Racing through sun and history at the James Wakefield Rescue Row

By Nick Patch, Director of Maritime Programs

On Saturday, September 30, 2023, 85 youth rowers gathered at Perkins Pier on the Burlington waterfront to participate in Lake Champlain Maritime Museum’s annual James Wakefield Rescue Row.

This race is named in honor of James Wakefield who, along with his son Jack, on December 9, 1876 rescued the crew of the 85′ canal schooner General Butler. The schooner was on a run from Isle La Motte loaded with marble when a storm bore down on them. They crashed into the Burlington breakwater and all aboard jumped off the boat before it sank. James and his son Jack risked their lives rowing out to the breakwater in the middle of the storm to bring the crew and passengers back safely. It is in the spirit of compassion and courage that James and his son Jack exhibited on that fateful day that we run this race.

This year’s race was an astonishingly beautiful fall day with light winds and brilliant sunshine as participants rowed their hearts out in Burlington Harbor. Teams competed from Vergennes Middle and High school, Mt. Abraham Middle and High school, Champlain Valley Union High School, South Burlington High School, Burlington High School, Rice Memorial High School and the Lake Champlain Waldorf School.

In the novice six-oar division Vergennes High School rowed to victory. In the intermediate six-oar division it was Burlington High School that took the honors and in the Experienced six-oar division Mt. Abraham High School rowed away with the win. In the novice four-oar division Lake Champlain Waldorf High School rowed to victory and in the intermediate four-oar division Rice Memorial High School pulled out the win. Finally in the experienced four-oar division South Burlington High School was the victor.

After all the teams rowed in two races, a half-mile sprint and a one-mile loop around the breakwater, everyone was invited to participate in the “Mess-About.” Teams are randomly mixed up, and then go out and row a half-mile sprint. After a hard day of rowing, almost all of the rowers (and some coaches!) participated and we had eight boats on the starting line for a fun row and ended the day with a strong sense of camaraderie. 

Finishing off the remarkable day with this ultimate team collaboration was a fitting way to honor the spirit of James and Jack Wakefield’s brave deed.

Enjoy these photos from this year’s race courtesy of Buzz Kuhns (click on images to view larger):