We are open for the 2021 season and admission is free!
A canal schooner sailing on the lake

The Canal Schooner Lois McClure

The schooner Lois McClure is our full-scale replica of an 1862-class sailing canal boat, based closely on two shipwrecks located in Burlington Harbor. Each season, the Lois tours regional waterways, welcoming the public aboard to experience our local history in a modern context.

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Host Events on the Canal Schooner
A Brief History of Sailing Canal Schooners
Building the Lois McClure
Tour Archive

Silhouette of the Lois McClure against a sunset

Host an Event on the Canal Schooner

An 1862-class replica canal schooner is the perfect waterfront destination for your special event! The Lois McClure will be docked at the Museum’s campus in North Harbor and is available to host meetings, receptions and even weddings in a unique setting with an amazing view.

For more information about events, please contact ElisaCN@lcmm.org

A Brief History of Sailing Canal Schooners

In 1823, the Northern Canal connecting Lake Champlain to the Hudson River was completed. This canal, the sister of the more famous Erie Canal which runs east to west, knit together an already historic north-south transportation route. The lake, which had been an expanding commercial highway since the end of the American Revolution, now virtually exploded with trade.

Along with the traditionally designed sloops, schooners, and the recently invented steamboats, the lake now witnessed the birth of a watercraft new to North America; the sailing-canal boat. The Lake Champlain sailing canal boat was built as an “experiment.” Traditional canal boats, which lacked masts and sails, relied entirely on towboats and mules to move from place to place. Designed as a money-saving alternative, the sailing canal boat aimed to be able to sail from distant lake ports to the canal on the power of the wind alone, thus avoiding towing fees. Upon reaching the canal, the masts were lowered and the centerboard raised. The transformed vessel could enter the narrow canal, where mules took up the lines.

The first editions of the craft, dubbed the “1823” class, were characterized by the randomness of their design, as individual families constructed a hodgepodge of vessels. By 1841 the design had been standardized and the “1841” class were just under 80 feet in length and roughly 13 feet in beam, so that they could fit the locks and canal prisms of that period. By 1862, the expansion of the canal allowed for an expansion of boat design and the “1862” class was developed. This new vessel was roughly 88 feet in length and 14 feet in beam, with a slightly deeper hold for a greater cargo capacity. Two of these 1862 class shipwrecks were studied for the creation of our replica Lois McClure, both located in Burlington Harbor, Vermont. The OJ Walker and General Butler are now part of the Lake Champlain Underwater Historic Preserve System.

The launching of Lois McClure in Burlington

Building the Lois McClure

  • Length: 88 feet
  • Beam: 14.5 feet
  • Cargo Capacity: 4400 cubic feet
  • Cargo Weight: 60 – 120 tons
  • Sail Plan: Mainsail 1309 square feet; Foresail 768 square feet; Jib 196 square feet

Construction of Lois McClure began in earnest in 2002 at the Lake Champlain Transportation Company’s Burlington Shipyard, shortly after the building of her tender, Mac. Since no plans exist for these sailing canal boats, the Museum turned to a talented group of naval architects, historians, and archaeologists. Both General Butler and O.J. Walker have been studied and documented. These reports were handed over to naval architect Ron A. Smith to create the plans necessary to build Lois McClure.

Boatbuilders Rob Thompson, Paul Rollins, Steve Page, and Lianna Tennal headed up the large team of volunteers and staff, who spent three seasons constructing the schooner while keeping the space open for visitors to view the work in progress. The hull was built from more than 20,000 feet of white oak. White pine was used for the decks, while masts, booms, and gaff were hewn from white spruce. This wood was nearly all local: white spruce from Vermont, white oak from Vermont and New York, pine from Vermont and Maine, cedar from Maine, and even recycled Mahogany from NASA.

But our greatest resource was (and still is) our volunteers: thousands of hours of time were donated by our tireless volunteers to build and interpret this fascinating vessel. The schooner is named in honor of Lois McClure, who, along with her husband Mac, has been a major contributor to this and many other worthy community projects in the greater Burlington, VT area.

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