Last Friday saw the culmination of three weeks of underwater archaeological work with students from the 2017 Nautical Archaeology Field School. I can’t overstate what a pleasure it was to work with Rich and Scott for the past few weeks. These two gentleman brought an impressive amount of dive capability and skill to our project and did so with an amazing attitude and a fantastic work ethic, despite the less than stellar conditions we endured both above and below water.
Rich and Scott worked with us to gain a better understanding of a shipwreck located right in Basin Harbor. While this vessel has been known to Basin Harbor Staff and LCMM divers for many years it has never been identified or studied in any great detail. The goal of the 2017 Field School was to rectify that situation. But, after three weeks of hard work and dozens of dives the wreck still remains something of a mystery.
By conducting selected excavation of portions of the wreck’s structure, we now have a much better idea of how it was built but that has failed to reveal the identity of the boat or even to clearly indicate what type of vessel the remains represent. This is a site of contradictions: we found handmade nails that suggest an early 19th century date. But we also found thread bolts that suggest a later 19th century date. We have located NO mast steps on the wreckage, which suggest maybe it was a steam boat, but we have found none of the engine bed timbers and sister keelsons that are typical of steamboat construction. Initial assumptions were that it probably represented another canal boat wreck on the lake due to its 90 foot length, but excavation across the wreck found that it is curved in section and that there was no chine log present, both facts that rule out the canal boat theory…
Frankly I’m a bit baffled.
But, as we continue to post process the data collected in 2017, I find that, in addition to being confused and maybe a little frustrated, the archaeological team is also more motivated than ever to continue to work on this site in the future and to finally answer the manifold questions that remain about this vessel and its origins.
So while I am still unclear on the identity of the wreck we worked, what I have no doubt about is my deep appreciation for the wonderful students that I had the opportunity to work with and for the amazing support for the project that came from many angles. Internally, Allyson and Jenny (the LCMM archaeological team) were fantastic colleagues to work with. Allyson arranged and coordinated the entire program from beginning to end and did so with an impressively positive attitude. Jenny insured that dive operations were carried out in a safe and efficient manner as well as bringing her extensive archaeological experience to bear on the questions raised during our field work. Bob Beach and the staff of the Basin Harbor Resort were incredibly welcoming and supported our efforts in every way possible. Penny Beach also stopped by the project nearly every day and always had words of encouragement and support for the crew. The staff at the Waterfront Dive Shop supplied us with equipment and tank fills over the course of the project, as well as letting Abigail visit the site and dive with us for a couple of days. Art Cohn shared his extensive knowledge on the legal complexities of shipwreck management with the students. And the LCMM staff made the students feel right at home on campus and assisted with our public presentation.
All in all it was another wonderful field school, and as usual it was the people and wrecks that made it such a great experience for everyone involved. Keep your eyes out for results of our continuing efforts to understand the Basin Harbor wreck and its story.
Courtesy of the South Lake Champlain Fund, at the mid-point of our field school, we went on a field trip to Whitehall to visit the ship remains of the USS Ticonderoga and the Fort Ticonderoga. At the USS Ticonderoga we gained perspective of our bits of wood in Basin Harbor and how they might relate to an entire shipwreck site. We could see the length of keelsons and sister keelsons and the potential of a robust ship-shape. We were regaled with stories of past successful LCMM field schools and chatted with locals about the summer tours of the Lois McClure. Later, when we walked into the center of the Fort Ticonderoga we looked at artifacts from the French, British, Native American, and American local histories.
I’d like to thank our participants Richard Hendren for his professional equipment-fix skills and photogrammetry savviness, Scott Baroody for his smooth diving skill and sharp observations, to our Coordinator Allyson Ropp for thinking through all the details and to Chris Sabick for his thorough insights and sense of humor.
As a recreational diver and history enthusiast, I was extremely excited to be given the opportunity to participate in this year’s LCMM field school at the Basin Harbor wreck site. Since I was a very young boy looking at pictures in National Geographic, I have always harbored a passion for history and shipwrecks. So being able to work on a wreck of a well-preserved wooden vessel in such a historically important waterway has been a real privilege.
In addition to fulfilling my personal interests, the program has provided me with an excellent introduction to the science of underwater archaeology. Coming to this setting from a pre-med background, I am used to collecting and analyzing data in a laboratory environment. Having to take scientific notes underwater was a definite first for me, in addition to being exposed to the methods used by underwater archaeologist to examine and interpret a site.
