A Tale of Two Boats

How does the boat shop work from home? During these unprecedented times our boat shop staff have found creative ways to continue our work at home, and right now it revolves around two related boats.

Last summer two traditional small wooden boats were donated to the Museum. Both of these boats were started over twenty years ago in classes at the Museum taught by renowned boatbuilder and instructor Geoffrey Burke of Chocurua, New Hampshire. As great projects sometimes do, these two boats have lingered in an unfinished state until this year. Now in the hands of our skilled staff, these small boats have a new life and larger purpose.

The first boat is a 10’6” Wee Lassie built in a class over twenty years ago at the Museum taught by Geoffrey Burke. Originally designed by the beloved boatbuilder Henry Rushton of Canton, New York in the late 1800s, the Wee Lassie was designed to be an ultralight solo paddling canoe. The lines for the Wee Lassie were taken off of a Rushton boat and drawn collaboratively by Mike McEvoy and Pete Culler.

Our boat shop volunteers Don Dewees, Richard Butz, Ron Ulmer, and Smokey Hardison have worked diligently to complete this beautiful craft and Don Dewees is working at home to build a traditional double bladed paddle for this Wee Lassie.

The second boat is a 12’ Adirondack Guideboat. Smaller than the standard guideboat but big enough to still take passengers, this guideboat model is based on one originally designed and built by John Buyce of Speculator, New York in the early 1900s. The lines were taken off of a surviving Buyce boat fifty years later by John Ritter of Ancora Yacht Services.

This boat was built by Tom Erikson and his fellow builders. He and Shelly Erikson of Tom’s Marine generously donated it to Lake Champlain Maritime Museum last summer. It is being finished by Museum boat builder Charlie Beyer at his home in Lincoln, Vermont who will be sharing regular updates on his progress each week on the Museum’s Instagram page – follow along!

Guideboats as a type evolved in the Adirondack region of upstate New York in the latter half of the 19th century. The guideboat exists only because of the particular nature of that region, and its attractiveness to urban “sports” who came for hunting and fishing and hired locals as guides. The region’s discontinuous waterways make long carries a necessity, and so a boat which can be carried along a woodland path by a single person was necessary. 

Left image: From North Country Public Radio, Two men in an Adirondack guide boat at Paul Smith’s Hotel. Note American flag hanging from the far end of the boat. Circa 1890. Paul Smiths, NY. Courtesy of the Paul Smith’s College Joan Weill Adirondack Library Archives.

Right image: From North Country Public Radio, Guide carries a boat in the forest during summertime. Another man stands behind him. Around 1905. Near Paul Smiths, Courtesy of the Paul Smith’s College Joan Weill Adirondack Library Archives.

Guideboats evolved literally from the ground and the trees that are found there in abundance. The incredible lightness of the guideboat is possible through the natural spruce crooks used for frames, these crooks are cut from where the spruce trunk gives way to the roots, literally dug from the soil of the Adirondacks. They are planked in the cedar that stands along its shorelines. In the structure of a guideboat one can see the distant echo of the woodsman’s bateau with its wide bottom board and natural crook frames standing on it, but it has been taken to an incredible extreme of lightness and simplicity. Decades of craftsmen, many of them guides themselves, honed the shape of the guideboat from its rough and ready early years through the evolution to true double-enders in the 1880’s and into the 20th century, always finding ways to reduce weight and improve speed. No other boat is as fast, as light, and as well suited to the thin water and tight thickets of the Adirondacks.

Image: From North Country Public Radio, Photograph of Paul Smith’s Hotel guides in a heavily laden Adirondack guideboat. A deer can be seen in the boat with the men, multiple dogs are also in the boat. One of the guides has a pack basket on his back. Circa 1900. Photograph by Charles Derby. Paul Smiths, NY. Courtesy of the Paul Smith’s College Joan Weill Adirondack Library Archives.

Eventually the guideboat passed out of commercial necessity. The guides and the sports who employed them grew old, and traveling by steam and rail became easier and more common. Hundreds of these boats remained at camps, used for pleasure rowing and fishing, for picnics to nearby islands, and simply for their beauty as decorations. Yet the beauty and excellence of the design lasted to attract a new generation of boatbuilders and rowers who took the lines off of old boats and built new ones from them. Wooden boats are always transient, the nature of wood is to decay and change shape, so the best way we can preserve these amazing watercraft and their history is to build more of them, and to continue to tell their stories, and most of all, to go rowing.

As soon as they are completed, we will be selling both of these boats this summer to benefit and support the Museum’s Champlain Longboats program. Proceeds will go towards future hands-on boat building and on-water experiences for youth. Prices are listed below – if you are interested in purchasing one of these special boats, please contact Nick Patch: NickP@lcmm.org.

Champlain Longboats Fundraiser Boat Prices:

  • Adirondack Guideboat: $5,800
  • Wee Lassie: $3,000