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Museum plans to raise Revolutionary War gunboat from Lake Champl - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Museum plans to raise Revolutionary War gunboat from Lake Champlain

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BURLINGTON, Vt. -

It played a key role in the fight against the British in the Revolutionary War.

And now there's a daring plan to rescue a gunship from the depths of Lake Champlain.

It is sunken treasure deep below the surface of Lake Champlain first discovered by experts in 1997.

"The Spitfire belongs to the people of the United States of America. It's a national resource and frankly, a national treasure," said Erick Tichonuk, Lake Champlain Maritime Museum.

The Spitfire was sunk by the British back in 1776 at the Battle of Valcour Island. It's one of eight identical boats that held off the British swooping down from Canada.

In 2008, the gunboat was added to to the National Register of Historical Places. And maritime officials told us then, a big grant would help them figure out how best to preserve this piece of the past.

"Dozens of historical vessels have been recovered from the water. Almost all of them end in disaster," said Art Cohn in 2008.  

Now, despite the risks, the museum is launching a 22-year $44 million plan to raise the ship and preserve it at a new museum to be built on the New York side of the lake. 

"With the quagga mussels now coming into Lake Champlain, they pose a new threat to this vessel that has not previously been there... it's also possible that these are increasing the deterioration rate of iron on these boats, and of course iron fastenings hold these vessels together. So there's significant concern for the preservation of this boat," said Tichonuk. 

One of Spitfire's sister ships, The Philadelphia, was safely raised back in 1935. It is the only ship in Benedict Arnold's fleet to be recovered. That original is at the Smithsonian in Washington. An exact copy is in Vermont at the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum in Ferrisburgh.

Ultimately, it's the U.S. Navy that gets to make the final call. By law it owns all sunken shipwrecks including the Spitfire.

Related Story:

Plans To Rescue 1776 Shipwreck From Lake Champlain

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