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Sanibel Sea School students construct boat made out of plastic, recycled goods

By Staff | Jan 5, 2011

As Sanibel Sea School students and volunteers catch marine life samples on seine nets, the boat constructed from recycled materials — Calypso — sails across San Carlos Bay.

During their vacation from regular grade school classes, students enrolled at the Sanibel Sea School spent much of their holiday break building a boat made out of plywood, rope, orange sacks and lots and lots of plastic bottles.

Finally, last Thursday afternoon, their days spent collecting, stuffing, painting and tying really paid off.

And, miraculously, Calypso — the name given to their hand-crafted vessel — sailed on the waters of San Carlos Bay without a hitch

“Well, she wasn’t sleek. And she wasn’t fast. But she was a boat and she floated!” said Evelyn Neill, co-founder of the Sanibel Sea School. “This is a really great accomplishment for these kids. They worked very hard for the past two weeks on this project.”

The project was carried out as a tribute to famed explorer and conservationist Jacques Cousteau, one of the forefathers of marine discovery and undersea exploration for a whole new generation. While the students were busy with gathering plastic bottles and painting pennants to decorate the boat, adults at the school did some of the light construction work on the ship’s platform.

Following a successful maiden voyage, Sanibel Sea School students, staff and volunteers pose for a group picture on the Sanibel Causeway Island A last Thursday afternoon.

Standing along the Sanibel Causeway Island A, watching Calypso carry a small group of students slowly along the serene waters, Dina Craig, the school’s business manager, remarked at how quickly the vessel was assembled that morning.

“When we arrived here, we only had the giant pontoons filled with plastic bottles that we had collected at Bailey’s,” said Craig. “It took them about 40 minutes to lash everything together.”

Once the pontoons were connected with the deck, the group lifted the 16-foot long by 12-foot wide vessel, moved it to the shoreline shallows, and — with a couple of prayers and crossed fingers — placed it in the water.

Not only did the boat float, it actually sailed quite well on its maiden voyage around the bay.

“This is totally great!” exclaimed Dr. Bruce Neill, executive director and co-founder of the school. “This was one of those concepts we never though we could actually do, but we’ve done it.”

One of the pennants made by a student used to decorate Calypso's sail and mast.

According to Dr. Neill, the school collaborated with longtime islander Ralph Woodring of The Bait Box on the designs of the boat. He added that he is most proud of what impression his students may come away with following the construction and successful sailing of Calypso.

“They’re always going to remember the time when they were young and made a boat out of trash,” said Dr. Neill. “Conservation is something that makes us feel better. We can all take pride in the little things we do.”

Following her voyage aboard Calypso, student Lexi Magenheim noted her experience was “lots of fun.”

“We didn’t catch a lot of wind, so we moved kinda slow,” she said. “I think it was important to all of us to create something we really believed in. A lot of us didn’t even think it would float!”

Classmate Christine Cahill said that watching the boat sail across the water gave her a tremendous sense of accomplishment.

Tracey Hemmerle, left, a volunteer counselor from Pennsylvania, shows off a baby sea horse caught in the seine net. The dwarf seahorse (Hippocampus zosterae) can be found in the United States and the Bahamas.

“I did a lot of filling bags into the bottles,” she added. “It was fun to work on a big project like this with so many people. I think this was a great project.”

The Sanibel Sea School wanted to thank everyone on the islands who contributed plastic bottles at Bailey’s General Store and The Sanibel School.

“Such a mammoth project would not have been possible without the vision and help of Ralph Woodring, heavy machinery from Soon Come Contract Hauling, bottle repository resources from Bailey General Store, wood from Shoreline Lumber, sacks from Sun Harvest Citrus and a launching spot thanks to Lee County Parks and Recreation,” said Evelyn Neill. “Extra muscle and traffic management were much appreciated from John Talmage, Michael Horvath, Dan Wexler, Jerry Craig and the Sanibel Sea School staff.”

To find out more about Sanibel Sea School, a 501(c)3 non-profit dedicated to a world where all people value, understand and appreciate the ocean, visit sanibelseaschool.org.

A collector of plastic bottles filled inside produce netting made up the boat's pontoons.