May 29, 2012

Maine students’ sailboat is lost and then found on Hatteras


A group of fourth graders in Yarmouth, Maine, embarked on an ambitious project earlier this year to customize a small sailboat equipped with a GPS unit, drop it into the Gulf Stream off Hatteras, and track its journey.

The goal of the school program, called Educational Passages, is to teach the students about such things as currents, navigation, geography, and culture.

The students named the white boat with a blue sail the Yarmouth Clipper Ship and decorated it with such things as a map of Maine, a Maine license plate, a picture of the school, and instructions to anyone who might find it on land or at sea.

About two weeks ago, a ship from the Maine Maritime Academy dropped the small boat and four others from East Coast schools into the Gulf Stream not far from Cape Hatteras.

The students hoped the Gulf Stream would carry the little boat across the ocean, and perhaps to Europe.

But that wasn’t to be – at least on the first try.

Rough seas off the coast from Tropical Storms Alberto and Beryl started driving the Yarmouth Clipper Ship and many of the other boats toward shore.

After two weeks of tracking the Yarmouth Clipper Ship, the students left school for the long Memorial Day holiday weekend, knowing it was heading toward land.

Over the weekend, their teacher Molly Smith had an e-mail from the founder of the Educational Passages program confirming that the GPS coordinates indicated that the boat had washed ashore in Cape Hatteras National Seashore.

Because of the long weekend, Smith did not read the e-mail until this morning.  She immediately began to send out e-mails to businesses and local government workers in the area to ask them to inquire whether anyone had found the boat or if they would be willing to search for it.

She had replies from several folks who volunteered to search.

However, the search didn’t last long.  Word eventually spread on the Internet that the boat had been found on Saturday afternoon.

Lauren Heesemann, a NOAA research coordinator in Manteo, and several friends went on a beach walk Saturday on Pea Island. They discovered the boat on the beach just south of the Pea Island Inlet, formed in August by Hurricane Irene.

“We didn’t know exactly what it was at first,” Heesemann said today.  However, they looked it over and read the contact information on it and talked to staff at the Coastal Studies Institute in Manteo.

Later this week, staff from the institute will deliver the Yarmouth Clipper Ship to students at Cape Hatteras Secondary School of Coastal Studies, who will break the good news to the Maine fourth-graders and help them get their project back to the Gulf Stream.

Molly Smith didn’t get the news until this afternoon that the boat had been found and predicted the students would be ecstatic.

“They’ll be so excited to hear it was found by good folks who will take care of it,” Smith said.

We’ll keep you updated on theYarmouth Clipper Ship's voyage back to sea.


To read about the project of the Yarmouth students, go to

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