Fundraiser launched to connect Waterford student with boat and 8-year-old Irish girl who found it

Waterford — The Waterford High School teacher and student who sent an unmanned sailboat across the Atlantic Ocean where it landed on a tiny Irish island are now raising funds to get there themselves.

Senior Kaitlyn Dow and her science teacher, Michael O’Connor, are hoping to take a trip to Ireland to meet with Méabh Ní Ghionnáin, the 8-year-old resident of Droim, Leitir Móir, Conamara, County Galway who picked up the Lancer, a 5-foot unmanned boat that Dow built and scientists from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution released into the ocean in April.

Méabh and her parents tracked the boat’s GPS coordinates as it approached the west coast of Ireland and, when it appeared to land on a small island near their house, walked down to the beach to find it.

Inside were some slightly damp stuffed animals, a T-shirt and messages on a USB flash drive from Waterford elementary school students.

Méabh took the boat to school, sat for an interview on a national Irish-language radio station. She traveled with the director of Educational Passages, the company that produces the boat making kits that Dow used, to Belfast for the European Marine Science Educators Convention last week.

Reached on the phone after finding the boat last month, Méabh said the story had generated plenty of excitement at her school and expressed interest in meeting Dow.

And now Dow and O’Connor are trying to raise $10,000 to pay their way to Ireland to meet the girl who rescued their boat.

"We are looking for funds to bring Kaitlyn and Méabh together," O'Connor wrote in a post on the GoFundMe online fundraising page he set up. The page had generated more than $400 in donations by Sunday evening.

He said a simultaneous fundraising effort has begun in Ireland — Méabh's aunt owns a nearby pub that may hold an event to raise money.

Grants from the Connecticut Sea Grant College Program at UConn and the Captain Planet Foundation funded most of the initial cost of building the boat and sending it to sea.

“The plan is to go there and do an interactive lesson,” O’Connor said in an email.

Méabh and her schoolmates could design a new logo to add to the boat's exterior, then Dow and other Irish students could repair and update the boat and its GPS equipment, then send it back out on a new adventure with the help of an Irish marine institute.

O’Connor said they also hope to raise enough funds for Méabh to travel to Waterford and attend a conference of the U.S. National Marine Educators Association in June.

m.shanahan@theday.com

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