James Wakefield Rescue Row 2020 Celebration

On October 3, 2020 we held our annual James Wakefield Rescue Row took place in Burlington Harbor. This youth rowing race is held annually in tribute to James Wakefield, a man who, with his son, rescued passengers and crew aboard the General Butler when it sank on December 9, 1876. On that fateful day, an early but fierce winter storm caught the best of the General Butler and sent the vessel crashing into the south end of the breakwater in Burlington Harbor. With sinking imminent, those aboard the ship leapt onto the breakwater’s icy surface. Though people lined the shore as the scene unfolded, no one dared to attempt a rescue into the raging storm to make a rescue except for James Wakefield and his son. Together they commandeered a government lighthouse boat and rowed all the passengers back to safety. It is in the spirit of compassion and courage displayed by James Wakefield and his son Jack on that stormy winter day that we conduct this race. Learn more about the story of the General Butler and James Wakefield here.

This year, in an effort to keep our staff, rowers, and families safe, our youth rowing teams competed in a time-trial format. Rowing teams arrived at their assigned time slots equipped with masks and high energy and crews took to the lake one school at a time to compete against the clock. In total, 134 masked rowers from 8 different Vermont middle and high schools completed a course along the Burlington Waterfront. Teams from Vergennes Union High School and Middle School, Mt. Abraham Union High School and Middle School, Champlain Valley Union High School, Rice Memorial High School, South Burlington High School, and Burlington High School were cheered on in-person by spectators onshore and online through live updates on Instagram.

Photos of the 2020 Wakefield Row by Buzz Kuhns and Holly Weber.

It was really clear from this year’s James Wakefield Row that there is a lot that we can learn from this type of event. It opens up an opportunity for us as rowers to figure out what motivates us and find that part of us that can get up, get out there, and pull hard even when there is not another crew almost overtaking us. As we move on into the rest of our lives, that skill becomes really important.

– Charlie Beyer, Assistant Director of Champlain Longboats at Lake Champlain Maritime Museum

Fortunately, the weather was outstanding for this year’s race. Conditions were glassy and the forecasted rain held off, making for excellent times. All boats lined up in front of Perkins Pier with the novice bows facing south and the intermediate/experienced divisions facing North. When the start was called over the megaphone, novice crews took off to make a loop around the breakwater, a 1.75-mile course. The intermediate and experienced boats raced toward a buoy just beyond North Beach, made a port turn, and returned to where they started for a photo finish in front of spectators on shore, completing a 2.5-mile course.

It is so encouraging to see all of you rowing your hearts out, supporting each other, and getting out on our beautiful lake. You stepped up, masks and all, and we are proud of all you. While we celebrate those who won, we also honor all who participate. Thank you coaches, volunteers, museum staff, funders, and parents for being part of the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum rowing community.

– Nick Patch, Director of Champlain Longboats at Lake Champlain Maritime Museum

A huge and heartfelt congratulations from all of us at Lake Champlain Maritime Museum to our rowers in this year’s James Wakefield Rescue Row. We continue to be in awe of what things are possible within this passionate rowing community. This was truly a unique race that we’ll remember!

See below for the times of each team and winners of each division.

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