Drifter 2016

Voyage 1 - 2016

  • Kaitlyn Dow's Research Project

  • Press coverage

    As various press releases are generated, we will compile their links here:
    Date Paper Author City
    April 30, 2016 The Day Martha Shanahan Waterford, CT
    Sep 18,2016 The Patch Mike O’Conner Waterford, CT
    Sep 19,2016 Irish Radio Aris Aniar Ireland
    Sep 21,2016 The Day Martha Shanahan Waterford, CT
    Oct 03,2016 The Irish Central staff New York, NY
    Oct 06,2016 Irish Radio Aris Aniar Ireland
    Oct 08,2016 Connacht Tribune Denise McNamara Galway, Ireland
    Oct 08, 2016 The Day Martha Shanahan Waterford, CT
    Dec 24, 2016 The Day Martha Shanahan Waterford, CT
    Jan 16, 2017 Local TV interview Sarh Bartis Waterford, CT
    Aug 4, 2017 Plymouth, England landing WMNAGreenwood Plymouth, England

    Many of the comments to various press articles are similar:

    • We need more stories like this instead of the daily doses of terrorism and the backstabbing and gotcha mentality of the political races.”  by TOMD
    • Hands down best story in the paper today. What an amazing journey and I agree, this is a story that should reach nationally.” by Igor
  • April 2016 - Delivered to Woods Hole for deployment

    This is a special boat with three world-class marine science universities, a new research vessel, and a NOAA drifter involved. The boat and drifter were delivered to the RV Neil Armstrong in Woods Hole on 30 April 2016.  The Armstrong  is UNOLS’s newest research vessel operated by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

  • May 7, 2016 - Deployed

    The deployments, one of the first missions to be conducted by this multi-million dollar vessel, were made on the afternoon of 7 May 2016, near the shelfedge south of Martha’s Vineyard.


    Drifters Away! from Woods Hole Oceanographic Inst. on Vimeo.

    One of the systems that has become integral for ocean research is “telepresence” – where researchers, classrooms and the general public can connect to the ship in real time via the internet. This cruise was a the test run for that telepresence for the Armstrong.  The land base of operations for those cruises is URI’s Inner Space Center.

    Some of the people involved in setting up this deployment were:

    • Ken Kostel (kkostel@whoi.edu), WHOI science writer
    • Ivar Babb, the director of NURTEC  at UCONN Avery Point, arranged the deployment.
    • Tim Shank, the chief scientist from WHOI on the deployment cruise.
    • James Manning, the NOAA/NEFSC Drifter Program director and author of this account
    • Dick Baldwin, the director of Education Passages that made the boat kit
    • Kelly Barnes is the tech coordinator at WHS and Martha Shoemaker is the 4th grade teacher involved.

    The boat is reporting 3 times per day at approximately 0Z, 0800Z, and 1600Z. The drifter is reported every two hours.

    Before getting underway, the Lancer was already getting local press here.

    Kaitlyn’s twitter about the project is @DrifterWhs.

  • September 2016 - Approaching the Emerald Isle

    On September 6, 2016, with Lancer having crossed the ocean in a little more than four months and approaching the Emerald Isle,  Mike and Kaitlyn sent an email to the Irish Minister of Education, Angela Mahase, and many others to note the Lancer’s approach to their shores. He writes “A fleet of miniature unmanned sailboats is preparing to invade the West Coast of Ireland.  Not to worry, this is a friendly invasion.  They are either just off the coastline or might have even made landfall by the time you receive this. We are hoping you or anyone else could recover our boat before it gets damaged in the surf. This is part of a hands-on learning program we are doing at Waterford High School.  We sent one boat but are writing this to let you know of the possibility of more on the way. We are learning about oceanography, earth science, geography, navigation, and hope to have a meaningful international relations experience as well. If you click on this link http://www.nefsc.noaa.gov/drifter/drift_ep_2016_1.html you will see a map indicating where our boats are. Our boat is the Lancer.  The Osprey and the Atlantic Flame also have possible trajectories toward the Irish Coast within weeks.  Click over the boat location to find the longitude/latitude. We are hoping students could meet her as she comes ashore or maybe your local fishermen can pick her up before she comes ashore. You’ll find information about us in the watertight compartment and how you can email us for more information. Please take our boat to a nearby school so your students can learn as well. It might be neat if the Lancer somehow made its way to Waterford, Ireland.  Let’s work together, fix her up as needed and get her back to sea to continue her voyage. We’d love to see pictures and have a chance to Skype with you. Thank you, Michael O’Connor, Science Teacher, Waterford High School”

    Later that same day, Mike and Kaitlyn also emailed the mayor of Waterford, Ireland in attempt to get him interested.