Following a few days of examining the condition of the site, setting a baseline and taking detailed measurements, today we finally began excavating. Using a suction dredge underwater did a take a little getting used to. Fortunately the dredge is far more awkward out of the water than in it, so within a very short period of time I got the hang of it. The dredging paid off as we began to find some artifacts almost immediately in addition to exposing new portions of the wreck which were extremely well preserved.
Unfortunately for the next dive team, an equipment malfunction drastically shortened their dive. The problem appears to be solved in time for the next excavation day thanks to my classmate’s skills with epoxy and fiberglass. A few minor technical obstacles and inclement weather have caused some difficulty during the first week of the project. However, the outlook for the days ahead looks extremely promising. Stay Tuned…
The Basin Harbor Club is a lovely facility and the hospitality is wonderful … but that is not why we are here diving. Under the cold water of Lake Champlain, resting quietly, are the remains of a nearly 90-foot wooden ship. Today’s dives focused on measurement of exposed sections of the wreck. This information will be used to develop a map of the site, down to the location of the iron fasteners that, after all these years underwater are still holding her together.
Diving here is not for the faint of heart, the weather topside is windy, rainy, and there is a chill in the air, the water is about 52 degrees and the visibility underwater is about four feet until we start to work and it becomes inches. We work in buddy teams and each team can work for about an hour before we start to get cold. We share what we have learned with the next team when we get out of the water. Our time on the surface passes quickly and just as we get warmed up and our notes written it is time to get back in the water. We manage two dives per team most days, so progress is slow.
If you happen to see us working you are most welcome to stop by for a quick visit (especially if you bring coffee or tea), we love to talk about what we are doing and why it is so important to preserve this unique cultural heritage.
Welcome to the 2017 Lake Champlain Maritime Museum Field School season!! These first two days have been a whirlwind of activity. We have walked all around the museum complex exploring the exhibits and learning about the long history of life on Lake Champlain and the archaeological remains. We have discussed how to build a boat and examined the creation of the museum’s two replica vessels, the gunboat Philadelphia and the sailing canal schooner Lois McClure. We practiced recording on a river bateau. Finally, we all jumped in the water! We completed the checkout dives along the outer edge of Basin Harbor, spotting all sorts of artifacts from the club’s presence on the harbor.
Soon we will begin working on our site. This year our team of archaeologists from the LCMM Maritime Research Institute, an AmeriCorps Member, and their students are in for an adventure! We are exploring an unknown wreck in Basin Harbor, the wreck that coincidently provided the spark for our fair museum. The students, Richard and Scott, come to us from very different places and with different experiences. So far they have been very excited to learn and are excited to keep learning and exploring the mysteries of the Basin Harbor Wreck and its place in Basin Harbor’s history!
Are you ready to bang it out with some heavy metal? Are you sure you are ready and know how to? Whatever your skill with heavy metal is, come hang out with our awesome Heavy Metal instructors, Samantha and Richard, and get further into the banging and bending.
In this exciting week-long metal adventure, you will get to play with two different types of metal and make some awesome stuff. You will get to learn piercing, sinking a bowl, cutting and hammering copper, changing metal with heat and chemicals, and sand-casting bronze. At the end of the week, you will have multiple of your own hand-made objects to take with you. To get out the shop, there will swimming and games throughout the days and a field trip to Danforth Pewter, Vermont’s very own metal shop!
Not enticed yet? Did you know that the Greek gods had their own metal worker, who created all their armor and weapons? He was named Hephaestus and was one of the most important gods in the Greek Pantheon. You can learn those same skills and be just as cool. So, bring your strength and energy and creativity and come join us for a fun week of Heavy Metal Mania!
Do you like spending time on the water? Maybe you like fishing or just paddling on streams, rivers, and lakes where you live? Have you ever imagined building your own wooden boat to have and enjoy? This summer you can do that at the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum in our Wooden Boat Building class!
This is an active, hands-on opportunity for you to build and keep a 15′ long canoe. You will assemble it yourself, using hand and power tools like planes, drills and sanders.
All materials are provided. At the end of the week it will be painted and ready to launch. In the process you’ll develop life-long skills, and come away with your own boat–a real freedom machine.
Simple flat-bottomed boats have been used in Vermont for generations to fish, hunt, and explore. They are the prefect size for one person and move easily and quietly through reed and rushes, using a paddle or a pole. Not onlyare they useful and convenient, they are easy to build! If you are in eighth grade or older, you can quickly learn to create a simple, elegant boat of your own.
