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Local News: Astoria Miniboat Summit brings kids together across the Pacific

Local News: Astoria Miniboat Summit brings kids together across the Pacific

Students and teachers from three area schools met at the Columbia River Maritime Museum in Astoria last week for Miniboat Summit 2020, a chance to show off their boat building handiwork, thank supporters, and christen small unmanned sailboats bound for the high seas. Joanne Rideout reports.

(Script Follows, Listen Below [2:48])

Yellow school buses arrived in the Columbia River Maritime Museum parking lot, on the banks of the Columbia River, as kids, teachers and families gathered to convene Miniboat Summit 2020.

[ambi crowd noise rising…]

Students from Warrenton Grade School and Columbia City Elementary in Oregon, and Wy’east Middle School in Vancouver, Wash., were there to celebrate a victory, and a partnership with kids their age on the other side of the ocean. They’re part of a museum program building miniboats, that’s been happening since 2017.

Miniboats are 5-foot long, GPS equipped sailboats, which are cast adrift to catch wind and ocean currents that will take them to the other side of the ocean. The kids here built them. In Japan, a complimentary group of kids there have also been designing, building, and launching similar boats. Students on both sides of the Pacific can track the progress of their boats online.

The maritime museum sponsors the miniboat program, with help from an organization called Educational Passages, which offers expertise to help schools get miniboat projects launched. Since 2017, 1,200 students on both sides of the Pacific have built a total of 21 miniboats, traveling about 54,000 nautical miles so far.

The program is a partnership with the Consular Office of Japan in Portland. Supporters include Pacific Power, the U.S. Coast Guard, The Columbia River Bar Pilots, NOAA and others.

Museum education director Nate Sandel said the program had been life-changing for everyone involved. While the kids learned lot of practical and critical thinking skills in the process of boat building, he reminded them that the project was about so much more than boats.

Nate Sandel: “I know that this miniboat program has changed the trajectory of your life. And has given you a new found sense of confidence. And to me that’s what the program is really all about. In reality, it’s not about getting these miniboats across the Pacific Ocean. It’s about the teamwork that you all did to make this happen.” applause.

At the conclusion of the ceremonies, which included watching a video from their counterpart students in Japan, all three schools christened their boats with sparkling cider. Here’s Warrenton Elementary’s boat, Goonies, getting her official sendoff:

[Sound of bottle smashing and cheers…..]

The boats are launched in the ocean off bar pilot and coast guard vessels as conditions permit. Then the kids start tracking their boats as they cross the Pacific. In Astoria, I’m Joanne Rideout reporting.