A real-life version of the 1980s movie “The God’s Must Be Crazy” may be taking place in the remote coastal jungles of Panama, all because of an educational program based in Maine. One miniature handmade sailboat is the cause of the large international speculation as it may have gone from the hands of Maine school children to those of indigenous people in the area where it has landed.

The boat, one of four in a race, was launched in November, north of the Caribbean, from a commercial freighter as part of a teaching program facilitated by Educational Passages of Belfast. The 4.5-foot fiberglass boats were outfitted with small sails and GPS transmitters to send back their locations during their planned race to Europe.

Educational Passages, now in its fourth year, is the brainchild of Belfast sailing enthusiast and physical therapist Richard Baldwin, who designed and built the boats in his home. His hope is to capture the students’ interest in the ocean, environment, science, communication, geography and many other details they encounter as their tiny crafts self-navigate the very large ocean.

“The elementary and middle school kids seem to get the most excited,” Baldwin said, though he added he’s seen as many high school students become enthusiastic. “They can watch the progress their own boat makes on their computers and often have to figure out how to retrieve it. It’s a great opportunity for students to gain experience in international relations.”

In previous launches one boat went more than 8,000 miles, ending up in France. One is currently in a place of honor in a pub in Ireland, waiting until it can be relaunched.

Each school or civic group has the opportunity to customize the boat with paint and write letters they can seal inside the hull. They include instructions to anyone who finds the boats on how to contact them. Several of the boats have been found and either returned or re-launched to continue their journey.

“They are tiny, tiny boats in a great big ocean,” Baldwin said. “You never know what will happen to yours.”

The November launch has shown just that. The four boats launched were intended to pick up the Gulf Stream, but weather conditions seemed to end that. So far none of the others — belonging to Belfast Area High School, Searsport District Middle School, Searsport District High School and the Compass Project in Portland — have managed to slip into that stream and head north.

Island Pride, Mount Desert Community Sailing Center’s boat, started in the lead and went entirely off course bearing down on the coast of Panama late in December. When it showed signs of heading toward the remote town of Coetup, interested Morrill resident Ed LaJoie, a member of the International Harbormaster Association, along with Glenn Squires from Mount Desert and others, scrambled to get assistance to the little boat. Queries went out to harbors, villages, area military personnel, the Coast Guard and embassies.

“It appears you have a very adventurous sailboat,” responded Lt. Cmdr. Jason Weddle, assistant naval attaché at the U.S. Defense Attaché Office in Panama City, when the boat was found to be ashore in a small cove near Kunya, Panama.

“It has made landfall in one of the most remote shores of the Republic of Panama,” Weddle continued. “The area where your [wandering] vessel has ventured is know[n] as the San Blas Comarca, where the indigenous tribe of the Kuna Yala reside.”

He went on to explain because of the density of the rain forest, this is the only area where the Pan-American highway has a gap. There are no roads, airfields and little boat traffic. The likelihood of being able to rescue the Island Pride had become nearly impossible.

He added the Kuna Yala people “are unique and endearing, and a colorful sailboat such as yours will most likely turn up as an amazing prize or toy in a remote Kuna Yala village someday.”

Someday may already be here. Island Pride’s GPS is still sending out signals that show it has moved around to three different locations, staying for seven or eight days in each spot. Educational Passages officials think it probably was being moved around to various tribal villages. Then, Jan. 31 the boat suddenly emerged from the jungle and moved 122 miles west to the Panamanian town of San Vicente de Bigue, near the Panama Canal.

Even though Island Pride is out of the jungle, Mount Desert still has not heard from the finders. Cabot Lyman, a well-known boat builder in Thomaston, just left for Panama on another project and might be able to track down this elusive little sailboat.

Educational Passages is planning a mini-boat North Atlantic Rally for spring 2011. It is hoping to gather a large field of small boats for a launch featuring historical travel in the North Atlantic. The boats will be launched from the State of Maine, Maine Maritime Academy’s training ship, out of Castine. Interested schools and groups should contact Educational Passages at educationalpassages.com.

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