It took 168 days and 12 hours at sea, but the “Little Boat That Could,” well, did.
The 4-foot drifter boat, launched by seven students in Kennebunk High School’s Alternative Education program in December, landed on an island in Scotland, against all odds.
Set with GPS and sensors for wind speed, solar panels and a camera, the alternative education students launched the “Little Boat” on Dec. 29 near Georges Bank, an elevated area of seafloor off the Maine coast.
The project was done in collaboration with the Landing School in Arundel, which offers degree programs in boat design, construction and marine systems, and the Kennebunkport Conservation Trust. Students at the Landing School did most of the construction, but the KHS students worked with their engineering teachers to design the sensors.
Alternative Education Teacher Ed Sharood said in December the project is just one of many completed by the students as part of their community service work and experiential learning.
The boat was constructed from a kit purchased by Educational Passages, a Belfast,
Maine-based foundation that seeks to educate people about ocean sciences, and funded through an $1,800 grant from San Francisco-based RSF Social Finance, a nonprofit financial services organization that offers investment, lending and philanthropic services to individuals.
And, while the group could’ve bought the boat already constructed, they wanted to take a more hands-on approach and build it themselves, then-senior Josh Ellis said in December.
“Ours is kind of a more in-depth project than the other ones,” Ellis said, adding that the boat is the first of more than 70 Educational Passages boats to include sensors.
While the students had hoped the boat would make landfall in Ireland, the ocean’s currents had other plans. First, the boat traveled to the northeast, then dipped south toward Spain before going west and up past Ireland to Balivanich, on the Isle of Benbecula in Scotland’s Western Isles.
There, couple John and Angelika Dawson, walking their dog, came across the beached vessel and notified local police, according to the Educational Passages website. The United Kingdon’s HM Coast Guard recovered the boat, and it has since been turned over to Marri Morrison, a primary school teacher from the nearby island North Uist, where the boat will be repaired before being relaunched.
“It’s super exciting,” Leia Lowery, director of education at the Kennebunkport Conservation Trust, said Friday. “We kind of felt like it was sort of an epic journey for them in that all of it was so metaphorically perfect. This boat went completely against what it was supposed to do … and then all of a sudden it ended up where it was supposed to go.”
The boat, which is relatively intact, will be repaired by students at the primary school in Scotland. Lowery said she hopes that school and the KHS students will be able to video conference over the next year, with the KHS students coaching the primary students through the repairs.
From there, the boat will be launched again with the hopes of making a journey to South America, and the Scottish students will send the boat’s data chip back to the States for the KHS students to analyze.
While fostering international connections is an incredible experience for the students, Lowery said, there’s much more to take away from the boat’s journey, including a working knowledge of the ocean and humans’ impact on it.
“The cultural piece is definitely important but we’re also learning about the ocean. As we’re doing this we’re talking about some of those things, like how our trash follows the currents as well and we have entire microplastic trash areas in our oceans,” she said. “We’re trying to teach them a little bit about that.”
The success of the project is monumental, but not all students were sure it would work out so well — lending to drifter’s name, “The Little Boat That Could.”
“There were a couple that said, ‘There’s no way this things going to make it, it’ll be eaten by a whale or hit by a ship and sink,” Sharood said by phone on Friday. “I sent out texts to all of them and got responses like, ‘No way, I can’t believe it,’ or ‘Are you serious?’”
“I think they’re all really excited,” he said.
The alternative education program, designed for students who for whatever reason haven’t found success in the mainstream curriculum takes and individualized, community-focused approach to learning.
The program has been lauded by students who participate, like Ellis, who said in December he discovered what he wants to do after high school because of the course, and junior Kristen Cofferen, who said the program saved her from dropping out of school.
Lowery compared the boat’s path — and its name — to the students.
“(The boat is) just like them in that they end up where they’re supposed to be and sometimes they just take a different route,” Lowery said.
Sharood said he’s proud of the students, many of whom discovered their true callings through the project.
“It’s really kind of shown the kids that they can be part of something a lot bigger than themselves,” he said, “That even just building just a little boat in Kennebunk can have this reach.”