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About That Pool Noodle Crossing My Bow …

In our March issue, Max Ebb wrote about an innocent pool noodle floating by that turned out to be a serious scientific project …

It was a very odd piece of flotsam, and it was headed right for my boat. A lost pool noodle? An advertising sign that had washed into the Bay? No, this thing was sailing, and it was steady on course. I was watching from a cabin window, and lost sight of the thing as it came closer and sailed below my field of view. “Nothing urgent,” I thought to myself, having decided that the pool noodle’s bow was the only part of this toy likely to make contact.

But before I was on deck, there was a slight but sudden roll of my boat and a small jerk as the trim changed and the slack in the dock lines fetched up. Someone had stepped aboard. It was followed by several other bounces and small jolts, and many light footsteps on deck — too many for just one uninvited visitor.

I jumped up to the top step of the companionway ladder, and saw none other than Lee Helm and three young girls hopping across my foredeck, apparently on their way to catch the miniature sailing contraption.

It looked innocent, but what was lurking beneath this errant pool noodle?
© 2021 Max Ebb

“Uh, like, request permission to come aboard?” Lee asked a little sheepishly, followed by an exaggerated “Sir!” and a clumsy salute. “We didn’t think anyone was on board.”

“Permission granted retroactively,” I said, returning the salute. “For you and your boarding party.”

“We just have to tack the model and send it back across the fairway,” Lee explained. “It’s like, not radio-controlled or anything.”

“So that’s your creation?” I asked, watching one of the girls lean over the outboard rail under the lifelines so she could set the boat onto the other tack and send it back out across the marina.

“My team built it,” Lee explained. “It’s a science project.”

It turned out that the local middle school had asked the University if they could send over some grad students to help run some outdoor science activities.

Lee Helm, a graduate student in the naval architecture department, had of course volunteered on condition that she didn’t have to pay any attention to any published curriculum. The school had second thoughts but eventually decided to sign her up, and she had the kids building model sailboats and learning about lift, drag, buoyancy, ballast, and course-keeping stability parameters.

“These aren’t just any sailboats,” she boasted. “They’re made from old leftover political lawn signs.”

That explained why the sails were made of cardboard and had “VOTE!” printed on both sides.

“Where on earth did this idea come from?” I asked.

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