Written by Erin Pelletier

Holly Blair’s interest in the Educational Passage’s miniboat program started at the 2015 National Marine Educators Association (NMEA) Annual Conference. Her interest became a reality when a week later she found a recovered miniboat (The Upper) at her local Goodwill store and purchased it for $5 US! Over the next summer she worked with Educational Passages, her family, and Charleston Harbor Pilots to re-deploy The Upper  for her second voyage. Holly was hooked. 

The interest Holly has for miniboats is not a surprise as she has dedicated her life to marine education and exploration. As a child she was a young naturalist at heart and was raised to appreciate all living things and how they interacted with our dynamic world. She achieved a Masters from USC Columbia and was drawn to a position to develop education programs for the up and coming South Carolina Aquarium and was a key player in creating their Education Master Plan. Throughout her career in marine science she worked as a Coastal Trainer with NOAA’s Coastal Services Center as well as the PreK-5th grade Wet Lab and Coastal Program Developer and Coordinator for Sullivans Island Elementary School on one of South Carolina’s most beautiful barrier islands. 

Holly is now an educator at Ashley Hall which is an all-girls day school in downtown Charleston, South Carolina, which prides themselves as being a school which produces educated women who are independent, ethically responsible, and prepared to meet the challenges of society with confidence. In January of 2018, Holly was ready to start building her very own miniboat with her students (about 35-50 every year) and by the fall she had the boat parts in hand. Students were given assignments within groups: Deck team, Sail team, International Relations, and Journalism and all got started building and preparing. For all the work they put in, it is no surprise that the miniboat was named the Spirit of Ashley Hall! By March 2019, the SOAH was ready to sail. Holly spent countless hours contacting everyone she knew with a boat or ship and finally made arrangements to get the boat down to Florida. But due to gale force winds, the miniboat was not launched off Florida… or Georgia… or South Carolina… she was transported all the way to the Bermuda Islander and was dropped at sea near the Delaware Capes. The story of the SOAH is a great one thanks to the tireless effort of Holly and her students. To see all the details, visit educationalpassages.org/boats/spiritofashleyhall/

Holly says that the EP miniboat program provides students with the opportunity to deepen their knowledge and solidify concepts, such as “all things are connected and are related” (quoted from one of her students). Holly and her fellow educators engaged the entire K-12 school , travelling into each classroom with the “SOAH” in tow, providing tasks for all grade levels. The students investigated everything from the seafloor features to global atmosphere, winds, currents, and tides. They learned about navigation, geography, physical & chemical properties of the ocean, as well as learning a lot about themselves as individuals and as teammates. 

In addition to tracking the Spirit of Ashley Hall’s GPS position, this miniboat has the longest air and sea surface water temperature dataset than any other miniboat. The students were able to see the sensor package first hand and now they can track the temperature as their miniboat reports its position every hour. Holly explains that it feels exhilarating to have the ability to not only share this with her kids but also with the Educational Passages community. She says to see the layers of sea state conditions has to be one of the most amazing experiences she has been able to provide for her students.  

This summer Holly and her team will work with EP to continue monitoring the SOAH and work on lesson plans for the upcoming 2019-2020 school year. Holly has many ideas to not only work with her STEAM classes but will introduce the miniboat adventures into her other science classes as well. Holly says she would love to get another miniboat to launch this fall and have her school be engaged in the entire project. Hey, you never know, maybe the SOAH II will find her soulmate (<3 heart emoji).

We thank you, Holly Blair, for your dedication to education and our children. You are a true Miniboat Hero!