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Discover Lake Champlains Underwater Preserves!

Champlain II
Coal Barge
The General Butler
Burlington Bay Horse Ferry
O.J. Walker
The Phoenix
The Diamond Island Stone Boat

Champlain II
This Historic Underwater Preserve is located in the New York Waters of Lake Champlain. The Champlain II was originally named the Oakes Ames when launched in Burlington in 1868. It was built to ferry railroad cars from Burlington to Plattsburgh.

In 1874 the Champlain Transportation Company converted Oakes Ames into one of the line vessels for the transport of passengers and renamed it the Champlain II.

Champlain II's career as a line vessel was cut short on the night of July 16, 1875. While at dock in Westport, NY, the pilots changed shifts. John Eldredge took over the wheel from Ell Rockwell. Rockwell would later recount that John Eldredge had "appeared glum." The Champlain II headed north out of Westport, and a short time later there came a tremendous crash. It was soon evident to everyone on board that the enormous steamer had run aground.

Up in the pilot house Rockwell had returned to see what was amiss. Eldredge turned to Rockwell and asked, "Can you account for my being on the mountain?" All persons on board were safely disembarked on shore. A subsequent investigation found that John Eldredge had suffered from a disorder called gout. To relieve the symptoms he had been taking morphine and had frequented pharmacies around the lake.

Champlain II was only insured against fire. The Lake Champlain Transportation Company tried to recoup some of its losses by salvaging the engines and superstructure, but the submerged stern section was allowed to remain.

Features of Interest:
  • Size of wreck: 163' of the original 244' long hull remains, 34' wide.
  • The vessel's stern post is situated closest to shore and is unstable. Avoid contact.
  • Note the massive engine mounts on either side.
  • Note the frames broken from impact near the deeper end of the wreck.
Diving Guidelines:
  • Experience level: Beginner.
  • Depth of water: 15' - 35'
  • The bottom is silty. Stay off the bottom to avoid limited visibility.
  • The vessel is infested with zebra mussels. Gloves are recommended to avoid cuts.
  • Beware of overhanging sections of the vessel. Watch for fishing line. Carry a knife.
Location:
  • 44° 12.36N, 73° 22.58W
  • The wreck lies close to the New York shore between Barn Rock and Rock Harbor, north of Westport, NY, and across from Basin Harbor, VT.
  • The shoreline is private. Please do not land here.

Coal Barge
The A.R. Noyes represents perhaps the most common type of commercial vessel that operated on Lake Champlain and its related canal systems. The standard canal boat first appeared in 1823 with the opening of the Champlain Canal. These craft rapidly increased in numbers throughout the nineteenth century and operated on the Lake into the early 1900's. Canal barges had no independent means of propulsion. On lakes and rivers, they had to be towed by steam vessels and on canals they were moved by horse and mule. Canal boats frequently were the homes of families of "canalers" who lived on the boats and traveled from place to place to earn a living. Long trains of canal boats could still be seen on the Lake at the beginning of the 20th century, but disappeared after the expansion of the Champlain Canal in the 1920's.

The Coal Barge, A.R. Noyes is believed to have sunk, on October 17, 1884, when a number of canal boats broke loose from the steam tug Tisdale which was towing them on their way to Burlington. The A.R. Noyes was the only one reported lost.

Coal Barge Underwate Shipwreck

Features of Interest:

  • Size of wreck: 90' long; 14' wide
  • The rudder and rudder post are visible on the stern, facing up the slope towards Proctor Shoal.
  • In the cargo area, you will find remnants of the mules towing apparatus crushed and partially buried by the impact of the shifting coal which still remains in her hold.
Diving Guidelines:
  • Experience level: Advanced
  • Depth of water: 65' (stern) - 80' (bow)
  • The vessel rests on a gradual slope and extremely silty bottom. Visibility can quickly become very poor. The mooring chains tend to disappear into the soft silty bottom. Several small floating buoys have been attached to the chain to guide you to the anchor pad.
  • Underwater lights are highly recommended.
  • This wreck is extremely fragile; all effort should be made to avoid contact.
Location:
  • Just north of the Coast Guard's navigational buoy on Proctor Shoal.

The General Butler
The General Butler was built in 1862 in Essex, NY. The schooner-rigged Butler is an example of a Lake Champlain sailing canal boat, designed to sail on the lake and, with masts removed and centerboard raised, travel though the Champlain Canal.

On her last voyage she was under the command of her third owner, Captain William Montgomery of Isle La Motte. While sailing up the lake on December 9, 1876 a powerful winter gale struck and upon approaching Burlington, the Butler's steering mechanism broke. The captain jury-rigged a tiller bar to the steering post and attempted to maneuver his craft around the breakwater. The attempt was unsuccessful and the schooner crashed headlong into the breakwater. The force of the water was so great that the vessel was repeatedly lifted on top of the ice-covered stones. One by one each of the ship's company made the perilous jump onto the breakwater. The captain was the last to leave the ship which immediately sank into the 40' of water where she now rests.

