BELFAST, Maine — Five miniature sailboats will be roaming the North Atlantic this summer at the whim of the wind and currents.
The boats will be launched from the Maine Maritime Academy training vessel State of Maine during its annual summer cruise as part of Educational Passages 2009 Trans Atlantic Miniature Yacht Race.
The 4½-foot-long, self-steering sailboats will have GPS equipment on board with a satellite link that will enable their student sponsors to track their course, position, speed and wave height on their personal computers connected to the Internet.
The Waldo County YMCA, Belfast Area High School, Camden Hills High School, Old Town Elementary School and the Adams School for kindergarten through grade eight in Castine will each sponsor a boat.
The hulls were designed by Holland Boat of Belfast and are being built at the Midcoast School of Technology in Rockland. They will be finished and equipped by Educational Passages founder Richard Baldwin of Belfast. They are made of polyfoam with 12 pounds of lead ballast and are unsinkable.
“This is a great educational opportunity and also a lot of fun,” Baldwin said Monday while meeting with student sponsors at the YMCA. “It’s great for teaching geography, time zones, weather, navigation and map skills.”
Baldwin said Educational Passages had a test run last year when two boats were dropped off the MMA’s schooner Bowdoin while on its way to the Arctic.
The boats were dropped off in Newfoundland waters, but wind and current shifts prevented them from crossing the Atlantic as planned. Instead they beached on Newfoundland. One boat traveled 1,993 miles in 17 days but never got farther to sea than 60 miles from the Newfoundland coast.
Baldwin said the boat was retrieved by a fisherman who is storing it in his barn. He said he tracked the voyage and also saw the barn by using Google Earth.
The State of Maine will steam to Key West, the Yucatan Peninsula, Puerto Rico, the Azores, Newfoundland, Baltimore and Rockland before returning to Castine. Baldwin said he expects the boats to be dropped off along the way to those locations. He hopes the wind will carry them to Europe, North America and the Caribbean.
Instructions laminated on the sailboats’ decks will advise mariners that if found at sea to leave them there and if found on land to notify the school of its location.
“We’ve got this big loop the ship goes in and Captain Larry Wade will drop them off along the way,” Baldwin said. “These things only go straight downwind. If one lands in France we’ll have the members of the school’s French class contact the nearest school there and ask them to pick it up. Retrieving these boats is half the fun of it. We’ll know within 300 feet where they will come ashore.”
Baldwin has scheduled sea trials for the boats for April 25 in Belfast. He is still looking for a volunteer with a motorboat to assist him with the trials. On April 28, the students will drop their boats off at MMA. While there they will tour the State of Maine, the campus, meet with faculty and students, and try out the academy’s simulator.
“Maine Maritime has been great working with us on this,” Baldwin said. “We’re very grateful.”
For more information, contact Baldwin at 338-4087 or visit educationalpassages.com.