Message discovered 27 years after Duluth academics launched it into Lake Superior

On the bottom of the boat were the words: “I am going to the sea.”

Although the little boat has never left Lake Superior in all these years, its story made it around the world after a couple recently discovered it on the other side of the lake.

Bayfield County’s Lynn BeBeau was walking along a secluded beach on Apostle Islands National Lakeshore when her husband discovered red wood sticking out of the sand.

Lynn and Mike BeBeau found the pictured wooden boat 27 years after launching into Lake Superior on a remote beach on Apostle Island National Lakeshore. (Courtesy photo by Lynn BeBeau)

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“We couldn’t believe it when we turned it over and saw that,” BeBeau said. “We were really shocked to find out how old it was. We thought, ‘Oh, they must have mailed it last year.'”

The couple found the boat on October 7th. The message on the boat asked who found it, put it back in the water and inform the school of its whereabouts. The next morning she called Lakewood Elementary School.

“I’ve worked in law enforcement for enough years and am a retired probation officer who always wanted to know the rest of the story,” BeBeau said.

With the help of a post on the school district’s Facebook page, the puzzle was solved in less than 24 hours after the boat started. Bonnie Fritch stumbled upon the post.

Bonnie Fritch and Brenda Schell launch their wooden boats into Lake Superior in the 1993/94 school year.  (Courtesy photo by Bonnie Fritch)

Bonnie Fritch and Brenda Schell launch their wooden boats into Lake Superior in the 1993/94 school year. (Courtesy photo by Bonnie Fritch)

“The surprising thing was that it wasn’t found that far. It’s still in Lake Superior,” said Fritch. “I was hoping that at least one of the other Great Lakes would have happened.”

Fritch, who now lives in Lake Nebagamon, 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 is a story about a boy who carves a small wooden canoe with a figure called “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 before the boat was discovered. She said she has since bought copies to read to her grandchildren.

Both teachers let loose a small boat in the Upper Lake in the school year 1993/94. While they never heard of the whereabouts of Schell’s boat, Fritch’s was spotted once on the north coast two years after its launch.

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 was buried in the sand for some time before it was found, especially considering how good the boat looks after 27 years.

She has since put the boat back in the water.

The story was picked up by CNN Travel as well as other national and global news outlets and received a lot of 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 further than the ocean.”

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