“What do you do with her in the winter?”

Happy New Year! With January on Lake Champlain comes cold weather and ice. Many visitors ask while aboard our replica vessels, “What do you do with her in the winter?”  The answer is often a surprise: they stay in the water.

Removing large, heavily constructed wooden boats like Philadelphia II or Lois McClure from the water is a major undertaking. Instead, with experience, planning, a lot of work, frequent monitoring, and a little TLC, our replica vessels can stay safely in the lake throughout the winter months.

The process for both vessels is much the same. As soon as the Museum closes for the season and Lois returns from her tour, we de-rig and de-mast the boats. Derigging is always a fun few days working aloft on Philadelphia II with lovely views of the changing foliage.

Once the running rigging and sail packages have been removed the masts are removed with a crane which we could not do without all the help we receive from Lake Champlain Transportation Company, Brown’s Crane & Rigging Service, and Basin Harbor Club. During the winter months, Bosun Len Ruth undertakes skilled indoor work on the rigging. Anything worn is re-wormed, parceled, and served as needed, or replaced when at the end of its life.

Philadelphia II moves from North Harbor to Basin Harbor for better winter protection, while Lois McClure is tucked into her winter slip on Burlington’s Perkins Pier. Both boats have a timber and plastic green-house style cover installed over their decks to keep the snow out and allow for inside work during the coming months. As all wooden boats leak to some extent, our replicas also have automatic bilge pumps, frequently checked to ensure that they are operating when needed.

Philadelphia II, being of traditional 18th century design and unpainted, receives a thorough deep cleaning and “mooping” – treatment with a coating comprised of linseed oil, tar, and turpentine, as a preservative.

Lois McClure will have her decks painted in the spring as soon as the temperatures allow. Both boats are protected from the ice by a series of “bubblers” or “ice eaters,” submersible electric motors with a propeller to circulate the water and prevent it from freezing around the hulls. Often these areas are the only open water for many miles and attract visiting ducks, fishing raptors such as bald eagles, and fishing mammals such as otters.  

A few years back Kris Jarrett sat down with Peter Oxford, lead volunteer caretaker and interpreter of the Philadelphia II, to chat about winter work on the Gunboat.

Museum staff and volunteers keep a constant watch on the safety of the vessels throughout the winter when storms and ice can quickly cause problems. Come spring the entire process will be reversed, which takes about three weeks: covers removed, masts stepped, rigging and outfitting completed and ready for another season of hosting educational programs and the visiting public.