    The next morning, on September 7, 2016,  we heard from Edna Nolan, the managing director of the Coastways Surveys in Ireland telling us they already had their eye out for the approaching boats and they happen to be working on the west coast this particular week! The Minister of Education’s secretary, Derek Newcombe, acknowledged Mike’s email. Martha Shanahan with the local press in Waterford CT reported she is already preparing for a followup story if and when Lancer lands.

    Mike sent additional emails to other Irish contacts who had been recently  involved in the search and rescue of previous mini-boats this year either landing (Marlin Spike MillerRed Storm) or coming close to Ireland (West) all with their own story to tell. We subsequently heard from Mick Sheeran from EcoMarineTours with “That’s all fine Mike. We will keep an eye out for them. We found the last one on Inish Vickillaun [ Blasket Islands, Co.Kerry] and is still in my back yard needing some TLC including new weighted keel and transmitter and glassing in deck etc. Let me know if you think they are approaching the Blaskets and would be glad to intercept before they make a rough landing again. Best Regards, Mick Sheeran aka Captain Whales Galore” but, as Mike O’Conner noted in a response, the Lancer will most likely land, if at all, further to the north.

    On September 8th, 2016, Mike sent a challenge to all the Waterford Ct schools in his district to predict where and when Lancer would land. Prizes will be awarded!

    On September 12, 2016, after the website tracking site being down for a few days due to a fire at the NOAA/NMFS headquarters, we saw that the Lancer, along with a few other mini-boats is getting closer.  Mike reports “Two of the boats are currently 75 miles off the west coast and one is 100 miles off the south.”  He then took the courageous step in providing a prediction on where they might land. “ I could be way off on my predictions, but here goes.  My best guess for arrivals would be: The Lancer – 16-17 Sept. along the coast of Mayo – maybe Inishkea Islands; The Osprey – 16-17 Sept. south of Galway; The Atlantic Flame – 19-20 Sept. south coast – Waterford maybe”.  We also got some predictions from our friend Mick Sheeran (aka Captain Whales Galore) in the Blasket Island. He replies with: “My money is on Osprey 2/1 to land on the Blaskets [ probably Beginish], Co Kerry and Lancer 5/1 to land on the Maharees Islands, Co. Kerry.”

    Determined to contact all potential mariners on the Irish coast, Mike made contact with the “Commissioners of Irish Lights” and got a response from a Mark Devlin as follows: “The Commissioners of Irish Lights is vested under Section 634 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1894 with the responsibility for superintendence and management of all lighthouses and other aids to navigation for Ireland (North and South) and the adjacent seas and islands.  We are responsible for discharging the Irish Government’s obligations under the SOLAS Convention 1974 to provide marine aids to navigation (AtoN) in the Republic of Ireland and the UK government’s SOLAS obligations to provide marine AtoN in Northern Ireland. Part of that Marine network is indeed the lighthouse at Blackrock County Mayo.  In November 1974 the Light keepers were withdrawn from the station as part of the automation process at the time.  I have attached a history of the lighthouse in question. Unfortunately, there will be no one at the station for your student to contact once they are within range, in fact none of our lighthouses are permanently manned.”

    On September 17th 2016, after a week or two of stalling offshore as if to build the suspense, the Lancer finally made her approach towards Galway.  With the sun rising, she was a few kilometers off  a rather sparsely-populated island just west of Connemara.  Thanks to some superb efforts by Mike to alert the natives, another series of emails insued. We heard from Cormaca Macdonncha, for example, who reported “We are on watch on Galway Bay … good luck.”  We heard from Capt Alex Blackwell, the master mariner with White Sea Horse publishing company, who reported “How very exciting! I have passed it on to several friends in Galway area to forward to Inis Mor. Hopefully we will find your boat. If I hear anything, I will surely let you know. I will be in Galway myself on Sunday. Congratulations on a successful Atlantic crossing – we have done so on a slightly larger sailboat a few times and it can be quite harrowing at this time of year.”  Kailyn Dow reported:“I contacted a pub in Galway through Facebook and they posted it on their page and in 20 minutes 5 people have shared it and over 20 likes.”   Someone named Aongus from a bar in the Aron Islands reported “I’ve told our pilots to keep an eye out. If they spot anything i will let you know.”  Breandán Ó Conghaile responded with “I’ll spread the word. Sounds like an amazing project, good luck with it.