Once the boats are finished, the group will explore the lake with them. We’ll learn about lake science and about some of the physics of boats! There is nothing like the feeling of an adventure in a boat you built yourself. People will be amazed and you will be proud to say “I built this!”
We recently caught up with Richard Butz, one of the museum volunteers who will be leading this course. He says, “I’ve done this for more than twenty years, watching kids grow through the process. There is a lot of self-esteem and confidence building along with boat building.”
Calling all boaters! Calling all boaters! Calling all boaters! Are you prepared for sailing through a gale? Are you comfortable with docking between other boats? Do you know what the navigation markers mean? What do you do in a man-overboard situation? Do you know how to safely get in and out of a canoe? Are you prepared for all occasions when going out on the lake?
Whether you answered yes or no to these questions there is always more to learn. So grab your PFDs, grab your sunglasses, grab your hats, grab your sunscreen, grab your paddle, grab your oars, and join LCMM staff in an Beginner’s Boating Skills Camp!
During this camp, you will get to paddle, sail, row, and drive the many different boats in LCMM’s fleet. We have everything from canoes to pilot gigs to small motor boats. Test your skills docking all these boats and maneuvering around different obstacles and other boaters on the lake. Our excellent staff, headed by Jeff Hindes, will guide you through the answers to questions above and more! Matt Witten, our sailing led, says “this is a once-in-lifetime opportunity to learn how to handle a variety of boats with master captain Jeff Hindes and other LCMM instructors. Nowhere else in our region can you get an equivalent immersion in rowing, paddling, and sailing traditional vessels, as well as getting lots of hours in using power boats. If you want to be competent out on the water in a wide range of situations, this is the experience for you!” At the end of the camp, you can receive your VT Boater’s Card and get out on the lake all summer!
Students, Volunteers and LCMM staff building a 32’ rowing gig in the LCMM boat shop.
In the LCMM boat shop, lately, we’ve been riveting. An ancient and practical process, it requires at least two people and a lot of team-work to complete each rivet. We tend to work in groups of three, with one person as the communicator since as it’s loud in there!
The two students doing the riveting decide: who will be inside the boat, and who will be on the outside. The person on the inside drills a hole through the rib and the overlapping planks. From the outside, a copper nail is pushed through. The person on the outside holds the nail securely with a tool called a backing iron, making sure the nail stays put. From the inside, using a special tool called a rove set and a hammer, the other student pounds a copped washer- called a rove- onto the protruding nail. The inside person then levers the nail with a pair of tin snips to sink the head, before clipping the extra nail off as close to the rove as they can.
From there, with the person on the outside of the boat still holding the nail in place, the person on the inside taps the little protruding bit of copper gently with a ball-peen hammer, rounding the nub into a dome, and tightening the whole thing down. Think of it as artifically making a second head on the nail.
We use rivets in boatbuilding because few other things can match them for clamping pressure, and, as the students could tell you, we use copper because it is malleable and extremely corrosion-resistant. All in all, there are twenty rivets per rib and with sixty ribs, so we’re looking at 1,200 rivets in the ribs alone. We will also rivet together the gunwales and inwales, so by the time we’re done, the kids will be very well-practiced.
The riveting process is just one example of the care and consideration that is such a hallmark of the wooden boat.
Joyce Cameron, Co-Executive Director of Lake Champlain Maritime Museum (LCMM) has announced that Helena Van Voorst will be joining the Museum staff as Director of Development. “Helena has worked for LCMM in the past, and we are delighted to welcome her back to our Museum team,” Joyce commented. “Our new Maritime Pathways educational initiatives are designed to deliver mission-centered programs all year long and Helena will help us meet our mission to share our maritime heritage and encourage stewardship of the lake’s natural and cultural resources.”
Helena first joined LCMM’s crew as Director of Development in 2006. After her daughter was born, Helena accepted a part-time position managing grants for the Burlington Partnership for a Healthy Community which allowed her to spend more time at home. “Leaving LCMM was an incredibly difficult decision. I felt so connected to the Museum’s community and programs.” Helena now returns to LCMM with 15 years of experience in fundraising, grants management, and sustainability planning. “During my time away from LCMM, I had the opportunity to work in the substance abuse prevention field which is very science and data driven. I look forward to bringing that lens with me to the Museum.”
Helena grew up near Lake Champlain in Ferrisburgh, VT. She attended college in Iowa and lived there for a short time after graduating. Helena now lives in Vergennes with her husband, daughter, son, and two rabbits. She is a certified Results Based Accountability trainer and sits on the Board of Directors at the Champlain Valley Christian School and the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Vergennes.