In 2003 the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum found a circa 1825 sailing canal boat in Lake Champlain’s South Lake near Shoreham. This vessel was initially believed to be a traditional lake sloop, but as a result of further investigations is now known to be an early sloop rigged sailing canal boat. Further investigations of the Shoreham Sloop in 2005 and 2006 found it to be considerably different than later sailing canal boats found on Lake Champlain. Diver survey and documentation of the wreck revealed that the Shoreham Sloop has a rounded hull, unlike the boxy-shaped hulls of later sailing canal boats of the 19th Century. It is also shorter than later sailing canal boats and has a different sailing rig.
Plan drawing of the Shoreham Sloop. (By Chris Sabick, LCMM Collection).
Identification of an Early Sailing Canal Boat
The overall hull shape is an important consideration in determining that the South Lake Sloop is an early 19th century sailing canal boat. The Champlain Canal limited the size of a vessel that could traveled through its locks, thus canal boats were typically flat bottomed with parallel sides so that they filled the maximum volume of the canal locks. Traditional sailing vessels like lake sloops that were not designed for travel through the locks, however, were shapelier. In plan view their hulls had an oblong form with a fine entrance and a tapered stern. The Shoreham Sloop has elements of both lake sloop and sailing canal boat vessel types with its parallel sides suggesting it is a canal boat, and the rounded hull setting it apart from later, more standardized flat-bottomed sailing canal boats. The rounded hull form is similar to the hull of another early sailing canal boat, the schooner Troy, which sank in 1825. All of the other, later archaeological examples of sailing canal boats are flat bottomed.
The former presence of a bowsprit also suggests an early date for the Shoreham Sloop. Bowsprits were used by some of the earliest sailing canal boats. It is not known how many sailing canal boats had bowsprits, but it is believed to be only a handful and only those built in the first ten years after the 1823 opening of the Champlain Canal. Bowsprits were not employed by later sailing canal boats because the length of the canal locks were fixed. Thus, the length of the hull in effect was reduced to fit a bowsprit, which reduced the canal boat’s cargo capacity, and corresponding profitability.
Archaeological diver Pierre LaRocque documents a supporting knee. (LCMM Collection).
Archaeological Evidence: Vessel Condition and Use-Life
The Shoreham Sloop is in fair condition. The hull is preserved up to the tops of the top timbers, however, the deck, deckbeams, bowsprit, mainmast, cabin roof and cabin trunk are no longer extant. The vessel is mostly buried with approximately 2ft (.61m) of hull rising above the bottom in most areas. Approximately ¾ of the structure is present, although only a small portion of it is exposed above the bottom sediments.
There are several bits of archaeological data that provide insight into the use-life of the Shoreham Sloop. The likelihood that the vessel had a long working life is shown in the removal of the centerboard and centerboard trunk, and the wear on the line chocks in the bow. Centerboard trunks commonly leak, and it is plausible to propose that the vessel’s centerboard trunk became so problematic that its owner(s) decided to remove it. It seems likely that this type of stress on the trunk would take several years to manifest. Similarly, the wear on the line chocks would have taken several years to develop.
In 2006, excavations of the Shoreham Sloop revealed a complicated arrangement of benches and storage compartments in the bow and stern. Very few artifacts were found indicating the vessel was scuttled at the end of its career. The items found consisted of fasteners, rigging elements, plate glass, and other pieces of vessel equipment, mostly worn or damaged. The only datable artifact was a single brass button of a style that dates from the 1790s to 1830s.
Shoreham Sloop by the numbers
Built: c. 1825
Rig: Sloop rigged with a bowsprit
Length: 67 feet
Depth of Wreck: 20 feet
Research Dives: 46 dives, 53 hours of bottom time
Underwater Visibility: 1 foot
Investigations of the Shoreham Sloop have been supported by Jane’s Trust, the Leo Cox Beach Philanthropic Trust, the South Lake Trust and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office of Ocean Exploration.