Charleston fourth graders’ ship makes dream of an ocean trip

The Carolina Dreamer launched by Amy McMahon’s fourth grade class at St. Andrews School of Math and Science washed up on a rocky beach in Bermuda before making its way to Wales.

The fourth graders showed some real sea sense for the class’ first transatlantic crossing. Rather than put the GPS on the deck they secured it underneath the hull. By the time the Carolina Dreamer beached in Wales, the deck had torn clean off.

But the 6-feet long unmanned craft with its lone sail, built from a kit by Amy McMahon’s fourth grade early navigation and weather class at St. Andrews School of Math and Science, went on a 4,000-mile odyssey that has captivated the world.

The students didn’t know what to expect last May when a Maine Maritime Academy training ship launched the boat about 400 miles off the South Carolina coast, working with Dick Baldwin’s Educational Passage program. It was the first of the program boats to be launched off Charleston.

The best guess was it would simply work its way down the coast and land in Florida somewhere. But three days later it made a rocky landing in Bermuda. Refurbished and relaunched, it began turning wide gyres in the huge mid-ocean eddy.

Meanwhile, the fourth graders, who had put it together with help from Kurt Oberle at the High & Dry Boatworks, moved on to fifth grade. The new class took over the project last fall.

Then Baldwin, tracking the GPS pings, updated the school — the ship was headed for Ireland. Some of the class thought it would make its way in, some thought it could head as far south as Portugal. They were transfixed.

Inside the boat was a time capsule with class contact information, along with Lowcountry touches including a sweetgrass flower, an olive shell, and a recipe for shrimp and grits.

A storm hit it earlier this month and then the pinging stopped.

“All of us were about to start crying,” said fourth-grader Nyah Quirk. “That’s like part of our family.”

Meanwhile in Wales, a mother walking with her 3-year-old son on a beach looked up and the boat “literally sailed right to us. It was magical,” Helen Hinks told the BBC. She had put it in her garage, where the GPS signal was blocked.

Searching for it, the class contacted a nearby harbor master. The local newspaper ran a story about the discovery and the harbor master put two and two together. The boat’s wild trip and the charm of its recovery went viral on social media.

“We’re a little overwhelmed,” McMahon said Friday, after the class learned to Skype for a BBC interview and was prepping for a Wales TV interview.

Hinks told the class she would coordinate refurbishing the boat. The class will go back to the school PTA for donation financing. Surreptitiously enough, a Maine Maritime Academy ship is scheduled to be in Ireland and could help relaunch.

Where’s the Dreamer headed next? Africa, classmate Eleanor Mathewes thinks. France or Spain, Reid Lunsford said. Jackson Berry thinks it’s just going to stay in place, floating around the islands of the United Kingdom.

The time capsule, which was attached to the deck, is likely still out there somewhere and could be next to come in.

The class, though, is on to its next project.

“We’re going to build our own boat,” McMahon said.

“Different design,” classmate Kamran Herrick said nodding. “We want to put different stuff in different spots.”

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