Students launch, sink paper boat


Everyone has heard of paper planes, the airborne bane of school teachers everywhere. But a paper boat?

Students from the Perryville Elementary YMCA after school program, ages 7-12, led by YMCA Child Care Site Coordinator Angela Burke, built one large enough to hold a person.

The project started out as a simple design from a Web site and evolved into a craft of cardboard, poster paper and masking tape with an external coating of wax.

"We had made these little paper boats. Mine kept tipping over, so I put marbles in it to keep it steady. ... There were a couple of us who kept on saying, 'what if we made it bigger'," says Michaela Montgomery, 9.


The YMCA project was inspired by Nathaniel H. Bishop's 1878 "Great Paper Boat Voyage," a 2,000 mile trip from Troy, N.Y., to Cedar Keys, Fla., that Bishop undertook in a paper canoe manufactured by the boat-building firm E. Waters & Sons. In this 58-pound paper boat, Bishop's voyage followed "the natural and artificial connecting watercourses of the continent in the most direct line southward to the gulf coast of Florida."

While the goal of the "YMCA Paper Boat Voyage" was to float on the Chaplin River, rather than traverse the eastern seaboard, the students' voyage was no less of an adventure than Bishop's trip. The project took over two months to complete and involved the collaborative efforts of all the program's approximately 30 students.

In their quest to create a seaworthy vessel, students compiled research on paper boats, made models and sketches and experimented with paper durability. The students even talked to Bill Waters, a senior chief flight deck coordinator, to learn the best way to built a boat..

According to Burke, the students learned about buoyancy, floating and strength as well as cooperation and teamwork over the course of the project.

Riely Stallings, 10, says his favorite part of building the paper boat was that "there were lots of people helping us." He also explained that the strength of the boat's design is more important than its physical appearance.

"I think it was really cool that we could actually make a paper boat," says Kathleen Weise, 11.

Inclement weather cancels Chaplin River voyage

The YMCA students planned to test their final product in the Chaplin River in Perryville, just behind the Historic Elmwood Inn. However, Wednesday's inclement weather prevented the actual launch of the boat, and fearing thunderstorms on Thursday afternoon, the boat was eventually tested in a large wading pool set up next to the elementary school. While the children were disappointed that the maiden voyage of their paper boat would not take place on an actual river, they all agreed that the wading pool launch was better than nothing.

The air was filled with the telltale energy of children on the last day of school, shouting and laughing with excitement as the boat was launched in the plastic pool. Jonie Smock, a 2004 Boyle County graduate who has worked with the YMCA program for two years, was selected to test the boat. She says, "I'm excited. I trust my kids, so..." while ten-year-old Cheyenne Brumbaugh says of Smock, "She's our guinea pig."

All eyes were on Smock as Burke helped her into the craft. The boat continued to float. Screams of joy and applause greeted this achievement.

The marker drawing on the side of the boat saying, "Surf's up dude," seemed even more appropriate as Smock tried to step out of the wobbling boat. Yet, the boat still remained afloat.

The students then clamored for their own turn in the boat, five or six venturing in before the cardboard started to give out. Those who stepped aboard agreed that riding in the boat was "cool." Brumbaugh described her brief nautical excursion as like "floating on air."

Now, the children, who moments earlier had cheered the boat's buoyancy, were gleeful with the prospect of destroying the boat. "I want to sink it," said Montgomery, who spent every day after school since the conception of the "YMCA Paper Boat Voyage." Both floating and sinking, the boat provided excitement and fun.

To sink the boat, Smock climbed aboard, and the students pummeled her with water balloons before jumping in the pool themselves. The boat's brief voyage was over. Water logged and unsteady, it bobbed amidst the sea of frolicking children.

As the kids splashed around their partially submerged craft, Burke hopped in the pool to join the fun. "Science worked. We're happy."

And summer is off to a great start.

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