Having narrowly escaped death by drowning, the Butler's survivors now risked freezing to death on the breakwater. All surely would have perished had it not been for the heroic intervention of Burlington ship chandler James Wakefield and his son, who rowed out in a 14' lighthouse boat and took all five to safety. The Butler was declared a total loss. Artifacts from the General Butler are on display at the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum's Basin Harbor facility.

General Butler Underwater Shipwreck

Features of Interest:
  • Size of wreck: 88' long, 14' wide
  • The vessel rests on her keel, bow towards the breakwater. There are five hatches in the deck.
  • Note the dead-eyes, windlass and cleats used for sailing.
  • The masts were stepped on deck in three sided "tabernacles" and held in place with iron pins.
Diving Guidelines:
  • Experience level: Beginner
  • Depth of water: 40'
  • Buoyancy should be carefully controlled to avoid damaging this fragile and remarkably intact wreck.
  • Exercise special care at the stern to avoid damaging the extremely fragile rudder.
Location:
  • 44°28.23N, 73°13.70W
  • Approximately 75 yards west of the southern end of the Burlington breakwater.
  • Note: The General Butler is located 300' north of the City of Burlington's waste water discharge pipeline.

DO NOT PENETRATE THE WRECK

Burlington Bay Horse Ferry
The very fragile horse-powered ferry in Burlington Bay is the only known surviving example of a turntable "team-boat", a once common North American vessel type. Animal powered vessels were introduced into North America in 1814. They became a popular form of transportation for short-distance river and lake crossing, until the middle of the 19th century, when they were surpassed by the increasing use of steam power.

Lake Champlain's long, narrow shape created the need for many ferry crossings between Vermont and New York, crossings that were ideally suited to horse ferries. The use of horse ferries on the Lake appears to have peaked in the 1830's and 1840's.

The Burlington Bay Horse Ferry was discovered in the fall of 1983 during a side-scan sonar survey. The identity and date of construction have not yet been determined. Continued study of this unique vessel may provide more clues to her name and date of sinking.

This vessel was featured in a National Geographic article about horse powered vessels.

Horse Ferry Underwater Shipwreck

Features of Interest:
  • Size of wreck: 63' long, 23' wide
  • The horizontal flywheel and gear shaft are visible in the amidships.
  • The two paddle wheels are perhaps her most spectacular feature. The iron hubs and oak spokes are deteriorated but intact; the paddle blades are missing. The paddle wheels are easily damaged - please avoid touching them.
Diving Guidelines:
  • Experience level: Intermediate
  • Depth of water: 50'
  • This vessel is weak and easily damaged. Practice good buoyancy control and do not use any part of the vessel to support your weight.
  • Visibility can quickly become poor. The mooring chains on the buoys tend to sink into the soft silt bottom. Several small floating buoys have been attached to the chain to guide you to the anchor pad. PRACTICE GOOD

BUOYANCY CONTROL ON THIS VERY FRAGILE VESSEL.

LOCATION:
  • Approximately 2/3 of the way northwest from the north end of the Burlington breakwater to Lone Rock Point.

O.J.Walker
The O.J Walker was built in 1862 in Burlington, VT, and was named after one of the region's leading merchants, Obadiah Johnson Walker. The vessel was a cousin to the General Butler, both being schooner-rigged sailing canal boats.

The O.J. Walker had a working career of 33 years and was employed hauling heavy cargoes. Like so many other canal vessels, it had the dual purpose of a work boat and family living quarters. One of its owners, Captain Weatherwax, lived on board with his family for over 9 years.

The boat's last owners operated the Mallett's Bay Brick and Tile Yard and hired various lake captains to use the O.J. Walker to transport their products. Captain Shell Parkhurst, who died while sailing, was at the time the "oldest boatman" on the lake at age 75. His daughter, Mrs. Rock, took over the vessel and became the only woman Captain of a canal boat plying between New York and Burlington.

The O.J. Walker's final voyage came on May 11, 1895. A severe wind storm caught the crew off guard. The boat began leaking severely, and, as the crew disembarked into a small rowboat, the O.J. Walker tipped, spilling much of its cargo into the lake. It righted itself briefly before sinking.

Features of Interest:
  • Size of wreck: 86' long, 14' wide.
  • The ship's wheel and aft cabin hatch cover are in place and are extremely fragile; please avoid contact.
  • The masts, boom, anchors, and most rigging parts can be seen around the vessel.
  • Many bricks and tiles still lie on deck and scattered off the port side along with the hand carts for moving them.
Diving Suggestions:
  • Experience Level: Intermediate-Experienced.
  • Depth of water: 65'
  • A diving permit is required each time you dive this vessel. Please sign up in advance for a time slot at the Burlington Community Boathouse.
  • Control your buoyancy. Stay off the bottom to avoid low visibility conditions. Avoid contact with the fragile shipwreck.
Location:
  • 44° 28.72 N, 73° 14.44 W
  • Approximately 3/4 of a mile west of the north end of the Burlington breakwater. Between the Horse Ferry and General Butler.
  • Diving permit required for this vessel.
  • Do not penetrate the wreck! Removal of artifacts, including bricks or other objects around the wreck, is illegal.

