Four small sailboats from Maine are gearing up for a big adventure — an unmanned, trans-Atlantic race adventure, that is.

BRIDGES, a 5-foot red sailboat built by Gorham and South Portland students in the Compass Project’s “Math and Science through Boat Building” program, will be loaded on the Brazilian freighter Finella in Searsport this weekend, said Compass Project Director Patricia Ryan.

The sailboat, along with three others crafted by students at Searsport High School, Belfast High School and the Mount Desert Community Sailing Program, will be launched in the northern Caribbean, into the trade winds and the Gulf Stream that will take them northwest toward Europe.

From there, the first boat to reach longitude 20 west, which is about 100 miles west of Europe, will be declared the race winner, Ryan said. The boats are equipped with GPS gear so they can be tracked.

“This is a great teaching tool,” she said, because the students are learning not only about boat-building, but also geography, ocean currents, wind velocity and the history of water travel.

“These boats end up following the old trade routes used in the 1600s,” Ryan said. She noted that a similar type of sailboat launched from Portugal has been following the route Christopher Columbus took to the Caribbean.

The high school students from Gorham and South Portland alternative education programs have been working on the sailboat since mid-September, said Compass Project Program Manager Shane Hall. He and the students have discussed construction techniques such as fiberglass versus wood materials, puttying, sanding, painting and overall design. Throughout the project, students have come to realize that despite the small size of the vessel, it has taken careful and extensive work to create a good finished product, he said.

BRIDGES, named after Gorham High School’s alternative education program, was recently put to the test during a practice launch near Handy Boat in Falmouth. Hall said the students were excited to see the final product afloat.

“The ones who worked on it are very invested that it will make it (across the Atlantic Ocean),” he said.

Ryan said students project it will take about eight months for their sailboat to cross to Europe. BRIDGES is equipped with finder’s instructions that indicate what it is and who to contact once the sailboat is found along the European shore. As the boat approaches land, Ryan hopes the students will be able to identify where it will beach and if there is an area school to connect with.

“There is a possibility for some nice international relations for our students and European students,” she said.

In the meantime, students in the Compass Project will be carefully tracking BRIDGES’ progress in hopes that it reaches the finish line first.

Staff Writer Emma Bouthillette can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

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