wide, and 5.08 cm (2 in) thick. The overall width of the tabernacle is 35.56 cm (14 in). The two side timbers are held together by a board 55.88 cm (22 in) long. A single iron pin is driven through the center of both sides and is 40.64 cm (16 in) from the nearest end.


Information Source:
Christopher R. Sabick, Anne W. Lessmann and Scott A. McLaughlin, Lake Champlain Underwater Cultural Resources Survey, Volume II: 1997 Results and Volume III: 1998 Results. Lake Champlain Maritime Museum, 2000.