The Phoenix
The Phoenix, built by the Lake Champlain Steamboat Company and launched in 1815, was the second commercial steamboat on Lake Champlain. The steamer, commanded by Captain Jehaziel Sherman, maintained a regular schedule between Whitehall, NY and St. Johns, Quebec, with stops at other Lake ports along the route.

At 11:00 P.M. on September 4, 1819, the Phoenix left Burlington for Plattsburgh, NY, with 46 passengers and crew, under the command of Captain Sherman's son, Richard. An unusual glow in the amidships galley provided the first warning that a fire had broken out on board, but the discovery was made too late to save the Phoenix. The passengers were roused from their cabins and loaded into two small boats. Unfortunately, in the confusion, a dozen people (including the captain) were left to fend for themselves on the burning ship. Sherman and several others were rescued from the Lake in the morning but six others were not so lucky and perished in the Lake's cold, dark waters. The cause of the fire was said to have been a candle carelessly left burning in the pantry: however, circumstantial evidence suggests that the fire may have been intentionally set by competing lake sailing interests.

Photo Courtesy: Lake Champlain Maritime Museum Collection, by Ernest Haas

Features of Interest:

  • Size of wreck: 146' long, 27' wide
  • The fire-charred framing ends and massive hull are clearly visible.
  • The bow is prominent, jutting 15' off the bottom.
  • The rudder hardware is visible at the stern.
  • The iron rods which held the engines and boilers are visible.
Diving Suggestions:
  • Experience level: Advanced
  • Depth of water: 60' (bow) - 110' (stern)
  • The anchor pad to the Preserve buoy rests at approximately 50' depth.
  • The depth and location on the open lake requires serious dive planning.
  • Monitor your depth and air and watch for changing weather.
  • Underwater lights are necessary.
Location:
  • On the northern face of Colchester Shoal reef. The stern section of the Phoenix is located in deep water.
  • The Phoenix is a deep dive. Watch your depth and time. Monitor your air.

The Diamond Island Stone Boat
The Diamond Island Stone Boat was one of hundreds of wooden canal boats that transported cargo throughout the lake and Champlain Canal. The name of this boat, who owned her, and when she navigated the lake have not yet been determined. Similar in size and construction to the Coal Barge A.R. Noyes, the Stone Boat is a flat-bottomed, vertically-sided vessel. There is no evidence of an engine, nor of masts and sails, indication that she had no independent means of propulsion. She was instead towed from port to port by a tugboat, or by mules on the canal.

On her last voyage the boat carried a load of quarried stone that filled her hold from stem to stern. The circumstances of her sinking are unknown, but most likely she was separated from her tow, leaving her to drift onto the rocky shore of Diamond Island; or, the immense weight of stone in her hold may have stressed the hull, opening seams in the plaking and forcing her owners to attempt to save the cargo and hull by running her ashore. Efforts to save the vessel were obviously unsuccessful.

Diamond Island Underwater Shipwreck

Features of Interest:

  • Size of wreck: 93' long; 14' wide
  • The stempost extends 8' above the bottom and is reinforced by several heavy timbers.
  • The cargo of stone blocks lies stacked upon the frames over the length of the wreck. The hull's frame timbers and keelson are visible between the blocks.
  • In the decades since the boat sank, her sides have been broken down by decay and winter ice, and now lie on the bottom on both sides of the wreck, thus exposing the massive stone blocks.
Diving Guidelines:
  • Experience level: Beginner (Note: currents can be very stong here making this an Advanced dive - use caution)
  • Depth of water: 12' - 25'
  • Never leave your boat unattended. If you are swept off the wreck someone in your boat must be prepared to pick you up.
  • This is a popular fishing site. Watch for fishing line and carry a knife.
Location:
  • Immediately off the southeast side of Diamond Island.

CAUTION: Currents can be very strong here - always evaluate the site carefully before diving.

For further information on Lake Champlain's history visit these local attractions:

Chimney Point State Historic Site; Addison, Vermont; (802) 759-2412
Crown Point State Historic Site; Crown Point, New York
Fort Ticonderoga; Ticonderoga, New York
ECHO at the Leahy Center for Lake Champlain; Burlington, Vermont;
Lake Champlain Maritime Museum; Vergennes, Vermont
Mount Independence State Historic Site; Orwell, Vermont; (802) 759-2412
Shelburne Museum; Shelburne, Vermont; (802) 985-3346
Skenesborough Museum; Whitehall, New York

This is a scanning sonar image of the sloop island canal boat, which is in the preserve system.  Photo Courtesy: Lake Champlain Maritime Museum and Teledyne BlueView

Sonar Image of the Sloop Island Canalboat