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Rhode Island Students’ mini-boat adventure ends in Cape Breton discovery

By Evan Taylor Sep 28, 2023 | 12:26 PM

A S / CC

Three months ago, a small sailboat embarked on an extraordinary voyage from the coast of Florida. This diminutive autonomous vessel was meticulously crafted by Grade 7 students at Frank E. Thompson Middle School in Newport, Rhode Island. Their initial aim was for it to traverse the Atlantic and reach Europe, akin to a modern-day message in a bottle equipped with GPS tracking technology and an ambitious goal of fostering cross-continental classroom connections.

Cassie Stymiest, serving as the Executive Director of Educational Passages, a non-profit organization based in Maine that initiated the mini-boat program, explained that typically, these vessels follow a path leading them to the North Atlantic Drift, ultimately finding their way to European shores. The overarching objective was to facilitate interactions between students across the globe when the boat eventually reached its distant destination.

However, destiny charted a different course for the vessel, christened the TMS Sea Challenger. Instead of adhering to its intended eastward trajectory, a series of hurricane systems diverted its path, leading the small craft into Canadian waters.

Last week, concerns emerged as the Sea Challenger ceased its routine transmissions, leaving Stymiest with the disquieting notion that it might have run aground somewhere in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. This prompted her to turn to social media for assistance.

An email sent to a Nova Scotia surfing group piqued the interest of Michelle Richards, an avid explorer of Richmond County’s coastal expanses along Cape Breton’s southern shore. Richards took it upon herself to organize a search expedition, enlisting the help of two surfers from Maine and an individual well-versed in Cape Breton’s rugged terrain.

Their search expedition yielded success when, last Saturday, they stumbled upon the remnants of the Sea Challenger nestled along a rocky section of St. Esprit Beach, securing it within a surfboard bag.

Upon their return, Richards and her team eagerly opened the vessel’s remains to reveal a trove of items, including the key to the city of Newport, Rhode Island, a signed baseball, and a student journal inscribed with heartfelt messages like “Enjoy the ride” and “Wave at Canada when you go by.”

The next chapter in this maritime odyssey involves delivering the capsule of treasures to a Cape Breton classroom, where local students will have the opportunity to connect with the young boat builders from Rhode Island who set the vessel on its 88-day, unforeseen journey.