A wooden toy boat tossed into the ocean as part of an elementary school project 27 years ago has washed up on the shores of Wisconsin early October. The teacher who launched its journey has come forward, marveling at the little boat’s longevity.
The weathered red, white, and blue toy was spotted by Lynn BeBeau and her husband, Mike, on a remote Apostle Island beach on the shores of Lake Superior in Wisconsin.
“I noticed a little colored piece of wood buried in the sand about 20 feet from the water,” Mike told KBJR. “I thought it might have been a net buoy or a net float that had broken loose from a commercial fisherman’s boat or something.”
“We like to just find remote places and just see what we discover,” added Lynn, “and this was by far the coolest discovery ever.”
The boat still bore its original handwritten message in felt marker on its hull. “I am traveling to the ocean,” it reads. “Please put me back in the water.” The note then implores finders to communicate their location to Lakewood Elementary School in Duluth, Minnesota, some 100 miles away.
Lynn and Mike took a series of Turneresque shorescape photos of the boat at Lake Superior before heeding the note’s instructions, tossing the wooden toy back into the water. They then contacted the school.
On Oct. 9, 2020, Lynn shared an exciting development on Facebook. “With the help of the Duluth school administration and social media, the teacher who launched this boat was located this afternoon,” she announced.
Teacher Bonnie Fritch came forward, telling school administrators that she and a fellow teacher, Brenda Schell, had launched two boats for a 1993–1994 class unit on Holling C. Holling’s children’s book “Paddle-to-the-Sea.” The story chronicles a small wooden canoe after its launch onto Lake Superior.
“We mapped out the travels of the canoe through the Great Lakes,” Fritch told Duluth Public Schools. “A friend of Brenda’s made the boats for us, and our classes painted them and added the message to the bottom.”
The boats were launched at Brighton Beach, Fritch continued, sharing a photograph of Schell and herself at the water’s edge with their vessels in hand. Schell’s boat ventured out toward the vast North Atlantic, never to be seen again (to our knowledge), but Fritch’s surfaced a year later on the North Shore of Lake Superior.
“The people put a second coat of varnish on the boat and relaunched it,” she recalled. “I thought we wouldn’t hear any more about it. Amazing it is still out there.”
Lynn told the news outlet that she plans to buy a copy of “Paddle-to-the-Sea” to read to her grandchildren, to keep the incredible story alive.
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