Area rowers compete in James Wakefield Rescue Row

VERGENNES — Every year in the fall, the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum holds the James Wakefield Rescue Row — a competitive series of rowing races among youth rowers. This year, under overcast and drizzly skies, 155 youth rowers from Vergennes, Mt. Abraham, Champlain Valley Union, South Burlington, Rice Memorial, North Haven (Maine), Rockland (Maine), and Belfast (Maine) high and middle schools came to compete in the races.
Rowers were organized by skill levels, novice through experienced. There were 23 individual crews that competed in 11 races. Addison County was well represented in the races with Vergennes placing first in the experienced and intermediate six-oar division as well as the novice six-oar division, while Mt. Abraham placed sixth in the novice six-oar division, second in the experienced six-oar division and eighth in the intermediate six-oar division.
The event is normally held in Burlington at Perkins Pier but with a prediction for 30 knot winds in the Burlington harbor, the race was moved to the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum’s harbor. After the racers competed with their own crews they took part in a post-race event called the mess-about where coxswains were given a crew made up of youths from different schools and set loose for a final half mile sprint to glory.
The boats used in the races were all built by students of the Champlain Longboats program at the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum. Champlain Longboats is an innovative boat building and rowing program that teaches personal growth and teamwork through maritime experience. The program includes over 600 students each year.
The James Wakefield Rescue Row was named after a ship chandler named James Wakefield. The race commemorates Wakefield’s heroic rescue of passengers and crew of the General Butler, which was dashed upon the Burlington breakwater on December 9, 1876 in a gale. The passengers and crew were able to jump to the breakwater but the lake was very treacherous and no one would attempt the rescue. James Wakefield and his son Jack commandeered a government lighthouse boat and rowed out to save the stranded people.

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