    We even heard from mini-boat enthusiast from other parts of Europe who were following the story. Evy Copejans, one of our marine-educator colleagues from Belgium, reached out to the National University of Ireland in Galway with: “If you have any contacts of the local coast guard/(research) vessel who can pick up a miniature sailing boat that crossed the Atlantic, please contact the school below. Many thanks for helping us retrieve this unique piece of education material!” .  Luis Sebastião, from Portugal’s Institute for Systems and Robotics, sent out an similar email to nearly a hundred contacts.

  • September 17, 2016 - Recovered in Ireland

    So, with nearly everyone on the west coast of Ireland having been alerted, we awaited to hear of little Lancer’s fate.  At 1534Z,  it was reported to Kaitlyn’s twitter account that Lancer has been recovered!!  See photo below. See more photos, videos, and a transcript of the recovery exchanges here.

    Later in the day, after multiple jubilant email exchanges across the Atlantic, we heard again from Edna Nolan with “Hello Folks. Great to hear she has landed on the Coral Strand. We have surveyors working in this part of Galway next, they could pick her up and bring her to Waterford Institute of Technology https://www.wit.ie/ near our office and I’ll speak to a lecturer colleague about relaunch etc.”  And so the Lancer story may continue, from one Waterford to another but, like a little ship on the high seas, you just don’t know what will happen.

    The next morning, September 18th, 2016, we got the following letter:

    Hello Michael! We are delighted and very excited that we recovered the boat. The girl who recovered the boat is my daughter Méabh Ní Ghionnáin, who is 8 years old. She can’t wait to return to school tomorrow morning (with boat in tow!) and tell her story and what a story. She is already booked for an interview with RTE Raidió na Gaeltachta our national Irish Language Radio Station tomorrow at approx 09.40 GMT. The Lancer sailed into Droim, Leitir Móir which is in Conamara, County Galway. A Gaeltacht region where our native tongue is Irish. We first heard of the Lancer’s voyage from my sister Clíona, whom Kaitlyn contacted via FB messenger last Friday. Using the drifter project link online we checked out Lancer’s location Friday night but it was still southwest of the Aran Islands. We couldn’t believe it when the gps tracker showed the sailboat literally in front of a little island that we gaze at everyday from our livingroom window! Alas we couldn’t see the boat but we discussed possible locations along the local shore that it may have sailed to.  Méabh and her Dad Stiofán, walked down to a rocky shoreline east of that little island (Oileán Anamna) and there she was – a little weather beaten, having sailed through three thousand miles of storms and high seas! Méabh was beside herself opening the boat to see what surprises from across the wild Atlantic were hidden below! Wow, a teddy, an octopus, pencils, a t-shirt, UCONN memorabilia and the best thing a memory stick laden with treasure from the elementary students.  We imagine this will be such a great project for Méabh’s class, replying to Kaitlyn and the other the students but also in re launching the Lancer and preparing her for the next leg of her exploration. 

    We will discuss it with the her school first but I am sure they will be very interested in being involved in such an exciting project. Our family have a huge connection with the sea and with the USA!  We have close family in Massachusetts and relatives in other states. Méabh’s Dad is a fisherman. Her grandfather used to fish and her great grandfather and great great grandfather were fishermen too! Her grandfather and uncles own and sail Galway Hookers – traditional wooden work boats that have survived on the Galway coast. These can be seen on my twitter account @nedstaf  Yes we are ok with you using the images and I will forward more. Great to hear from you and feel free to ask us any further questions. All the best, Neasa Ní Chualáin Méabh’s Mother. 

    On September 22, 2016, Mike got the following email from Ireland:

    “Hi Michael, My name is Rita Ni Fhlatharta and I am Méabh Ní Ghionnáin’s teacher in Scoil Naisiunta Thir an Fhia (Tir an Fhia National School).  Méabh finding the Lancer has created a lot of excitment in our school this week.  We have all enjoyed watching the Lancer’s sea journey from Connecticut to Garumna Island, Co. Galway on the west coast of Ireland. We are a small rural 3 teacher school.  An island school situated in the Gaeltacht (Irish speaking) area of Connamara, Co Galway, Rep. of Ireland. All our students speak the Irish language and they speak English as well of course!   Our students are looking forward to connecting with your school electronically in the coming weeks. Regards,Rita”

