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Historic Shipwrecks, Lake Champlain, VT

Vermont’s Lake Champlain has been drawing visitors for centuries, ever since 1609 when explorer Samuel de Champlain “discovered” this mammoth body of water. Explore shipwrecks and go boating, fishing and kayaking on the lake. Enjoy special activities July 2-14 at the Burlington International Waterfront Festival celebrating the lake’s 400th anniversary.

At 120-miles long and 12-miles across at its widest point (near Burlington), Lake Champlain is the sixth largest freshwater lake in the U.S. More than 300 shipwrecks, many dating back to the 1700s, remain underwater. For years these historic ships were accessible only to certified scuba divers age 12 and older, but now even non-divers and those who don’t want to get wet can also see the wrecks. The Lake Champlain Maritime Museum, Vergennes, offers special shipwreck tours. You stay dry onboard a boat while a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) equipped with a camera sends back images that you view on a monitor.

Three of the wrecks--the Horse Farm, the Coal Barge and the General Butler--are accessible from Burlington’s shores. Two others--the Phoenix and the Diamond Island Stone Boat--are located near Colchester and Vergennes.

Among the most interesting of these wrecks are the Horse Farm and the General Butler. The Horse Farm is among the only known surviving examples of horse ferries, often called “teamboats,” driven by teams of horses and popular from the 1820's to the Civil War when steam and other forms of power replaced real horse power.

The Horse Farm most likely made crossings between Basin Harbor, VT, and Westport, NY. By walking on a horizontal flywheel, similar to a treadmill, the horses powered two large paddle wheels. Dive to see the deteriorated, but still intact iron hubs and oak spokes as well as the pine deck planks aft of the paddle wheel.

Also unusual is the General Butler. Built in 1862 this is a rare example of a sailing canal boat. She struck the breakwater on Dec. 9, 1876. Although all passengers were saved, the vessel sank.

An excellent base for your adventure is the Basin Harbor Club near the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum, Vergennes. The 700-acre resort situated on the eastern shore of Lake Champlain has a “sophisticated country” ambiance. During the day enjoy golf, tennis, swimming, bicycling, boating, and fishing. In the evening, there's fine dining and an award-winning wine collection. In summer the resort also operates a children’s program.

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