A Norwegian student found a boat launched by New Hampshire middle-schoolers in 2020
The remains of a miniboat launched by New Hampshire middle schoolers have been discovered by a sixth-grade student in Norway, 462 days and more than 8,300 miles later.
It was an eventful journey for the 5.5-foot boat, which was built by two consecutive middle school science classes in partnership with the nonprofit organization Educational Passages and first set sail (uncrewed) from Massachusetts in October 2020. The boat's GPS reported intermittently over the years until the end of January, when a family recovered it from an uninhabited Norwegian island thanks to a social media connection.
"Our miniboat made it to the local school in Norway! Their 6th grade class opened the hatch to find our package of materials all dry inside! Amazing, considering the condition it was in!" Rye Junior High School posted on Facebook over the weekend.
The science class project got delayed by COVID-19
Rye Junior High and the nonprofit Educational Passages — which says it aims to connect students around the world to the ocean and one another — started working together on the project in 2018, according to a release. The organization provided students with an assembly kit in 2020, though the construction and launch were complicated by the coronavirus pandemic.
Science teacher Sheila Adams said her students had built the boat and were just getting ready to decorate it when COVID-19 forced classes online. Undeterred, they figured out a way to finish the project remotely: Students each submitted pieces of artwork, which were then scanned, printed and assembled into a collage on the boat's deck. It was ready to set sail by summer vacation.
"Over the summer, we worked together to try and find a deployer for the vessel that could take the boat out to sea beyond the Gulf of Maine, but found it challenging with all of the restrictions in place," said Cassie Stymiest, the director of Educational Passages. "So we waited until fall and introduced the new 5th-grade class to the project virtually."
In order to connect the new class to the boat they had not built, the project leaders solicited student input on which color to paint the bottom, what messages to fill it with and where the vessel might end up. Some students hoped it would drift to Europe, while others were more skeptical, as The Portsmouth Herald reported.
"Honestly, I thought it would sink," Solstice Reed, then a sixth-grader, told the newspaper.
The Sea Education Association in Woods Hole, Mass., volunteered to launch the Rye Riptides alongside another miniboat, called Sojourner's Truth, from JFK Middle School in Northampton, Mass.
The students delivered their boat to the Sea Education Association crew, docked in Massachusetts, on Oct. 9, 2020. They took it aboard the SSV Corwith Cramer, which then traveled to Florida and launched the miniboats into the Gulf Stream on Oct. 25.
"When Rye Riptides and Sojourner's Truth hit the water there was a raucous cheer from the crew as both miniboats caught the wind immediately and certainly appeared to be sailing faster than we were onboard the Corwith Cramer," SEA Chief Scientist Dr. Jeffrey Schell recalled.
After radio silence, the GPS pinged from an uninhabited island
Adams and her students kept track of the boat's course on a map whenever its GPS pinged.
The Herald reports that Adams left a note on the map asking it to be saved for students when she retired unexpectedly at the end of last school year and found out that custodians had been updating it during summer vacation.
But after about 10 months at sea, the GPS began reporting only intermittently during hurricane season of 2021. It sent one ping on Aug. 18 and another on Sept. 30. Students kept checking for status reports, even while they were learning online.
Then, on Jan. 30, the GPS reported once again — this time from a small uninhabited island in Smøla, near Dyrnes, Norway.
"It didn't look like an island that would be walked, so we needed to try and make contact with someone in the area to possibly assist in recovering the boat," reads an update on the Educational Passages website.
The organization posted a notice on its website explaining the educational purpose of the project and asking for help safely recovering the boat if possible. The message also made its way into local news and onto the Facebook page of a nearby Norwegian community.
That's where the family of a local sixth-grader, Karel Nuncic, heard about the crashed boat. One early February afternoon after school, Nuncic, his parents and their puppy boated out to the island — which is visible from their home — and found what was left of the Rye Riptides.
"The boat had been dismasted, and the hull and keel were no longer attached," Educational Passages said. "The majority of the deck, with the cargo hold embedded, was intact and sealed. After cleaning off barnacles that had grown on the boat during its voyage, the family brought the boat home."
The voyage made headlines, and a special connection
Nuncic brought the boat to his school the next day, where students opened the cargo hatch to find the messages and gifts that the middle schoolers had deposited nearly two years before.
The grand opening was filmed by a national television crew and shared across social media, including by the U.S. Embassy in Oslo.
"It means a lot to have this story shared so widely, and to see so many people congratulating the students!" Stymiest told NPR over email. "That is what it is all about."
The boat's viral voyage is also personal for those involved.
"After 462 days and 13,412 km of traveling across the Atlantic Ocean, the deck and cargo hold were the only remaining pieces of the boat, but the messages inside have sparked a new friendship between schools," the organization said.
The Norwegian students said they would be writing a letter to their new American friends, and the classrooms have a virtual meeting planned for Thursday.
This story originally appeared in the Morning Edition live blog.
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