Two Lake Champlain skiffs — Middlebury College, 2011.

Both boats

In 2011 I co-taught a Winter Term course with Professor Dan Brayton entitled "Vermont Waters." While students studied poetry and literature inspired by Lake Champlain I led students in local folklore research, focusing on the traditions of boatbuilding in the region. We brought two historic boats into class for measurement and documentation, and we built replicas of both. Students also interviewed a variety of people, from local trappers to a builder of plywood hydroplanes.

Our skiffs included a locally-built trapping boat and a rowboat, both from Panton, Vermont. They each had sides composed of a single, wide pine plank and cross-planked bottoms. We knew from our interviews that the trapping skiff was originally built with a single center mold. After measuring the other skiff we used three molds to preserve the shape of the original.

The trapping skiff was a bit unusual in that it had a transom. These boats were invariably double enders, so they could be pushed back out of the cattails easily. But from our interviews we learned that the builder, the late Gerald Hatch, was concerned about stability of these boats when his sons were children, so he built a transom-sterned boat.


Two trappers came into class and were interviewed by the students.

Measuring the skiff. We lofted both boats to derive patterns for our building molds.

Students measuring the original trapping boat, built by Gerald Hatch of Panton, Vermont.

Bending planks around the molds of the skiff, on the left, and the trapping boat, right. We used a single mold building the trapping boat because our research showed that is what the original builder used.

Bud Smith of Middlebury, Vermont leads the students on a hike to his family’s trapping camp. All the men of the Smith Family would spend several weeks in the spring at the camp trapping and skinning muskrats. This was an important source of cash for the family.

Smith and students at the camp.

Taking the completed boat down the classroom building’s stairwell for launching.

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