By Rebecca Burns, Expeditionary Programs Manager
High school rowers from Chittenden and Addison counties gathered in Burlington Harbor last Saturday for the annual James Wakefield Rescue Row, run by the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum. Nearly 80 rowers competed in four separate events based on experience level and class of the boat with dozens of spectators lining Perkins Pier. All the boats used in the races were built by middle and high school students here at the Museum’s boat shop. Each athlete competed in two races; a half mile sprint and a 1.5-mile course with turns around the breakwater in the harbor. The fastest combined time for each category takes home the gold medal.
Under placid conditions, the novice six-oar and four-oar events lined up for the first round of races. Champlain Valley Union High School came in first and second in the novice six-oar race, followed by South Burlington High School and Burlington High School respectively for the novice four-oar race. All the athletes in this category have only been rowing for a few short weeks and it was incredible to see the amount of grit each crew brought to race day.
The clouds started to break, and the sun was shining for the intermediate four-oar races. Burlington High School took home the gold medal, followed by Mount Abraham High School and Rice High School. Next the experienced six-oar race took the water. Mount Abraham won both the sprint and the 1.5-mile races. South Burlington High School made an excellent comeback in the 1.5-mile race, capturing second place in the event, followed by Champlain Valley Union High School and Burlington High School. There was so much heart and teamwork in all the crews that took the water.
The final event of the day was a “mess-about” race where the rowers shuffled into random boats and competed in one final sprint. Three six-oar gigs and one four-oar skiff faced off in the closest race of the day. The six-oar gig Frank Beckett crossed the finish line first followed by an inspiring performance by the only four-oar skiff in the event. The two remaining gigs crossed the line in short succession afterwards. The rowers left everything they had on the water and rounded off an excellent day of racing.
For 19 years this race has run to honor James Wakefield and his son as they heroically rescued all five crew members on board the canal schooner General Butler on December 9, 1876. The wreck of the General Butler lies forty feet below the surface of the water on the south side of the breakwater in Burlington Harbor and is part of the Lake Champlain Underwater Preserve System.
Come and support these local rowers at the Otter Creek Challenge at Vergennes Falls Park on October 29, 2022, beginning at 9 am!