Our fleet of eight pilot gigs is berthed in several locations. These gigs are working vessels, and are seasonally housed in Burlington, Basin Harbor, and Vergennes, on Otter Creek. The latest gig is Firefly, built this spring by students from the Diversified Occupations program from the Hannaford Career Center in Middlebury, and Catamonts Program at Mount Abraham in Bristol, VT.
Brief History of Pilot Gigs
The Champlain Longboats program has chosen to build and row two styles of rowing gigs, the 32' six-oared Cornish pilot gig and the 25' , four oared Whitehall style gig because of their inherent seaworthiness and because they are a joy to row.
The 32' Cornish gig, developed in the early 1800s has its roots in the Scilly Isles, 40 miles off of the coast of Cornwall, England. The boats were used to transport the local pilot to incoming sailing vessels and needed to be both fast and seaworthy as the first boat to reach the ship offshore got the job of guiding the vessel through the treacherous shoals in that area. These boats were multi-purpose and were used as rescue boats, freight carriers among the islands and to smuggle contraband across the English Channel. This magnificent design is actively raced in Europe today and has been adopted by many youth and adult rowing programs around the United States.
The 25' Whitehall style gig is a lengthened version of the Whitehall type livery boat used extensively in New York harbor in the 1800s to ferry goods and people amongst the fleet of vessels anchored in the harbor. These boats are reputed to be some of the fastest, most elegant and seaworthy coastal rowing boats of that era. The lines for our 25' Whitehall style gig were drawn by Mike McEvoy of Greenwich, New York and are used by youth and adult rowing programs all over the east coast.
Building the Pilot Gigs
Students come to the LCMM boat-shop and classroom five days a week for 6 months to build one rowing gig and learn to row as a team. Students gain hands-on vocational skills, while exploring a curriculum that weaves science, history, English, and math around the boat building project. Students keep journals, research and make presentations on related topics and participate in a series of curriculum related tests throughout the boat building process. The power of teamwork, mutual respect, and positive work ethic are critical life skills that are at the core of Champlain Longboats.