- Students send off mini-boat filled with gifts in 2020
- Mini-boat GPS tracker goes offline
- A sixth-grader finds the damaged boat off of a small island in Norway
RYE, New Hampshire—After a group of New Hampshire students built a roughly six-foot-long miniature boat and filled it with gifts in late 2020, they set it out in the Atlantic Ocean, hoping it would eventually wash ashore and be opened by someone across the globe.
While some students at Rye Junior High School wished for it to drift to Europe, then-sixth grader Solstice Reed wasn’t as convinced the voyage would be successful. “Honestly, I thought it would sink,” she admitted.
Fortunately, to her and her peers’ pleasant surprise, Reed’s initial skepticism turned out to be unfounded.
The Rye Riptides boat, equipped with a tracking device, spent 462 days at sea and registered its coordinates at different points throughout its journey. And this month, at long last, a curious sixth-grader in Smølaa small island near Dyrnes, Norway, found the semi-dismantled boat, later bringing it to his school and opening it with his own delighted classmates.
The cross-continent trek for Rye Riptides, which students and now-retired Rye Junior High School science teacher Sheila Adams stuffed with photos of the Rye students, a facemask with their signatures on it, fall leaves, acorns and state quarters, was conducted with the help of Educational Passages. The Maine-based nonprofit’s goal is to teach students about the ocean and its global impacts. It first began working with Adams on the project in 2018.
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The project was halted during the 2019-2020 school year after the pandemic shut down schools.
“Devastating. The kids were devastated, too, so it was kind of difficult,” Adams said.
However, the former group of students and a new class of fifth-graders banded together to send the boat out in October 2020 at the Gulf Stream off of Florida. With a GPS attached, the students were able to map the mini-boat’s location until it went silent.
Rye Riptides hits land — in Norway
Students continued to check every day. Amid hurricane season last year, the GPS on Rye Riptides came back online, registering plot points on Aug. 18 and on Sept. 30 around the same latitude as Ireland.
However, from there and during the fall and early winter, it went silent again. Exactly four months later on Jan. 30, Cassie Stymiest, the executive director of Educational Passages, got an update: Rye Riptides had appeared to hit land just west of a small island in Norway.
Quickly, she put out an alert on the Educational Passages website: “This is an educational project built by students in Rye, New Hampshire, USA Contact Educational Passages for more information and if you know anyone that can assist in a recovery to avoid damage to the vessel. It is an unscrewed vessel, like a message in a bottle, but we would like to recover it and have it brought to a nearby school to connect students.”
Stymiest wrote to a Norwegian Facebook group, which posted about the small vessel. Local Norwegian news outlets picked up the story to spread the word.
One local sixth-grader, Karel Nuncic, and his family heard about the crashed boat. With the family’s dog in tow, Karel and his parents went out to the small island, which is less than a mile from their home, after school on Feb.1.
They headed over by boat to check through the rocks. That afternoon, Karel and his parents spotted the colorful boat, which had been damaged during its odyssey.
Covered in gooseneck barnacles that had grown on it, Rye Riptides had been dismasted, with its hull and keel no longer attached. The boat’s deck and its cargo hold, with the items that Rye Junior High Students had placed in them more than a year before, were still intact.
“There’s a magical thing, there’s so much hope in it, you really just don’t know what’s going to happen. When you’re sending it out, you have no idea where it’s going to end up, how it’s going to get there, if it ends up (anywhere) at all,” Stymiest said. “But these kids, they put their hopes and dreams and wishes into it and I tend to think sometimes that helps.”
The day after he found it, Karel Nuncic took Rye Riptides to his school, Smøla barneskole, where the students unhatched the cargo hold and browsed through the trinkets and gifts from Rye students. The moment was captured by a Norwegian national television crew and the story was later picked up and shared on the Facebook page of the United States Embassy in Oslo.
‘It’s just been an adventure’
While plans are also in the works for Karel and his classmates to pen a letter back to Rye students, the two classes will speak on a video call soon, as some of the Norwegian students are bilingual and speak English.
“The mom (Mariann Nuncic) sent us a video of Karel reading the letter that they (Rye students) had written, with really good English,” Stymiest said.
Adams and Stymiest have been telling the story of Rye Riptides to students at the junior high in recent days. Five students involved with the project — current sixth-graders Jack Facella, Keira Hagen and Caitlin Tabit with seventh-graders Molly Flynn and Reed — have been named the project’s “ambassadors,” with each of them tasked to also give presentations on Rye Riptides’ voyage to other students.
“I was surprised the boat actually made it somewhere,” Flynn said. “I thought it was going to get stuck in some middle spot (on the map) and it actually made it, and it was really, really cool and surprising.”
“It’s just been an adventure. Every day when we would check on (the boat), it was just crazy where it would go with the currents,” Facella said.
Hagen said the story of Rye Riptides is exciting because it involved students from two separate grades and continued on after both classes had left Adams’ instruction.
“And now it’s finally landed and we get to keep working on it,” she said.
Past miniature boats that have sailed as part of Educational Passages have ended up in other parts of Europe and in Africa. In 2019, one that was launched in the Indian Ocean ended up in western Australia, while others have been launched in the Pacific Ocean.
“For some reason, it (Rye Riptides) got pushed a little bit far north out of that (Gulf Stream) system and went to the Arctic,” Stymiest said. “It’s just unbelievable.”
Rye Riptides is the second Educational Passages miniature boat to ever land in Norway, the first coming in July 2021.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism