by Vermont Rice

It is  It is with great pride and relief I can now report that Ceres is in the water and bobbing at anchor in Kingsland Bay.  This past week Jordan and I have been working full-tilt to get ready to launch.  We installed oak rubrails and completed the cargo hatches, made sliding companionway hatches and windows, and hung a barn-door style rudder and bent a tiller to fit it.  Yesterday, the day of the launch I was up at 5:30 lettering the stern and touching up paint.

Around 9:30 we  hit the road, with Erica as vanguard escort and Jordan, Robin and Julien on deck.  Our 34 hp kubota tractor could pull the boat adequately (we estimate the unloaded weight to be over 6000 lbs) but had to downshift to make it up hills.  We got a lot of friendly waves along the 7.6 mile back road journey.  We took back roads to keep our oversize-load boat off route 7.  The town of Ferrisburgh considers us an “agricultural vehicle,” which I suppose we are, after all, and we were towed by a tractor.  Anyway, we encountered little traffic and made it to the boat ramp at South Slang on Hawkins Road in about an hour.

The launch itself went very smoothly, the only problem being that the running gear itself floats (I guess that is why those big round tires are called “floatation tires”) and we had a little trouble getting Ceres to slide free of it.  However a little shuffling maneuver with the tractor, one that’s very familiar to anyone who has used a baker’s peel to load a loaf or a pizza into a hearth oven, was all it took,  A few shuffles later Ceres was floating free!

Fortified with some sandwiches from town, Robin, Jordan, Evan (and Evan’s puppy Baxter) set off down the slang, on a two-mile journey into Hawkins bay and from there to Kingsland Bay.  We regretted our lack of good poles, our dinghy and its oars, any sails, and our yuloh (chinese sculling oar) almost immediately.  We used 1 1/2″ stainless steel milk pipe as poles, which were occasionally adequate, but which often became stuck in the gooey mud bottom and bent too easily.  The rudder was adequate to move us forward at a very slow speed.  Sailing conditions were ideal approaching the lake and in Hawkins Bay, with a nice gentle south breeze, but we don’t have our sails finished or rigged yet.  Nevertheless, we did make it about two-thirds of the distance under human power before Willowell director Matt Schlein arrived with a friendly tow.  As we approached the Ferrisburgh Town beach our tow released us and we drifted gently onto the sand.

We disembarked to enjoy some treats and hard cider (special props to Three Squares Caft, Champlain Orchards, the Willowell crew) as our friends and supporters climbed up our boarding ladder to have a look at our new vessel, or swam around her.  Later in the afternoon, we thanked our supporters and crew who have helped us get this far, and let me do so again.  For everyone who has donated money, time, or helped spread the word about the work we are doing at VSFP, thank you, thank you, thank you.  Along the way I have been told time and again that this idea couldn’t take place as a volunteer-driven effort–that it would require a real shipyard, years of sustained effort, and $100,000 of capital, or maybe double or triple that figure.  Now, here we are, and we have a beautiful sailing barge ready to do real work, and we have done this without debt and in four and a half months!  It is a real achievement.

This is of course not the end, though.  We are just getting started, and Ceres has a long life of trade ahead of her.  Not to mention, we still have a lot of work to fit out Ceres and shake her down, and to get to know her sailing properties.  We have some experienced friends to help us do that, including our riggers Will young and Carrie Glessner and “Captain Dan” Doyle.  I am looking forward to it all!