The 5-foot ‘Jackalope’ sailboat, with GPS plotter, sets off again

George Kaola, a teacher in the Solomon Islands, and a few children pose with the Jackalope, a small sailboat built by students at UW Lab School. The ship ran aground on Ontong-Java Atoll in August 2017. Kaola and some of her students repaired the ship and launched it from the atoll to the sea on January 24. (Photo George Kaola)

CASPER, Wyoming. – After nearly two and a half years in dry dock on an isolated island in the Pacific Ocean, the Jackalope has finally returned to sea.

The small sailboat, originally built by students at the University of Wyoming Lab School, was launched – complete with a rebuilt sail, a new paint job, and a new GPS tracker – from a small Solomon Islands atoll on January 24 around 7:30 a.m. am Solomon Islands time, according to a UW statement.

In the first few hours of its new voyage, the Jackalope passed through an atoll known as Nukumanu, located just to the northwest.

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“Nukumanu is the last place in Amelia Earhart’s flight path before she and her co-pilot, Fred Noonan, are gone forever,” said Michael Cheadle, associate professor at UW. Department of Geology and Geophysics. “Hopefully that doesn’t make an Amelia Earhart.”

In its first seven days after being relaunched at sea, the miniature craft traveled much further east than the famous aviator, having traveled around 300 miles, Cheadle says.

“It’s 43 miles a day. It’s pretty good for a small boat, ”he says.

Just over three years ago, Cheadle and his wife, geology professor Barbara John, first launched the Jackalope into the Pacific Ocean in hopes that it would run aground on a distant shore and be discovered.

About 5 feet long and equipped with a small sail and keel, the small ship was built by students at UW Lab School in the class of Theresa Williams. The Jackalope was a component of a multi-pronged community outreach effort linked to the National Science Foundation-funded trip of the US research vessel Atlantis and two small submarines to explore and sample the seabed at Pito Deep in the Pacific Ocean in February 2017.

The small craft traveled approximately 7,600 miles, which is equivalent to 30% of the Earth’s circle, during its initial 190-day voyage. The sailboat finally found its way to the shores of Ontong-Java Atoll – one of the most remote atolls in the world – on August 21, 2017. The atoll is located just north of the Solomon Islands and to the east from Papua New Guinea.

Equipped with a GPS that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) monitored, the craft contained a Laramie time capsule and wrote in nearly 20 languages, including Cantonese, Chinese, English, French, Mandarin, Papua New Guinea, Portuguese and Spanish .

The hope was that whoever found the Jackalope would correspond with students at UW Lab School after finding out about its contents. However, this scenario did not play out initially. Fishermen living on the atoll discovered the small boat stranded on the shore. Not knowing what it was, they stripped the vessel of its GPS system and left it in dry dock.

Fortunately, however, George Kaola, who grew up on the atoll but now lives in the Solomon Islands, had been following Jackalope’s travel awareness efforts online. Kaola is a teacher at Kukum Adventist Elementary School in Honiara, the capital of the Solomon Islands.

Kaola traveled to the atoll and picked up the Jackalope at Christmas 2017. After her long voyage, the boat was weather-battered, but fairly intact, without a broken brace on the mast and peeling paint from the hull. , no doubt because of frequent storms. the small craft encountered during its long journey.

John and Cheadle say they received another correspondence, in which Kaola indicated that he and his students would rebuild the Jackalope on the condition that John and Cheadle can send in spare parts, including a new GPS and a sail.

John bought an Iridium GPS, which means it can be tracked by satellite. The new GPS has solar cells, relying on the sun for its power and picking up signal more frequently than the previous GPS, which ran on batteries.

Students at the Lab School painted the new sail and sent a number of trinkets and gifts with it to Solomon Islands.

The project received a boost when John reached out to representatives of The Nature Conservancy in Australia, who said that if she and Cheadle mailed them the parts, they would hand deliver the equipment to Kaola and help her install the GPS. Although it took a while, Kaola and his students eventually restored the Jackalope to its original chandelier.

Cheadle notes that when the Jackalope landed on the shores of the atoll in the summer of 2017, it was heading west.

“George looks like a smart guy. Looks like he launched the boat from the northeastern part of the atoll,” says Cheadle, following the recent launch of the Jackalope on his computer. “He knows about it. the currents enough to make it move away instead of back in. It is now heading east.

As the currents and winds are constantly changing, Cheadle says there is nothing but the open ocean to the east. If the winds and currents remain stable, the Jackalope could eventually land on the shores of South America. On the other hand, says Cheadle, if the currents force the small craft to turn westward, the trade winds can take the sailboat to the Philippines if it manages to miss “a lot of small islands.”

There are also other potential obstacles. While Cheadle didn’t think the tiny sailboat would end up in a whale’s belly, he says it’s more likely that “a shark could take a piece of it, or get run over by an oil tanker or cargo”.

However, Cheadle is much more optimistic.

“If it lands somewhere, I hope it goes to a populated area,” he said. “I hope the school kids find it and take out the little gifts, and put their own knickknacks in it. Build a relationship between these kids and the students at Lab School. And they revive it, and it gets released in the whole world. That would be ideal. “

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