Keeling over: Launching history the hard way

The Lewis & Clark Exploratory Center at Darden Towe Park invited everyone out Saturday, October 23, to a unique boat launching on the Rivanna River.

For an early leg of their historic journey, Lewis and Clark used a keelboat to help them traverse the American Midwest. With the help of master keelboat builder and Iowa native Butch Bouvier, Charlottesville now has a beautiful replica of the boat used by Lewis and Clark, this one christened Discovery Virginia.

Launching the 55-foot handcrafted wooden vehicle into the Rivanna was intense, to say the least.

Built high on the Center's grounds in an old barn at Darden Towe Park, the boat first had to journey several hundred yards across land. The path was complicated by a large tree.

To circumvent the tree, the boat had to be maneuvered downhill at an angle. Then, with a loud snap, the unbalanced boat broke through one of the wooden supports. To budge the boat from the slope, Bouvier and his crew of men and backhoes pushed, leveraged, and muscled for over two hours until, after a final heave, it reached the Rivanna. "It floated like a cork," Bouvier declared.

While the heavy lifting was going on, a gala of period music, arts and crafts, oxen rides, and an official U.S. Mint-sponsored nickel swap entertained park visitors. The new nickel, with the Lewis & Clark keelboat on the back, was available for purchase in $2 rolls.

The boat is open for tours during park hours. A nice little trail leads from Route 250 to this fascinating testimony to human ingenuity– and the power of elbow grease.

With a big push,
Discovery Virginia  Begins its journey down the ramp.

After the loss of a support beam, a backhoe helps push
Discovery Virginia into the water.

After its big ordeal,
Discovery Virginia relaxes on the banks of the Rivanna.

Butch Bouvier hatches a plot to get the boat off the bank.

A large crowd waits excitedly for the big splash.

A nickel with a boat and a boat in the river on the same day!