Please Note: Due to wind conditions, the race has been moved to LCMM’s Basin Harbor Campus at 4472 Basin Harbor Rd, Vergennes VT, 05491. The Race will begin at 9 am.
Lake Champlain Maritime Museum’s Champlain Longboats Program will hold its annual youth rowing race, The James Wakefield Rescue Row on Saturday, October 8. The race is named in honor of James Wakefield, who courageously rescued the passengers and crew of canal schooner General Butler on December 9, 1876 when the vessel crashed into the Burlington breakwater during a fierce winter gale.
Over 150 youth in 20 crews will participate in the race, rowing 32- and 25-foot boats in a series of heats along the Burlington Waterfront. Local crews hail from Burlington High School, South Burlington High School, Vergennes Middle and High School, Champlain Valley Union High School, Rice Memorial High School and Mt. Abraham Union Middle and High School, while visiting crews travel from as far as the coast of Maine. Races begin at 9:00.
The colorful boats used in this event were built by Vermont High School and Middle School students at Lake Champlain Maritime Museum’s boat shop. The sixteen boats in the Museum’s fleet are used by over 600 students each year, including 175 students at nine area schools in After-School rowing programs that meet two or three times a week through mid-November. Setup to build the next Champlain Longboat at LCMM begins in November, ready for a new crew of boat building students to arrive in January.
This past July, the General Butler story came alive for a very special reunion aboard LCMM’s 1862 canal schooner Lois McClure, a replica inspired by the historic shipwreck. About 40 descendants of James Wakefield toured the schooner and 16 of them went rowing in Champlain Longboats all the way around the breakwater. The weather was perfect and the waters smooth as they experienced rowing a boat in Burlington harbor at the spot where their ancestors so bravely saved five lives. While the Wakefield family was touring the schooner another family was also aboard – descendants of Captain William Montgomery! The two families discovered the connection and exchanged contact information.
To see the Champlain Longboats in action, visit Lake Champlain Maritime Museum’s web-site www.lcmm.org, Facebook page, and YouTube channel.
For Information Contact: Nick Patch
Phone: 802-475-2022 x113
- If you wish to photograph the race from a boat contact Nick Patch at the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum.
- To download images of the James Wakefield Rescue Row, visit LCMM’s web pressroom; see images 6, 8 and 10 (double click thumbnail image to access high-res file):
Background: The General Butler Story
In December 1876, canal schooner General Butler left Isle LaMotte with a load of marble destined for the marble works on South Champlain St. in Burlington. During the trip a major storm kicked up on Lake Champlain. As the Captain, William Montgomery, attempted to make his way into Burlington Harbor, the steering gear broke. Montgomery dropped anchor and made a quick repair by chaining a tiller bar to the broken gear. He then chopped his anchor line and made a last ditch attempt to steer around the breakwater into the slightly calmer waters of the harbor, but the ship crashed into the breakwater. With 60 tons of marble on board, the Captain knew his boat was doomed. He ordered his deckhand to jump to the breakwater, then his daughter, her best friend, and his passenger, an injured quarry worker. Finally the captain himself made the leap onto the rocks as the schooner slipped back into the waves and sank. While the crew was off the boat, they were by no means safe. Clinging to ice covered rocks and slammed by freezing waves their chances of survival were fading fast. Thankfully James Wakefield, a local sailmaker and ship chandler, and his son Jack grabbed a 14 foot rowboat and rowed out through the winter gale and rescued all five souls from the ice covered breakwater.
Canal schooners, unique hybrid wooden boats, were constructed to sail on the open lake and then lower their masts and rigging to transit the Champlain canal to ports on the Hudson River. In the decades after the Civil War, they vanished from Lake Champlain and were largely forgotten. The discovery of an unusual shipwreck in Burlington Bay in 1980 brought the story of the General Butler to light, inspiring LCMM’s construction of replica 1862 canal schooner Lois McClure and the commemorative event hosted by Champlain Longboats each fall. General Butler is now one of Lake Champlain’s Underwater Historic Preserves, open for visits by SCUBA divers. Non-divers can view the site by Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) on LCMM’s popular Shipwreck! Tours.