Canal Schooner O.J. Walker

The canal schooner O.J. Walker which was lost in a heavy gale in 1895 was located in Lake Champlain in October 1983.
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The canal schooner O.J. Walker which was lost in a heavy gale in 1895 was located in Lake Champlain in October 1983. The schooner was discovered by shipwreck explorers Jim Kennard and Scott Hill, while conducting a search of Burlington Bay with side scanning sonar equipment.

The schooner O.J. Walker belonged to a unique class of Lake Champlain ships referred to as a schooner rigged lake and canal vessel, otherwise known as a "canal schooner". These ships were able to navigate both Lake Champlain and the canal systems, by being able to remove their masts for clearance. The vessel is 85 feet in length and 14 feet wide.

The O.J. Walker was built in Burlington in 1862 and named after on the region’s leading merchants, Obadiah Johnson Walker. For over 30 years this vessel carried a variety of heavy cargoes. In May of 1895 the schooner took on a load of bricks and roofing tile from the Brown brick maker at Milton, Vermont. The O.J. Walker was attempting to make the port of Burlington when heavy seas caused her to spring a leak. As the ship rapidly filled with water, the cargo shifted, spilling some of it into the lake. The schooner then righted it self just before it sank beneath the waves. The captain and crew took refuge in a small rowboat, which unfortunately did not contain any oars at the time. However, the prevailing winds blew the small boat, with its crew, to shore and all were saved from the chilly waters of Lake Champlain.

The outline of the shipwreck is clearly visible in the sonar imagery showing the open cargo hatches and masts that lay across the ship. On our dive to the O.J. Walker we observed many bricks scattered over the deck and along side the ship. An overturned cart lay among the bricks. The masts were found to be lying across the deck at various angles. And a beautiful ship’s wheel still remains standing in its original position.

Today, the canal schooner O.J. Walker is a popular Vermont dive site in Burlington Bay. The shipwreck is at a depth of 75 feet and is wonderful intermediate level dive. The site is located approximately ¾ of a mile northwest of the Burlington break wall.

The location of the O.J. Walker shipwreck is: 44° 28.72 N, 73° 14.44 W

 



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