    On September 23rd, 2016, the conversation continued on many fronts. We got word from Neasa, Méabh’s mother, that she may be taking her daughter with the boat to the Annual European Marine Educators Conference in Belfast in early October!  They will meet with Dick Balwin, the Belfast Maine founder of Educational Passages who will be attending.  Next week Meabh will be making a presentation for her local Sea Scouts and is very excited about it. We also heard from Ciaran (TruLight Marine) who works on traditional Irish wooden boats apparently called “Galway Hookers”. He is willing to assist in the Lancer refurbishment.  It turns out that Neasa’s father is the owner of “Trulight”, one of these 80 year old vessels.  In multiple conversations with Mike back in US, working out various logisitics like turning the transmitter off, Neasea reports “ My husband Stiofán will try to remove the gps transmitter shortly…….he is downing hatches on his own currach at the moment as it’s blowing a gale here. I have contacted my friend in Foras na Mara (The Marine Institute) and I am confident they will help us out in setting the Lancer out to sea.”

    October 2016 – EMSEA Annual Conference

  • February 2017 - Repaired by Connemara Sea Scouts

    The Lancer sailboat was repaired by Ciaran Oliver and James Rattigan from Port of Galway Sea Scouts. Read more at: https://afloat.ie/marine-environment/coastal-notes/item/34925-five-foot-american-yacht-is-patched-up-by-connemara-sea-scouts

  • February 2017 - Meeting in Ireland

    In January 2017, plans are underway with Mike and Kaitlyn’s families to travel to Ireland in February. Mike’s email reports: “Kaitlyn and I will be traveling to Ireland next month and she got some press about it. We will also be on a local tv show tomorrow.  I’ll send a link when they post…. Kaitlyn will be writing a children’s book about the journey. We also will be writing an article for seven seas magazine.”

    Méabh Ní Ghionnáin from Galway, Ireland met with Kaitlyn Dow from Connecticut, USA at the Marine Institute for the first time after Méabh had found Kaitlyn’s 1.5 metre unmanned Lancer sailing boat washed up on her local beach.

Voyage 2 - 2017

  • April 20, 2017 - Maebh meets with RV Celtic Explorer Captain and Crew

    Méabh Ní Ghionnáin from Droim, Leitir Móir, Galway testing the miniature Lancer boat in Galway Bay prior to it being delivered to the RV Celtic Explorer:

    More about this picture on the Marine Institute website here, and press release about the launch off the R/V Celtic Explorer here

    Galway Bay Boat Tours shared this post and said, “We were delighted to have had the opportunity to work on this little boat. Great idea and huge potential in terms of education for the scientists of the future. The little boat ‘Lancer’ came all the way across the Atlantic last year and was relaunched again last week. Where will it end up next?” — at Midway Point of the Wild Atlantic Way – The Village Salthill.

  • April 22, 2017 - Lancer Relaunched

    During the Spring of 2017, she was refitted with a new sail, paint, and batteries and, on 22 April, deployed at position 52˚16.1’N, 033˚11.4’W at 1015 UTC from the Marine Institute’s research vessel RV Celtic Explorer.

    Film footage of the Lancer being deployed off the RV Celtic Explorer provided by Louise Manifold.

  • August 2017 - Recovered in Plymouth, UK!

    At the end of July 2017, after traveling another 6500+ kilometers, we saw she was headed towards the south coast of England. Mike O’Conner contacted several new agencies, listservs, local pubs, and Facebook contacts (as he had done prior to her Irish landfall) in an effort to rescue her.  After reporting within a half day sail from Plymouth Harbor, she went silent for a few days and we imagined she might have crashed on the rocks somewhere and disappeared.  But then, on the morning of Aug 4th,  she reported from a field of anchored boats at the mouth of River Yealms near the small port of Newton Ferries!


    Thanks to our Belgium colleague, Evy Copejans, folks were contacted at Plymouth’s Marine Biological Association who, in turn, contacted the Yealm Harbour Authority and the Yacht Club but it was an article published in the local Herald and discussed at a local pub that provided the ultimate contact. After seeing it free floating in the harbor and then hearing these discussions at the pub, two patrons returned to the harbor and recovered her. See photo to the right.


This boat was prepared by Kaitlyn and other students of Mike O’Conner’s at Waterford CT High School (WHS) in coordination with younger 4th grade students at the nearby Quaker Elementary School.