While searching for rocks on the shores of Lake Superior in their Wisconsin lakeside hometown, Mike and Lynn BeBeau found something red, white and blue peeking through the sand.
At first, the couple figured it was a piece of a buoy. However, upon further inspection, they discovered it was a wooden toy boat with its paint peeling and faded and deliberate instructions inscribed on the bottom:
“I am traveling to the ocean. Please put me back in the water. Will you send information on your whereabouts to: Lakewood School Room 116 & 118 5207 N. Tischer Duluth, MN 53304,” it reads.
With water conditions choppy and high, Mike and Lynn waited to send the little voyager back into the waters and instead staged a sunset photoshoot and posted the story on social media, where the tale caught the attention of hundreds of people — including educators at Duluth Public Schools.
“We love to take the road less traveled, that’s just who we are, we’ve always been like that,” Lynn told the Free Press Monday. “You never know what you’re going to see, you never know what you’re going to find. This is just an unexpected surprise.”
Through the magic and mystery of social media, Lynn connected with teachers Bonnie Fritch and Brenda Schell, who launched two boats during a class field trip at Brighton Beach in Duluth in 1993-94 school year as part of a lesson on “Paddle-to-the-Sea,” a 1941 children’s book by Holling C. Holling.
“We mapped out the travels of the canoe through the Great Lakes,” Fritch said in a Duluth Public Schools Facebook post. “A friend of Brenda’s made the boats for us and our classes painted then and added the message to the bottom.”
While one of the boats was spotted a year later, the other was out on the water never to be heard from again, until 27 years later when Mike and Lynn discovered the wooden vessel on a remote beach along the Apostle Island National Lakeshore near Eagle Island.
“I think the biggest takeaway from this is that this little boat’s on a trip to the ocean, well, I think it’s made its goal,” Lynn, 63, said. “It didn’t reach the ocean yet, but it’s already crossed it. It’s been on a journey of its own and it has reached so many people and put a smile on their face. What greater journey is there than that? And in this day and age, we need that.”
Lynn — who loves to venture out and travel with her husband — says their story is a lesson for people to be more adventurous and to explore their surroundings. “People say, ‘Oh, I don’t have anything to do,’ Walk outside, people. Put on a pair of hiking boots and get outside,” she said. “There’s so much to see, you just have to look for it. “Sometimes it shows up when you’re not even looking for it, and that’s what happened with us. We didn’t set out to go look for a boat. It found us.”