OLD TOWN, Maine — A tiny vessel launched in June 2009 by a local group of K-Kids, a youth service group, was all but lost after its Global Positioning System blinked off four months later.
Amazingly, the unmanned 4½-foot sailing ship, which survived hurricanes and stormy weather during its time at sea, was found this summer off the coast of Ireland.
“We could follow it up to Nov. 4 or 5” of 2009, Mary Bagley, a reading specialist for Old Town Elementary School and a K-Kids adviser, said this week. “When we lost contact with it, we had the kids guess where it was going to go. Because I have Irish ancestry, I told them, ‘I guess Ireland.’”
The pupils, in grades three to five, used Google Earth to follow the little sailboat, dubbed the K-Kids Kruiser, which was one of five launched in 2009 from students at Maine schools through the Belfast-based Educational Passages program.
Maine Maritime Academy cadets aboard the training ship State of Maine placed the K-Kids Kruiser in the water off the coast of Virginia on June 19, 2009.
The boat’s GPS sent out a signal every two hours, which allowed the youngsters to track its course, position and speed, and even the height of the sea’s waves.
The Old Town pupils and MMA cadets tracked the small fiberglass boat as it followed Atlantic Ocean currents from Virginia up the Eastern Seaboard and toward Europe. The GPS went dead in November 2009, when the vessel was about 500 miles from the southernmost point of France, Bagley said.
MMA cadets picked up one of the five little sailboats launched in 2009, the USS CPS, off the coast of Spain back in June when they were heading home to Maine. That vessel traveled 8,473 nautical miles, including a voyage into the Bermuda Triangle, while on its yearlong trip.
The miniboats are made in Maine by students learning the trade and are unsinkable, crafted from polyfoam with 12 pounds of lead ballast.
The K-Kids, a youth service group of the Orono-Old Town Kiwanis Club ages 8-11, stuffed a water-tight compartment on the sailboat with “a lot of goodwill messages” and some Kiwanis pins, said Bagley. “They were so excited about it.”
The 30 or so pupils raised about $600 to purchase the boat by helping out with breakfast trays at the school, holding a spaghetti dinner, selling Christmas cards and running a school store, which offers pens, pencils, erasers and other educational items to fellow students, Bagley said.
After more than a year on the water and eight months without a sighting, the watercraft was found by Irish farmer Michael Cafferkey, who stumbled across it last summer while walking on Fahy Strand, near Ballycroy, she said.
“A fellow was walking on the beach … on July 29 and found it,” Bagley said. “From Nov. 4  to July 29, we [didn’t] know where it was. We’re thrilled. The folks over there are just lovely.”
Cafferkey took the vessel to his neighborhood pub, Sloyan’s Bar in Castlebar, where it resides today. The K-Kids Kruiser also has visited a nearby school, Drumgallagh Primary School, in Ballycroy, Bagley said. She added that she hopes the boat someday will make another trip home.
“I’m willing to go get it,” she said.