By Rebecca Burns, Expeditionary Programs Manager
Over 100 youth rowers gathered at Vergennes Falls Park on the morning of October 29, 2022 for our annual Otter Creek Challenge rowing race. The morning air was crisp with mist rising off the surface of the water and frost covering the fleet of wooden longboats. The sun rose above Vergennes Falls just in time for the start of the first race of the day.
The Otter Creek Challenge is one of our annual youth rowing races for local middle and high school open-water rowing teams as part of our Champlain Longboats program. It is the final Vermont race of the fall season for our intrepid youth rowers. The race day is divided into three divisions: novice, intermediate, and experienced who compete within their group for the best time.
First to hit the water were novice teams in four-oar and six-oar gigs. The crews raced one mile downstream, made a tight 180-degree turn, then raced one mile back upstream to Vergennes Falls where they made another 180-degree turn for the finish line.
In the novice four-oar division, Burlington High School in Wysquaqua won, followed by Champlain Valley Union High School in Legend for a close second place finish. The Lake Champlain Waldorf School in Ropa made an impressive third-place finish (in their first ever rowing race!). Champlain Valley Union High School wrapped up this division with a fourth-place finish.
In the novice six-oar division, South Burlington High School in Maple won victory and one of two Vergennes teams, the crew in Triton, came in a remarkable second place with the majority of their crew in middle school, competing in their first ever race! A Burlington High School crew in Water Lilly and the other Vergennes team in Jimmy D rounded out the novice six-oar race in third and fourth place respectively.
The intermediate and experienced crews hit the water next to compete on a longer, three-mile course down Otter Creek with two 180-degree turns.
Mount Abraham High School had a strong showing as the only entry in the intermediate four. Three six-oar gigs competed in the intermediate six-oar division with Champlain Valley Union High School bringing home the victory in Triton. Vergennes High School placed second in Endeavor, and Rice Memorial High School rowing in Water Lilly closed out the field in third place.
In the experienced four-oar division, Burlington and South Burlington High Schools raced head-to-head for victory. Burlington High School rowing in Kate Walker was victorious in the end and also set the fastest time on the three-mile course of the day. South Burlington High School in Wysquaqua came in a close second.
In the final event of the day, Champlain Valley Union High School won the experienced six-oar division rowing in Maple. Mount Abraham fought hard for second place rowing in Jimmy D followed by Burlington High School in Redwing. All our competitors demonstrated incredible teamwork and tenacity as they raced down the creek.
In a nod to Halloween, which usually closely coincides with the Otter Creek Challenge race, the day ended with a costume contest for the best dressed teams and individuals. Many competitors and spectators embodied the spirit of Halloween with an assortment of creative costumes. Among the best costumes were: a team dressed as Pac Man and the ghosts, chefs racing in hats and aprons, FBI agents, and more. (Thanks to Vermont Cookie Love for their donation of a gift certificate for the first place winners!)
While some of the teams who competed this past weekend are done for the season, several others will brave the chilly fall temperatures and dark evenings for a few more weeks as they train for the final race opportunity of the season: The Icebreaker Northeast Regional Youth Open-Water Rowing Championships in Boston on November 19.
Fall and winter also mean the start of the Museum’s boat building season as the team at Lake Champlain Maritime Museum will be busy maintaining this fleet of hand-built longboats and building a new 25’ four-oar rowing gig with our student boat builders from local high schools.
In addition to the partnership between schools, students, and the Museum educators and volunteers, Champlain Longboats is made possible by financial support from generous individual donors, businesses, and foundations. Thank you to all of our supporters for empowering these young people!
All photos provided here are courtesy of Buzz Kuhns. Video footage by Sarah Yamaguchi. Scroll down for complete results and more great photos.