ASHLAND, WI – Twenty-seven years, two states and one Great Lake.
That’s the journey taken by one little red, white, and blue boat, which was launched from Duluth, Minnesota’s Brighton Beach in 1993 and discovered nearly three decades later near Ashland, Wisconsin at Apostle Islands National Lakeshore on Oct. 7.
Lynn BeBeau and her husband discovered the little wooden treasure while hiking along a remote beach on Lake Superior near Eagle Island.
“My husband and I are both adventure people,” she said. “We just came back from a trip out west and we always take the road less travelled. We look for remote places. We were just out looking at the fall colors and checking out the sunset when we found a path that went along the lakeshore. It was the coolest thing ever. We were just so shocked to find (the boat). We thought it was really cool.”
An inscription at the bottom of the boat reads as follows:
“I am traveling to the ocean. Please put me back in the water. Will you send information on your whereabouts to, Lakewood School, Room 116 & 118 5207 N. Tischer Duluth, MN (scribbled out zip code) 53304.”
BeBeau followed the instructions and tossed the boat back in the water, but not before snapping a few photos and noting the message. She then set out to solve the mystery of where it came from.
BeBeau contacted Lakewood Elementary School in Duluth and learned that one classroom had studied the children’s book “Paddle to the Sea” in the early 1990s.
The book tells the story of an inscribed canoe that travels all five Great Lakes, including going over Niagara Falls and the St. Lawrence River before it arrives off Newfoundland in the Atlantic Ocean. News of the boat’s travels eventually reaches the original owner of the boat, a Native American boy from Ontario.
Through school staff, BeBeau learned that two women, Bonnie Fritch and Brenda Schell, launched the boat in 1993 during a field trip with their classes. A friend of Schell’s made the boats and their classes painted them and added the message to the bottom.
“I am not sure what happened to Brenda’s boat but mine was spotted a year later up near the North Shore,” Fritch wrote in a message. “The people put a second coat of varnish on the boat and relaunched it. I thought we wouldn’t hear any more about it. Amazing it is still out there.”
And so, the journey of the little boat continues. Where it ends up is anyone’s guess, but BeBeau is happy to have helped in telling its latest chapter.
“It’s just such a cool, feel good story,” BeBeau said. “And we need that so bad right now. What a fun surprise.”