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Celebrating the Launch of Gail Parsell: A New Student-Built Boat Meets Lake Champlain

By Krissy Navrat, Expeditionary Programs Manager

On Thursday May 23, Lake Champlain Maritime Museum proudly launched its newest student-built boat in Lake Champlain. For 25 years, students from local schools have participated in the Museum’s boat building as a part of our Champlain Longboats program. This year, Addison Consortium Program (ACP) and Middlebury Union High School (MUHS) have been coming to the boat shop three days a week to contribute to this year’s boat. During the day of celebration on Thursday, student boat builders rowed Gail Parsell on the lake for the first time, making this maiden voyage an unforgettable experience for the students, teachers, friends and families of students, donors, and the family of Gail Parsell.

This year’s boat is a 25’ Whitehall-style four-oared wooden rowing gig. It was sponsored by Peter Beckett and is named in honor of his late wife, Gail Parsell who passed away in June 2023 at the age of 87. Gail was a 1957 graduate of Middlebury College and worked as a math teacher and department chair of computer science at Manhasset High School. Peter and Gail lived, worked, and raised their family in Manhasset, NY and Augsburg, Germany. Avid sailors, after retiring, they spent years enjoying boating, friendship, and life in Annapolis, MD before moving back to New England later in life, settling first in New Hampshire and then returning to Vermont in 2017. Their love for boats and strong friendships followed them to Vermont and one day Peter decided to donate his tools to the boat shop at Lake Champlain Maritime Museum, starting a new friendship. Peter and Gail supported the Museum’s boat building program for years and Peter has long served as a volunteer in the boat shop. Gail was beloved for her kindness and smile and loved to spend time with family and friends playing tennis and enjoying outdoor activities. We are honored to celebrate Gail’s life, building this boat in her name and continuing her legacy of education, kindness, and outdoor fun.

Our launch day commenced with heartfelt remarks from Museum staff, educators, and the students themselves. Each year we launch a boat built by students, we’re reminded of the hard work and determination that our students dedicate to this project. This year’s students showcased their experience through meaningful speeches that left many of us in the audience teary-eyed. As we celebrate the completion of this boat building project, we also celebrate the newfound confidence instilled in youth who participate in the Champlain Longboats program. Over the past nine months, the boat shop has provided a space outside of the classroom for students to learn new skills and grow in their self esteem through this collaborative project.

Throughout their time at the Museum, students gain new perspectives on boat building by learning about the process from “tree to boat.” They explore local forests with forester David Brynn of Vermont Family Forests, learning how we source timber before participating in the milling of the logs with a portable sawmill right on the Museum grounds. Before the weather turns to fall, our boat builders spend time in the warmer months rowing, hiking, and learning about the archaeology and natural history of the Champlain Valley with guidance from Museum educators. Each step along the way plays a part in the larger picture that our boat launch represents. Months spent sourcing lumber, fitting planks, steaming ribs, clench nailing, and hammering away at the many rivets that keep the boat together have finally paid off. As we paraded the boat down to the harbor, we couldn’t help but look forward to the ways this boat will be a positive impact for thousands of youth and adults for years to come as part of our maritime programs.

We are so proud of the work our students have put in, and we’re grateful to celebrate the culmination of their efforts with our community. We want to thank the educators, volunteers, staff, families, and donors who make the Champlain Longboats program possible. Thank you to all our supporters for empowering youth boat building!

Enjoy more photo highlights of this day, courtesy of Buzz Kuhns. Click on an image to view larger and scroll through the gallery.

1 thought on “Celebrating the Launch of Gail Parsell: A New Student-Built Boat Meets Lake Champlain”

  1. This is a terrific program well worthy of continued support by all interested in helping local students connect with the history of the Lake and other waters. I loook forward to meeting some of the builders at the June 1 event

    Gene Porter

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