Voyage of the Pacific Lotus soaked in mystery

Voyage of the Pacific Lotus soaked in mystery

Maybe the battery died.

Maybe a big ship capsized it.

Maybe a shark swallowed it.

Maybe a seagull pooped on it.

The hypotheses from the 7th grade scientists at Cedar Park Middle School in Beaverton flow like the ocean waves the "Pacific Lotus" traversed for weeks before it suddenly disappeared.

The kids teamed up with the Columbia River Maritime Museum and the crew of the Unites States Coast Guard Cutter "Steadfast" to design and build and launch the boat off the Baja Peninsula so the kids could study wave and weather patterns.

The Lotus was rigged with a GPS so the kids could track it every day.

Then, one day, it was gone.

No signal. No sign of where it went.

The class was one of more than 80 that applied to take on the project. Four other classes were chosen as well.

Other kids across across the ocean had launched boats, from Japan, hoping they would end up on the west coast of the United States.

The Cedar Park kids hoped the Lotus would eventually follow the current to Japan.

"One of them had gone off for a week or two, then it came back for a bit, so we were hopeful," said Benjamin Wier, one of the Lotus crew members. "But after three or four weeks, we got kind of disappointed."

The 6-foot long sailboat was missing in action for almost a month.

"Then, when it came back, we were really excited" said Wier.

There was a nearly 1,000-mile gap between the GPS going dark and went it suddenly came back on.

Now the kids are using mathematical formulas and studying the ocean weather records to figure out where the boat may have gone, and figuring out why.

Steadfast Commander Alain Balmaceda won't be surprised if the weather played a big role. He said their big boat gets hammered pretty hard by the wind and the waves. He said he wouldn't have been surprised if the Lotus couldn't make the trip.

But the crew of the Steadfast is just as invested in tracking the little boat.

"I’m pretty excited about it," said Balmaceda. "How many times have you heard that story of a message in a bottle being washed up and found all the way across the world and wondered how it actually got there?"

On top of the Lotus is a message, translated by the kids into five different languages, that explains to whoever may find it what to do and who to contact.

Right now, the boat has simply been spinning in circles in the middle of the ocean, which is another mystery the kids are trying to solve.

"I think one of the really cool things about this project is that we will never know," said Lotus crew member Taylor Wilkinson. "I think some of the mystery is the fun part."

So even if they don't find all the answers, ultimately, it's all about learning.

"I really didn’t know anything about any of this," said Lotus crew member Emile Dejaranl. "I’ve been learning this as we go along, it’s been very interesting for me and most of my classmates would agree."

For science teacher Heidi Vandenhooff, the project has been smooth sailing.

"They got to go through the whole process, learn about boats, learn about solar GPS units, learn about working together. They had to learn about where the boat could go. They were in charge of the whole process, I didn’t have to do anything, but enjoy the process with them" said Vandenhooff. "It's the ultimate message in a bottle."

If the Pacific Lotus continues on its journey, and the GPS keeps working so the crew can keep a computer eye on it, the kids could enter "The Domain of the Golden Dragon," a military honor bestowed on a ship and its sailors who cross the international dateline.

You can track the travels of the Pacific Lotus and what the kids are up to on either the Cedar Park Middle School or the Columbia River Maritime Museum websites.

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