KNAPPA — All around Misty Lindstrom’s third-grade classroom Friday, students were sanding hulls, filling keels and studying the currents in the Pacific Ocean.
Next door, Melissa Reid’s third-graders were planning the letters they would write to their peers in Hachinohe, a city in Japan.
The two classes are part of a new program by the Columbia River Maritime Museum connecting students in Oregon with peers in Japan through a voyage across the Pacific.
Elementary and middle school classes in Oregon are building 10 miniature fiberglass boats. Five will be shipped to classrooms with students of a similar age in Japan. On each side of the Pacific, students will launch the vessels and hope they make landfall on the other side.
Nate Sandel, education manager for the maritime museum, visited the East Coast this summer to meet with Dick Baldwin, a solo sailor. After retiring from his hobby, Baldwin launched Educational Passages, trading miniature boats around the world to spread knowledge of oceanography and sailing while promoting cross-cultural exchanges.
The boats, funded through the museum and private donors, are built to withstand rough weather. Each carries a GPS unit that uploads the boat’s position twice a day, along with a watertight compartment acting as a time capsule carrying mementos from students.
“I contacted the Japanese consulate and said, ‘We’re doing this in five schools in Oregon, but those boats probably aren’t going to cross the ocean this school year,” he said.
Because of the clockwise current swirling around the North Pacific Gyre, boats launched from Japan can potentially cross the ocean this school year and provide students results from their project.
Expanding world view
Reid came into work one day to find a flyer for the program in her inbox, applied and was chosen along with teachers from four other schools in the Portland metro area.
“I love the Columbia River Maritime Museum and am passionate not only about teaching and science, but also about bringing different cultures and languages into the classroom,” she said. “It seemed like the perfect fit.”
Reid’s class has built Boat-a-Lahti, which will be launched next month from a platform chosen by students. The boat Lindstrom’s class is building will be shipped to Japan, named by a class there and launched toward America.
“There’s maybe a 1 percent chance one of the U.S. boats make it to Japan,” Sandel said.
There’s about a 20 percent chance a boat launched from the U.S. will make landfall on Asia at all, he said. The hull will carry information in six different languages about the builders and directions for what to do if the vessel is found.
Students will monitor the progress of the boats online and communicate with peers in Japan each month. A local mentor, originally from Japan, is teaching students about Japanese language and culture. Reid is also hoping to take her students to the Portland Japanese Garden.
A native of Knappa, Reid said locals often don’t venture very far or experience different cultures.
“I believe that peace is only achievable if we know each other, and this is an incredibly important and meaningful project in those terms,” she said.
“Finally, we are a tiny community with lots of fishermen,” she said. “We should be connecting across the ocean, right?”