Local high school rowers compete on the lake

THE COMMODORE EXPERIENCED Six-Oar team in the Golden Oak lines up for the start of its race at the annual James Wakefield Rescue Row in Burlington harbor on Saturday, which drew 206 rowers from nine Vermont and Maine schools. The VUHS crew was edged out by Belfast, Maine, in the race, but Commodore rowers won two races on the day. Photo by Holly Weber

MOUNT ABE’S EXPERIENCED Six-Oar team in Jimmy D competes during Saturday’s annual James Wakefield Rescue Row in Burlington harbor on Saturday, which drew 206 rowers from nine Vermont and Maine schools. The event is sponsored by the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum. Photo by Holly Weber

THE VUHS EXPERIENCED Six-Oar team in their Golden Oak boat pulls hard from the finish line in its race Saturday in the annual James Wakefield Rescue Row in Burlington harbor. A team from Belfast, Maine, edged the Commodores in the race, but VUHS rowers won two races in an event that drew 206 rowers from nine Vermont and Maine schools, including Mount Abraham. Photo by Holly Weber

BURLINGTON — Middle- and high-school rowers from Vergennes and Mount Abraham union high school club teams participated in a major competition in Burlington harbor this past Saturday that drew three teams from Maine as well from four schools in Chittenden County.

In all, 206 youth rowers from the nine schools gathered at Perkins Pier on the Burlington waterfront to participate in the LCMM’s annual “James Wakefield Rescue Row.”

This race day is named in honor of James Wakefield, who along with his son Jack on Dec. 9, 1876, rescued the crew of the 85-foot canal schooner General Butler.

According to Nick Patch, the LCMM director of education and its Champlain Longboats Program, the schooner was on a run from Isle La Motte loaded with marble when a storm bore down on it. Ultimately the General Butler crashed into the Burlington Breakwater, and all aboard jumped off the boat before it sank. James and Jack Wakefield risked their lives rowing out to the breakwater in the middle of the storm to bring all back to land safely.

This past Saturday proved to be “an astonishingly beautiful fall day as teams rowed their hearts out in Burlington Harbor,” Patch said.

As well as VUHS and Mount Abe, Vermont teams competed from Champlain Valley Union, South Burlington, Burlington and Rice Memorial high schools. Making the trip from Maine were teams from North Haven, Belfast and Rockland.

Commodore teams rowed to victory in the Novice Six-Oar Division and in the Intermediate Four-Oar Division.

In the Intermediate Six-Oar Division, Rice Memorial took the honors, and in the Experienced Six-Oar division Belfast edged Vergennes by six seconds. In the Novice Four-Oar division Belfast again rowed to victory. Finally in the Experienced Four-Oar division North Haven was the victor.

All of the Vermont teams row under the umbrella of the LCMM’s Champlain Longboat program, which Patch describes as a collaborative relationship with the local schools. Many of the coaches work in the schools, including as teachers or guidance counselors, and all of them are trained and supported by LCMM, Patch said.

The school teams row a fleet of 20 boats kept in Burlington harbor, the Otter Creek basin in Vergennes, Tom’s Marine Service on Otter Creek in Ferrisburgh, and at the LCMM. As well as the schools’ rowing programs, the boats are also used by adult rowing, ecology, and summer school programs.

Almost all the boats have been built by high school students from Middlebury and Vergennes in tandem with the LCMM at a rate of one a year since the musuem started the LCMM Champlain Longboats program in 1999. Patch described building the boats as a five-month intensive project for which the students get credit from their sending school.

“We will be building a boat this winter,” he said

On Saturday in Burlington, after all the teams rowed in two races, a half-mile sprint and a one-mile loop around the breakwater, they participated in what is called the “Mess-About.” Teams were mixed up at random, and went out and rowed a half-mile sprint.

“Finishing off the day with this ultimate team collaboration was a fitting way to honor the spirit of James and Jack Wakefield’s brave deed,” Patch said.

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