Boat building students on a field trip

Boat Building Updates: A Forest Visit and Planking

By Nick Patch, Champlain Longboats Director

On the morning of Friday, February 14, with temperatures topping out at 4 degrees on one of the coldest days of the winter to date, fifteen intrepid student boat builders from Middlebury High School and Vergennes middle and high schools along with school and museum staff traveled to Ron and Karen Mceachen’s Bristol forest to learn about forestry. This field trip is a key part of the Museum’s Champlain Longboats boat building program as it lets students learn firsthand about where the remarkable lumber they are using to build this year’s boat comes from and how we build “from tree to boat.”

After fortification with mugs of hot chocolate, we hit the trails to walk through fields of ice and snow to get to the woods. David Brynn, Executive Director of Vermont Family Forests, led the group in a lesson about tree identification, what are the qualities we look for in boat lumber, and what environment it takes to produce such sought-after timber. David also shared the importance of logging in a sustainable fashion and we can leave the forest to continue to thrive for future generations.

It was an expedition to remember, both for what we learned and for the brisk temperatures. One can only come away from that experience with a healthy respect for the plants and animals that live in this climate. Special thanks to Ron and Karen McEachen and David Brynn for making this remarkable day possible.

Back in the boat shop, our students are fast approaching a full month of work as they make great progress planking. The boat builders must cut and fit each of the boat’s planks individually because the width and curve changes continuously around the boat. Then each plank is fastened with copper clench nails. Photos of progress so far are below, courtesy of Buzz Kuhns.