If you happen to be out on the North Atlantic in November, don’t be surprised if you see a unmanned mini-sailboat slide by downwind. The Portland, Maine, educational group The Compass Project, which teaches social, academic and job skills to young people via boatbuilding and rowing, is participating in a race of four 55-inch long, 16-inch beam mini, unmanned sail craft. The small boats are set up to only sail and drift downwind. In mid-November, the four sailboats will be carried south from Maine by a Brazilian freighter. They will be released at approximately the latitude of Puerto Rico and then sail/drift downwind toward Europe. The boats will be tracked by GPS and an uplink to iBoatTracks. “The first boat to reach longitude 20 west, approximately 100 miles from Europe, will be declared the winner,” said Compass Project Director Patricia Ryan. “Students will follow their boat’s progress through web-based satellite positioning systems and will study ocean and wind currents and advanced computer tracking systems.” The four boats are sponsored by 1) The Compass Project, 2) Mt. Desert Community Sailing, 3) Searsport High School and Middle School and 4) Belfast High School.
The mini sailboats were designed by Richard Baldwin, founder of the Belfast, Maine-based Educational Passages, which builds the 4.5-foot long mini racers, and a long-time sailor. The boats are equipped with self-tending sails that will allow them to follow the winds and the Gulf Stream from the U.S. to Europe. Each of the boats will have finder’s instructions printed on it, so those who find the vessels can return them to the U.S.