DULUTH — Twenty-seven years ago a retired Duluth Public Schools teacher launched a tiny wooden boat into Lake Superior.
Written on the bottom of the boat were the words: "I'm traveling to the ocean."
Although the little boat never left Lake Superior in all those years, its story has made it around the world after a couple recently discovered it on the other side of the lake.
Lynn BeBeau, of Bayfield County, Wis., was walking along a local remote beach on the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore when her husband spotted some red wood sticking out of the sand.
"We couldn't believe when we turned it over and saw that," BeBeau said. "We were really shocked when we ended up finding out how old it was. We thought, 'Oh, they must have sent it out this last year.'"
The couple found the boat Oct. 7. The message written on the boat asked whoever found it to put it back in the water and inform the school of its whereabouts. So the next morning BeBeau called Lakewood Elementary School.
"I worked enough years in law enforcement, and I'm a retired probation parole agent, that I have always had a desire to know the rest of the story," BeBeau said.
With the help of a post on the school district's Facebook page, the mystery was solved in less than 24 hours after the launcher of the boat, Bonnie Fritch stumbled on the post.
"The surprising part was that it wasn't found that far. It's still in Lake Superior," Fritch said. "I had hoped it would have gotten farther to at least one of the other Great Lakes."
Fritch, who now lives in Lake Nebagamon, Wis., said she and Brenda Schell, another former Duluth teacher, used the activity as part of a lesson for second graders. The two taught a unit on the history of Duluth and Lake Superior. As part of the unit the class read the children's book "Paddle-to-the-Sea" by Holling Clancy Holling.
It's a story about a boy who carves a small wooden canoe with a figure in it named "Paddle-to-the Sea." The story follows the journey the tiny canoe takes through the various Great Lakes before reaching the ocean.
BeBeau hadn't heard of the book prior to discovering the boat. She said she's since bought copies to read to her grandchildren.
Both teachers released a small boat into Lake Superior during the 1993-94 school year. While they never heard anything about the whereabouts of Schell's boat, Fritch's was spotted once on the North Shore two years after it was launched.
The person who found it put another coat of sealant on the boat and put it back in the water.
BeBeau speculated that the boat had been buried in the sand for some time prior to finding it, especially considering how good the boat looks after 27 years.
She has since released the boat back into the water.
The story has been picked up by CNN Travel as well as other national and global news outlets and received significant attention on social media.
"With everything going on, pandemic, politics ... I think people are craving attention and good news," BeBeau said. "This little boat has reached much farther than the ocean."