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Student-built miniboats to launch Tuesday

Students at Warrenton Grade School work with Pacific Power engineers Jon Connelly and Stan Co (behind him) on the mini boat that will be launched Tuesday. (Courtesy Noble Communications)
By Cindy Yingst, Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Some Warrenton middle schoolers have donned the hats of sail designers, keel engineers, cargo trackers, and documentarians in a science project that pairs them with students in Japan.

On Tuesday, the local seventh-graders will present their Goonies-themed miniboat at the Columbia River Martime Museum, as will students from Vancouver, Wash., and Columbia City, Ore. The boats will be turned over to the Columbia River Bar Pilots and Coast Guard for launching.

The 5-foot sailboats are equipped with global positioning systems and students will track their progress daily. Each boat is co-designed by students in Japan.

"It's been very interesting, challenging and rewarding," Warrenton Grade School teacher Heidi Lent told the school board Wednesday night.

The miniboat program was developed by the Columbia River Maritime Museum in partnership with the Consular Office of Japan in Portland, Educational Passages, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

It fits into the state’s drive to provide more STEAM education. Students in the miniboat program hit all of those fields: science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics in addition to international exchange.

Having STEAM skills can lead to lucrative careers, said Alisa Dunlap, Clatsop County regional business manager at Pacific Power, which sent engineers to Warrenton Grade School to help students in the design process.

“We are excited to support a program dedicated to enriching the education of young learners and empowering them to try new things and explore their creativity,” Dunlap said.

Following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, debris from the country washed up on Oregon and Washington shores. One of those items, a fishing vessel, is now on display at the maritime museum. The boat and its journey across the ocean was the inspiration for the miniboat program.

Since it began in 2017, 1,213 students on both sides of the Pacific have been involved in the launch of 24 miniboats, traveling a total of 55,236 nautical miles (and climbing daily).

Last spring, a tiny island in the Republic of Kiribati recovered a sailboat designed and built by Portland fourth-graders, who had it launched off the coast of Mexico. It took 472 days to cross the 11,000 nautical miles.

Other schools that have launched boats include Hilda Lahti in Astoria, Gearhart Elementary, Otto Petersen Elementary in Scappoose, Richmond Elementary in Portland and Wy’east Middle School in Vancouver, Wash.

Tuesday’s event is a “miniboat summit” with students from three schools presenting their boats, conducting a sparkling cider christening, then handing them off to be launched in the ocean.

“Miniboats may be small, but they are mighty! They have the power to create substantial and lasting impact — in the community and well beyond,” said Nate Sandel, the museum’s education director. “We’ve seen these boats capture the imagination of our students, but also many people from around the world, who encounter the boats, help with a rescue, or simply follow the boats’ progress online.”

In late November, Sandel traveled to Japan to deliver boats to students there and take part in launches from Japan. All of those boats can be tracked on the museum’s website.

If you go

What: Miniboat summit and launch

When: 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 21

Where: Columbia River Maritime Museum, 1792 Marine Drive, Astoria

Rheyenne Verduzco and Cooper Hipp consider solar-powered running lights for their boat.

Kyle Crabtree looks at a light diode while engineers Stan Co and Jon Connelly of Pacific Power supervise.

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