Signs of Spring and Updates from the Boat Shop

By Nick Patch, Champlain Longboats Director

Since January we’ve been sharing weekly updates on our Champlain Longboats student boat building program as students from Middlebury and Vergennes learn how to build a pilot gig – a 32’ open-water rowing boat.

Our boat building students have gotten pretty far in the past three months since we started – completing planking and moving on to steaming, installing and riveting the ribs. Students have also been laminating knees for the new boat – knees tie the gunwales to the seats reinforcing the rails when rowing. There are 27 knees in a pilot gig and each one has 12 laminations that have to be steam-bent and then glued around a mold after which they are custom fit and installed with copper nails and bronze wood screws.

In between this boat building work, students have also had the chance to get hands-on in our forge and learn different metal arts techniques that are also connected to boat building.

Student boat building has been paused due to the ongoing situation with COVID-19, but we look forward to finding a way for them to finish their boat.

Another sign of spring at the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum is when we start to put some of our newly refinished rowing gigs in our 32’ float tank. Our older boats (some of them are 15-20 years old!) after seasons going in and out of the water, drying out and then swelling back up in the water, develop cracks. This can seem alarming but when the boats are put in water and given 4-5 days to swell up they become as tight as a drum. This is a picture of Triton, our second ever gig built in 2001 by student boat builders from the Vergennes Alternative Collaborative Team (a middle school alternative program).

We also recently got in an exciting log delivery to our campus. Every spring we purchase a truck full of local White Oak and White Pine timber. This year’s log load comes from John Anderson at Canopy Timber Alternatives in East Middlebury and features quality White Oak and White Pine logs specifically for our boat building project. These logs will be cut into boards by Leo Boutin of Quality Cuts, that we air dry in our lumber shed for next year’s boat. Students will work with Leo to mill the lumber and help stack it so that it can dry slowly. We believe that when students experience boat building “from tree to boat” it gives them a deeper understanding of where these essential resources come from and what it means to harvest lumber in a respectful and sustainable fashion. Lumber sorting and stacking is a very precise and physically demanding process. If not done properly, it is easy to ruin the lumber.

Again, while our student programs are currently paused, our boat shop staff are finding creative ways to bring their work home and continue our year-round boat shop work. Follow us on social media (Facebook and Instagram) for weekly updates on their at home projects.

We hope you stay safe and healthy and we look forward to seeing you in the future back at the shop or on the water. Our boats and staff will be ready to get you back on the water as soon as we get the go-ahead.