The Mighty Mini-Boat Float: Vancouver mini-boat sails again


Live Streamed events will allow for remote learning and community engagement 

VANCOUVER — First their mini-boat crashed, then their school year.

The seventh grade class from Wy’east Middle School that launched the mini-boat S/V Liberty had to go home about two months ago because of the coronavirus pandemic. Their boat, which had been launched in Astoria this January, bound for Japan, had crashed back on the Oregon coast a few weeks later.

Columbia River bar pilots can be seen here doing sea trials with the S/V Liberty mini-boat in Astoria back in January. Photo by Jacob Granneman
Columbia River bar pilots can be seen here doing sea trials with the S/V Liberty mini-boat in Astoria back in January. Photo by Jacob Granneman

The boat was still sitting in the classroom when school began to shut down.

“That last night before school shut down, I emailed Joe Boken, the teacher at Wy’east Middle School, and said, ‘Whatever happens, take that mini-boat home with you tonight. So it was sitting at his house and the way that this new online learning works, he basically said, ‘How are we going to get this to you?’” said Columbia River Maritime Museum (CRMM) Education Director Nate Sandel. “He said, ‘Maybe I’ll just swim it out in the river and push it out to you.’ We just kind of laughed about that.”

The CRMM Mini-Boats Program involves dozens of schools all over the Pacific Northwest, by getting students engaged with maritime science, team building and critical thinking. It also allows students to learn about the culture of their sister schools in Japan; the destination of many of the mini-boats the students make.

With COVID-19 shutting down the usual means of reengaging with the journeys and launches of the mini-boats, the museum and its partner Pacific Power, will host three free, live streamed events on YouTube and Facebook for the whole community. 

The first one is full of new hope, and it makes berth right here in Vancouver.

“We had that idea and it kind of exploded into this new at home adventure. Not just the ocean, but also the Columbia River and all those exciting career paths that go with that,” Sandel said. “I think what was really amazing about the Liberty is it really fits into that theme, that theme of try, fail and try again.”

The S/V Liberty will relaunch from a Shaver tugboat at the Port of Vancouver for a journey down the Columbia River of over 100 miles on May 29 between 12 and 1 p.m.

Wy’east Middle School science teacher Joe Boken (right) can be seen here with his seventh grade class and their mini-boat, back in 2019. Photo courtesy of CRMM
Wy’east Middle School science teacher Joe Boken (right) can be seen here with his seventh grade class and their mini-boat, back in 2019. Photo courtesy of CRMM

The poetry of this launch is strong, considering the mini-boat was named for the WWII Liberty Ships, which were constructed in vast numbers at Kaiser shipyards near Vancouver from 1941 to around 1945.   

Following this live streamed event, two more events will be hosted online for the public. On June 5 during the same time, the “Thar She Blows!” live stream will feature information about learning the roles of wind and currents. 

Later, on June 12, also during the same time, the live stream will feature multiple scientists from NOAA, Pacific Power, Shaver Transportation, CRMM, and the Columbia River Bar Pilots. That stream will teach viewers about the “Mighty Columbia” and how a working river operates.

The Columbia River, as seen from Frenchman’s Bar Park, which is just a little ways down the river from where the mini-boat S/V Liberty will be relaunched. Photo by Mike Schultz
The Columbia River, as seen from Frenchman’s Bar Park, which is just a little ways down the river from where the mini-boat S/V Liberty will be relaunched. Photo by Mike Schultz

“We have been honored to have a front-row seat in supporting this engaging curriculum, which offers an extraordinary way for students to learn crucial STEAM skills during the critical late-elementary and early middle school years,” said Alisa Dunlap, community manager with Pacific Power, in a release. “We are proud of our role in helping them discover future career options, while building international connections that will last a lifetime.”

The events will be available on the CRMM Facebook page as well as their YouTube channel. There is also a website that has additional information and links to the rest of the Mini-Boats Program sites.

Over the summer months, the program continues to offer ways for young people to engage with the boats and learn about maritime science. 

“We’re able to expand our reach to connect with other students and teach them about mini-boats and have them enjoy it,” Sandel said. “We’ve been doing our updates via Zoom and Google Classroom with our mini-boat students, and just trying to keep them engaged. The program doesn’t really end when the students end their school year even traditionally, so we’re still in contact with school student participants from 2017. We’re just really excited to have the opportunity to adapt the program.”

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About The Author

Jacob Granneman is a filmmaker and writer from Clark County. He is a graduate of Washington State University’s Edward R. Murrow College, where he studied journalism and media production. He has produced documentary stories all over the Pacific Northwest and abroad in Argentina. His passions range from sharing the love of Jesus, to cinematography, to going on adventures in the most beautiful place on earth, i.e. his backyard. He lives with his wife in Vancouver, WA. Proverbs 16:3

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