The S.S. Upper sails on.
The S.S. Upper sails on. Educational Passages/Used with Permission

Four years after it originally launched, the S.S. Upper is finally on its way to Europe. And the 5th graders who initially sponsored her are happy to hear it.

While it isn’t exactly a Spanish galleon laden with treasure, the S.S. Upper is still a remarkable ship. The three-foot-long craft was first launched around 2013 just north of Bermuda along with four other mini-boats. The launch was the work of a program called Educational Passages, which helps schools and students launch GPS-tracked mini-boats, as a way of helping teach them about the ocean and its currents. The little boats have no engine, just a small sail that pushes them along the natural wind currents, as they float aimlessly on the water. The S.S. Upper had been sponsored by the 5th grade class at Davie, Florida’s Summit-Questa Montessori School.

As Educational Passages founder, Dick Baldwin, told us, the little boats were supposed to have floated into the Gulf Stream and be carried north to Europe, but a storm blew them all back towards Charleston, South Carolina. “Charleston is a hotbed of mini-boats,” says Baldwin. He and his associates were able to round up and relaunch four of the boats, but the Upper eluded them, finally ending up in a Charleston Goodwill thrift store. It was there that a friend of Baldwin’s happened upon the little craft by chance, and recognizing it for what it was, contacted him.

The Upper was fitted with a new GPS unit, and over the next few years, attempts were made to get the craft sponsored by another school and relaunched, but nobody bit. Finally in early June 2017, she was relaunched 50 miles off the shore of Charleston, but ended up washing back ashore a day later, where the boat was picked up by the Edisto Police Department.

After contacting the original Florida school, who were delighted to hear that the boat’s journey was continuing four years after its launch, the Edisto Police returned the boat to a Charleston captain. The S.S. Upper is now scheduled to be sent off from a cargo boat some 100 miles out to sea. With any luck, this latest attempt to reach Europe might actually work.

According to Baldwin, around 80% the tiny boats they launch do make it across the ocean without guidance; Baldwin thinks the Upper will land somewhere around Ireland.

“It’s all about the wind and the currents,” he says. The Upper’s journey can be tracked here.