SWANS ISLAND — Near Bermuda on May 22, the crew of Maine Maritime Academy’s (MMA) training ship, State of Maine, launched a five-foot Plexiglas sailboat assembled and customized by middle school students at Swans Island Elementary School.
The students will be able to track the boat, which is equipped with a GPS device, as the winds and ocean current take it across the Atlantic toward Europe.
It is part of MMA’s Educational Passages program, which aims to teach students – and get them excited about – a variety of subjects, including oceanography and earth science.
The program also has an international relations component: A watertight compartment on the boat contains shells and sea glass from Swans Island, information about the program and instructions in several different languages for whoever finds the boat when it washes up on a distant shore.
“When we see that it’s nearing land, we’ll contact organizations and schools in that area and have them be on the lookout for the boat,” said Swans Island teacher Michelle Whitman. “Directions polyurethaned to the top are: ‘Get this boat to the nearest school.’ Then we will contact them and arrange to send materials to repair the boat if that’s needed or a new battery for the GPS unit.
“It’s a great way for my kids to connect with kids on the other side of the Atlantic and do real-world problem solving.”
Whitman said that once the mini-boat is seaworthy again, her students will arrange to have it relaunched in hopes that the ocean current will bring it back to North America.
“Our goal is that it will make the complete loop,” Whitman said.
If it does, it will be the first mini-boat in the nine years of the Educational Passages program to do so.
Whitman and her students, along with Principal Crystal DaGraca, presented their mini-boat, named Black Rock, to the captain of State of Maine on April 25. The ship left on its annual three-month training voyage May 10. Having sailed first to Charleston, S.C., it is now headed toward the Canary Islands off the coast of Morocco.
The first mate sent word to the school May 22 that Black Rock had been successfully launched.
Whitman said she had been looking for an interesting project for her students when she learned about MMA’s Educational Passages program.
“I knew it would be great for my kids, a perfect fit for our school,” she said.
She has 16 students in grades six through eight.
Black Rock is one of only two mini-boats from Maine that the MMA vessel is launching this year. The other belongs to the Marine Science Club at the University of Maine in Orono.
The hull and other components for most of the Educational Passages mini-boats are fabricated by students at the Mid-Coast School of Technology in Rockland. Information that the MMA provides teachers says the boats have a “severely swept-back skeg [that] sheds seaweed, keeps it tracking straight downwind and makes it self-righting.” Filled with foam flotation, “these boats are strong, capable sailors and usually survive hurricanes.”
The progress of Black Rock can be tracked on the program’s website: educationalpassages.com.
“The kids and I will be watching it all summer,” Whitman said.