“…and three, and four, and let ‘er run!”
I bring my oar out of the water and hold it steady, looking ahead through the misty morning air at Matt Witten, BHC Naturalist and Maritime Expert. Matt is acting as the “Coxswain,” leading our group of 6 rowers and one non-rowing passenger on the 19th Century pilot gig replica, named “Maple” by the high schoolers who built her at the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum. Making a boat from the ground up is part of a semester-long program that takes students through the boat-building process while also covering other academic subjects.
Now we are in the middle of the lake, Matt and myself and a fun-loving group of Basin Harbor guests intrigued by this historic rowing opportunity. We work on our group rhythm, pretending to be serious rowers off the coast of Cornwall, England in the 1800s. Pilot gigs were vessels used to take skilled pilots out to meet larger ships coming into port and guide them safely through the tricky channels of England’s harbors. The gigs were built along ancient Viking lines: stable, seaworthy, and swift. There could be several different pilot gigs pulling mightily to get to the tall ship first in order to secure the job (and the pay!) of the pilot.
As for our group, we’re not quite that fast. After all, this is vacation! We row somewhat leisurely and enjoy the calm morning water on Champlain, chatting amongst ourselves. Our dutiful Coxswain reminds us to get in synch from time to time, to follow the oar rhythm of the rower in front of us.
Maple moves fluidly through Champlain, and stays perfectly stable as we switch out a rower in the middle of the rowing session, so that everyone gets a chance with the oar.
“Sit ready, ready all and ROW!” says Matt, and we’re off again. We spot two kayaks a hundred yards away who are paddling alongside a duo of swimmers, making their trek across the lake. It’s an annual event for guests Carol McAfee and Penn Griffen to conquer the width of Champlain at Basin Harbor, and we cheer them on in between pulls.
Maple skirts the New York shore and turns around, heading back to Vermont. The morning clouds have given way to patches of blue sky and an already-scorching sun as we glide into the Harbor. Matt instructs our group of newly expert rowers to “backwater,” “hold starboard” and “pull on the port” in order to turn the gig back around into blast-off position, ready to take out the next group of eager rowers. I step off Maple feeling accomplished, a bit sweaty, and energized to carry on with my day.
Matt and Maple will be offering up these historic rowing excursions weekly through August, so come out with us and experience Champlain in a new-old way!
Your new rowing enthusiast,