What started as a junior class project turned into an expedition across the Atlantic, bridging the gap between two continents.
A small unmanned sailboat, built and launched by students in New Hampshire, traveled to Norway, where it ran aground and was found by a family more than a year later.
Their young son took him to school where he, alongside enthusiastic classmates and teachers, opened the cargo hatch. It contained a handful of messages and trinkets placed there by American children – and the moment was broadcast on Norwegian national news.
Using GPS tracking, a team from Massachusetts had tracked the ship’s progress for part of its 462-day voyage, although there were long periods of silence. The boat, Rye Riptides, had traveled a total distance of over 8,300 miles.
The project was a collaboration between Rye Junior High and Maine-based Educational Passages. Aiming to develop a wealth of skills and knowledge, it began in 2020, when fifth-grade students in Ms. Sheila Adams’ science class began building.
Educational Passages delivered a kit to make the 5.5ft unmanned craft.
“This project tapped into much more than the science curriculum,” Ms Adams said in a press release, detailing the start of a learning journey that would end at the hands of a group of strangers in Smøla. , in Norway, in February 2022.
As excitement began to build seeing the mini-boat come together, the pandemic hit and students were sent home for the rest of the school year. Not to be discouraged, they each created an artwork for the bridge, which was submitted and made into a collage. The boat was then ready to sail.
However, with CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus restrictions causing further hiccups, the official launch was delayed, meaning the class was given the opportunity to add their special input: decide what color to paint at the bottom and add messages.
On October 25, 2020, Rye Riptides finally set sail. The first leg of the trip was from Massachusetts to Florida, which took six weeks. The Sea Education Association of Woods Hole volunteered to launch Rye Junior High’s boat, alongside another, Sojourner’s Truth, from JFK Middle School in Northampton.
Chief scientist Dr Jeffrey Schell, who launched the two mini-boats from the after deck of the much larger Corwith Cramer vessel, described the thrilling moment.
“When Rye Riptides and Sojourner’s Truth hit the water, there was a loud cheer from the crew as both mini-boats immediately took to the wind,” he said.
The fate of ships was henceforth at the mercy of the seas. The Rye Riptides tracking device sometimes went silent and they wondered if all was lost. After 10 months, during hurricane season, children and teachers began to receive intermittent reports. Around September, they discovered that their boat was at about the same latitude as Ireland, until it disappeared.
It will only show up again at the end of January, when it appears to have hit a small, desolate island in Norway. The small boat was battered when the Nuncic family tracked it down with the help of social media.
The mast, hull and keel were gone and she was covered in barnacles. But Karel Nuncic, the sixth-grade student who took the boat to his school, Smøla barneskole, was delighted the next day to find the deck and hold intact.
Ms. Adams has since retired, but the adventurous project she helped start lives on. Video links between Rye Junior High and the Norwegian school are planned, celebrating the unlikely bond formed across the pond.
“What I find so special about Educational Passages is that it combines education with the mystery of a message in a bottle and the hope for human connection across the sea,” said Schell points out.
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