Our replica of the 1776 Gunboat Philadelphia here at the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum sees something every year that the original boat never did: WINTER.
Winter Care for Replica 1776 Gunboat Philadelphia II
by Kris Jarrett
Basin Harbor on Lake Champlain, Vermont
Benedict Arnold built and sailed his wooden fleet on Lake Champlain during the American Revolution. These vessels were built of green lumber and became famous for their role during the Battle of Valcour Island in October 1776. Most of these, however, never saw the snow of that winter, succombing to sinking, burning, or capture. In contrast, gunboat replica Philadelphia II, built by the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum, has seen 22 winters now, and many more to come. How do you care for a wooden replica gunboat?
In order to keep her safe during the frozen months, we have a team of staff and very dedicated volunteers who check on her daily, pumping out any water that leaks in, ensuring that the ‘bubbler’ is still running and doing its job, and that the docks and lines are all shipshape. The bubbler is really the key to the system; a small submersible electric motor with a prop which keeps the water around the hull moving, and therefor liquid, throughout even the coldest of Vermont winter nights.
Why don’t you just haul out Philadelphia II for the winter?
Philadelphia II has oak planks which swell in the water, reducing the spaces in between the planks and caulking, and making her watertight (mostly!) If she were hauled out of the water each winter, the planks would dry and shink; and when she went back in the water in the spring, it would be less of a “launching” and more of a “sinking” until she took up water again. Keeping her in the water all winter – even though it is labor-intensive – is the best care for a wooden boat like this one.
The second line of defense from the elements is the cover, a large greenhouse style wooden frame with plastic to keep the rain and snow out. Of course putting up this cover means that we must unstep the mast, often by hand using 18th century skills, a few sticks, rope, and some block and tackle. Winter is a good chance for us to replace any rigging that is in disrepair and inspect pieces and parts that spend most of their time 50 feet in the air.
The warmer breaks during the winter and the greenhouse effect of the cover allows for some maintenance, specifically ‘mooping’, or the task of applying a mixture of turpentine, linseed oil, and tar to all wooden surfaces of the boat. Peter Oxford, volunteer caretaker of Philadelphia II, has just about completed this project and many more to make her ready for visitors during the upcoming season.
As the lake opens up, the sun comes out, and the temperatures rise, we look forward to removing the cover, re-stepping the mast, and returning Philadelphia II to her home dock in North Harbor just in time for thousands of students and visitors to step on board and experience a little slice of life in the Navy, 1776 style.
About Gunboats Philadelphia & Philadelphia II
Benedict Arnold’s wooden fleet, constructed on Lake Champlain in 1776, included 54-foot-long gunboatPhiladelphia. She carried two nine-pound cannon, and one 12-pound bow gun in addition to her swivel guns. She and her crew of 44 men fought at the Battle of Valcour Island in October, where she eventually sank after receiving a 24-pound cannon ball to her starboard bow. In 1935, Colonel Lorenzo Hagglund raised her to the surface to share with others, and today, she is on display at the Smithsonian’s American History Museum.
Lake Champlain Maritime Museum built a replica of this gunboat, and launched her in 1991. She is boarded each year by thousands of visitors and school children, bringing to life the history of the American Revolution on Lake Champlain. STEP ABOARD: VISIT LCMM, open May – October! Reenactors crew aboard the vessel, learning how she was sailed, rowed, and maneuvered during battle. Public and reenactors come together for the annual living history event at LCMM calledRabble in Arms.