2018-03-29 / Front Page

Drifter boat clocks 370 miles thus far

BY RYAN GIBBS


The map shows the path Midnight Moon has taken since being launched in February. It’s about 471 miles off Jamestown. The map shows the path Midnight Moon has taken since being launched in February. It’s about 471 miles off Jamestown. Despite encounters with winter storms and heavy surf, a drifter boat monitored by Jamestown students is on its way to Europe.

Midnight Moon was launched into the north Atlantic Ocean in early February by the crew of the lobster boat F/V Terri Ann. The drifter, which was decorated by Melrose School students, is the focus of an oceanography unit being taught by the Conanicut Island Sailing Foundation.

Meg Myles, the foundation’s director, traveled to Cape Cod in January to deliver the boat to Terri Ann captain Marc Palombo.

There, she learned he was launching another drifter from a school in Maine.

“He deployed them within 10 miles of each other,” Myles said. “It’s been interesting to track the two. The other boat took off and went straight, and our boat did a lot of circles. It went far enough south that now it’s started to track into the Gulf Stream better.”

As of Tuesday, Midnight Moon has traveled nearly 370 nautical miles since it was deployed. It is currently about 471 nautical miles from Jamestown, moving in a northeasterly direction. Recently, it has turned west back towards the United States after being caught in an eddy, an oceanic current similar to a whirlpool.

Students at Melrose have been monitoring their drifter through Educational Passages, a nonprofit foundation that provided the drifter boats. There is a dedicated page on its website that features GPS data and its trajectory. Similar data is available on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration website.

Myles also has been plotting the boat’s path using Windy, a website that monitors currents and wind patterns. The site gives a visual representation of the Gulf Stream, which most of the drifter boats utilize to bring them closer to Western Europe.

“The goal is trying to get it offshore enough so that it gets into global current streams and weather patterns rather than localized ones,” Myles said. “Within the first week of its deployment, we all thought it was going to get stuck up in Nova Scotia. We’d have to go rescue it.”

The boat’s due north trajectory, however, was stopped by the four storms that affected New England in March, which pushed the boat out to sea.

“The last set of nor’easters really started to blow it out,” Myles said. “It got hooked into the Gulf Stream. It’s taken a beating for sure.”

Program director Haley Barber has been sharing updates on the boat’s location with students during library periods. She said traveling through the storms has taught the children about the impact weather has on ocean-faring vessels.

“It’s shifted people’s perspective about weather and how much it affects day-to-day life,” she said. “People have been learning a lot about how weather affects things on the ocean. They’re learning that by watching Midnight Moon.”

The elementary school’s involvement with Midnight Moon goes beyond the monitoring lessons. The students were involved with decorating the boat, and it is festooned with their fingerprints and a mural of the sunset behind the Newport Pell Bridge. A watertight compartment in its hull acts as a “time capsule,” filled with artifacts for whoever discovers the vessel, including friendship bracelets, artwork from the kindergartners and a USB flash drive loaded with a slideshow and poems written by the fourth-graders.

In addition to being an educational tool, Midnight Moon is also a social hit with the students. Myles said Barber is now asked more about the boat than the sailing foundation’s popular summer camp.

“They’re always asking about updates,” Barber said. “I’ve been trying to show them, whether it’s in the hallway and I pull my phone out, or in the classes that I teach. We’ve definitely encouraged teachers to follow the boat as much as they can in their classrooms.”

Midnight Moon is currently the only drifter boat from a Rhode Island school that has been deployed in the Atlantic, but it won’t be for much longer. Jamestown Drifter, its counterpart from Lawn School, is set to be launched next week.

That boat was originally planned to launch before the Melrose craft, but hit a delay. There was an electronic fault with its on-board air and water temperature sensors, which Myles hopes to have fixed soon. The boat is currently dry-docked in her backyard until its deployment. Local fisherman Eddie Coughlan has volunteered to take it to sea.

“We talked about if he could launch it as far out as possible,” Myles said. “He understands where it needs to go. It’s ultimately up to him where he deploys it.”

Barber hopes students continue to follow Midnight Moon as it makes its way across the Atlantic Ocean.

“Whatever its journey may be, it’s exciting,” she said. “Hopefully, wherever the boat lands, we can have a fun communication to that community. I think it’s exciting that we get to share our unique community to an unknown destination.”

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