KENNEBUNKPORT — Josh Ellis has no idea where the boat he’s spent the last few months working on will end up after it sets sail, but that’s fine with him.

If all goes well, the small sailboat built in Kennebunkport and launched off the coast of Maine will make its way across the Atlantic and into the hands of students there. Along the way, it will transmit its location and store photos and scientific data.

“We’re hoping it goes to Ireland,” said Ellis, an 18-year-old student in the Kennebunk High School Alternative Education program.

Eillis and his six classmates have teamed up with the Kennebunkport Conservation Trust and The Landing School to construct a 5-foot self-steering boat that is powered solely by winds and currents. The boat – named “The Little Boat That Could” – is equipped with sensors and a camera and is capable of sailing thousands of miles. In the past month, 35 other boats from Belfast-based Educational Passages have launched, but the boat from Kennebunk is the first to include sensors to record data such as water temperature.

Boats from Educational Passages are designed to travel across oceans and for up to two years. The company says they have sailed across the Atlantic to Wales, Portugal and France and back again. One boat sailed more than 8,000 miles, over 30-foot waves and through a hurricane. Another is somewhere in the jungles of Panama. The company knows the location of most of the more than 70 boats it has launched.

Seven classmates in Kennebunk High School's Alternative Education program joined with a land trust and The Landing School to build a 5-foot boat that will depart from coastal Maine and steer itself across the Atlantic. Senior David Patoine, above, puts a sticker on the boat, which will be launched about 150 miles offshore.

Seven classmates in Kennebunk High School’s Alternative Education program joined with a land trust and The Landing School to build a 5-foot boat that will depart from coastal Maine and steer itself across the Atlantic. Senior David Patoine, above, puts a sticker on the boat, which will be launched about 150 miles offshore. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

On Dec. 21, the students will hand The Little Boat That Could over to staffers from Educational Passages who will launch it about 150 miles offshore. Hopefully it will pick up the Gulf Stream, according to Ed Sharood, the alternative education program teacher.

Students in the alternative education program take classes for the first couple of hours each day, then spend the rest of the school day in the community working on projects and learning about career opportunities. There are seven students in the program, which launched in 2012 to serve kids who weren’t finding success in traditional classrooms.

Since its start, the alternative education program has teamed up with the Kennebunkport Conservation Trust. Leia Lowery, educational director for the trust, said the partnership has resulted in great projects, including a storybook trail that students designed and installed last year near the trust’s office on Gravelly Brook Road. After someone in the community heard of the work the trust and students were doing together, the San Francisco-based RSF Social Finance awarded the trust a $1,800 grant.

Lowery had heard about the Educational Passages boats at a conference and thought it would be the perfect project for students to tackle.

“The cool thing about this is it involves so many other community partners,” she said. “It’s allowed (the students) to showcase the incredible things they do in the community.”

Educational Passages sells the boats pre-made and in kits. The Kennebunk students decided to buy the kit to make the project more challenging and give them an opportunity to work with boat building students at The Landing School in Arundel. Boat building students Dave Johnson and Kate Grimes built the composite boat, then students worked with an engineering teacher at the high school to program and install the sensors.

A solar panel will power sensors and a camera that will collect data and photos from the small boat. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

A solar panel will power sensors and a camera that will collect data and photos from the small boat. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

“We thought it would be a good opportunity to engage ourselves,” said Kristen Cofferen, a 17-year-old junior. Cofferen suggested the boat’s name after a classmate expressed skepticism that the boat would make it across an ocean.

Last week, the students visited shops and restaurants in Kennebunk to collect stickers and talk about their project. On Friday, they covered the small white boat with the colorful stickers, including one for the conservation trust.

The choice of decoration was inspired by vintage suitcases covered with travel stickers. Before they turn over the boat to Educational Passages, the students will fill the hull with Maine-themed items, including a written history of Kennebunk and photos of iconic Maine scenes.

Ellis, who is the project manager, said the boat’s GPS will ping a location every six hours, then every two hours once it gets close to land. Ellis created a Twitter account (@LilBoatThtCould) to use to update followers on the boat’s journey.

When the boat nears land, Educational Passages will notify students in the area to pick it up. Ideally, the Kennebunk students will then connect with students in another country via Skype and retrieve the data the boat sensors recorded.

Ellis said he is excited to learn about the environment through the boat’s journey.

“We’ll be able to see pictures from different places, even though it’s mostly open water,” he said.

Jacqui Holmes, the ed tech in the alternative education program, said the type of data the boat will record will be interesting to both the students and scientists studying the ocean.

“It’s contributing to the real data scientists are collecting now,” she said. “It feels pretty meaningful.”

Correction: This story was updated at 9:22 a.m. on Dec. 12 to correct the location of The Landing School. It is in Arundel.