Launching a New Student-Built Boat in Lake Champlain

By Rebecca Burns, Expeditionary Programs Manager

Recently we had a day of celebration at Lake Champlain Maritime Museum as the museum’s newest boat, Charlie Burchard, hit the waters of Lake Champlain for the first time. The boat, a 25’ Whitehall-style four-oared wooden rowing gig, was built by local students and its launch marked the culmination of the 2022-23 student boat building project, part of the museum’s Champlain Longboats program. Since September, students from Addison Consortium Program (ACP) and Middlebury Union High School (MUHS) have been coming to the boat shop two to three days a week to construct this new boat.

Champlain Longboats provides local students with positive hands-on experiences, the opportunity to learn new skills, and the space to grow their self-esteem and team building skills through boat building or rowing. Champlain Longboats is funded by donations from individual donors, foundations and other community partners. This year’s boat, Charlie Burchard, honors Charlie, a Vermonter who passed away at the age of 23 from a rare heart ailment. The Charlie Burchard Memorial Trust Fund, a fund founded by his family to support causes that Charlie would have supported, donated a gift of $20,000 to support Champlain Longboats this year. It was a gift collected from Charlie’s family and friends to honor his legacy.

The boat launch day at the museum began with remarks from staff, teachers and most importantly the students who built this boat. The young boat builders reflected on the skills they mastered, the experiences they had in and out of the boat shop and what boat building means to them.

“We had some laughs, some giggles and just some fun times bonding while building this boat. I’m glad that all the hard work and sweat and tears and blood that we put into the boat has paid off for this fun day.”

Zoey, boat building student, Addison Consortium Program

During the boat building program, these students learned every step of the process, from tree to boat. When the students were not in the boat shop, they were exploring the local forests where the trees are harvested, milling logs into boards and learning about the natural and human history of the area surrounding Lake Champlain.

“A lot of the work here was tedious. There were 1,400 rivets on the boat and I remember each and every one. With mindless work came the mindful conversation and connections with friends.”

– Callie, boat building student, Addison Consortium Program

MUHS student Stephen wrapped up the student speeches: “I want to appreciate everyone for making the boat together, building, sanding, painting and today taking it on the lake for testing. Now who is ready to launch the boat?”

A crowd of over 80 people including family, teachers, boat builders and friends paraded the young boat builders and their vessel down the road to the harbor to launch Charlie Burchard for the first time. The atmosphere on the beach was filled with joy and excitement as the boat floated away from the trailer. Each school group of student boat builders got the chance to then row their hand-crafted boat.

“I’m so honored to have had this opportunity. Even though we had our ups and downs, in the end it only made all of us stronger. After these past months, I can say I’m proud of what we have all done.”

– Chance, boat building student, Addison Consortium Program

“As impressive and as beautiful as this boat is, our program here is about the journey, from the boat shop to the water and life beyond,” said museum boat builder and educator Jack Chappell. Every one of the young boat builders has grown immensely since the start of the year and the museum is honored to have watched these young boat builders grow, achieve something incredible and come together as a team.