WOOLWICH — A small fiberglass vessel, fitted with a GPS and filled with mementos, is going to head off on a voyage on the Atlantic sometime this month thanks to students and teachers at Woolwich Central School.

The project is part of the MiniBoat program, started by an organization called Educational Passages. The brainchild of Dick Baldwin, who lives in Belfast, the program creates small, durable fiberglass boats that can withstand the weather of the Atlantic and go wherever the wind and waves take them.

The idea behind the program came after Baldwin completed a multi-month solo-sail trip down the Atlantic coast. Upon returning, he came up with the idea of sending a small boat off on its own journey, that he could then follow along from the comfort of his home instead of out in the surf.

A little over four-feet long, the small fiberglass boats are fitted with a heavy keel (or more precisely, a skeg) on the stern of the boat and a diamond-shaped sale at the bow. The foam-filled hull keeps the small boat afloat in even the roughest weather, while the heavy keel keeps it upright.

The design, while simple, has proven to be remarkably durable. Almost every boat has been recovered, even if their masts have broken. They’ve survived hurricanes and all manner of terrible weather. One boat, which was recovered by students of Maine Maritime Museum out at sea, was still floating around despite being covered in 250 pounds of barnacles.

Baldwin was on-hand to give a presentation to several fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth grade students of Woolwich Central School about the boats and how the design came to be.

A key innovation that came later in the project, he said, is the nature of the sail. It’s designed so that any waves that hit it will bend the boom of the sail instead of the mast.

“The first boats we did, the mast would break or bend,” said Baldwin. That includes when the masts were made out of thick steel pipe.

So far, the small boats have managed to reach 14 different countries in 95 different launches. Thanks to the GPS, the schools involved typically know when they’re getting close to land, so they begin contacting the schools and organizations near the area it might come ashore in the hopes that someone finds it and picks it up. So far, only a handful of boats have gone missing. The rest have been found, and many have been re-launched by the countries they ended up in.

Partnerships have been made through the program with schools in Portugal, the Canary Islands, Ireland, Scotland, and more thanks to the small boats ending up on their shores. Some of the little boat sail for over a year, and end up traveling over 10,000 miles before the journey is done.

Dean Emerson, the technology director for Regional School Unit 1, first brought it to the school’s attention. Mary Moran, grade 5 teacher at Woolwich Central School, thought it would be a great opportunity to draw in students of all grade levels at the school.

“Science and geography are obviously the big ones,” said Moran about the project’s benefit. Learning about the culture of where the boat ends up, art classes to decorate it, and more are also possibilities.

The project, said Moran, seems like natural fit in a community with plenty of ties to the water. Baldwin highlighted that by asking how many of the students present had ever been sailing before, and more than half raised their hands.

The hope is to have some fisherman take the small boat 75 miles off the coast so it can be launched. From there, where it will end up is anyone’s guess.

For more information about the program, visit Educational Passages.

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