The Port Townsend Sea Dragons team poses with the PNW Regional Coordinator Wes Thompson after qualifying for the MATE International ROV Competition. Shown, from left, are Logan Flanagan, Ayden Ratliff, Nathaniel Ashford, Ella Ashford, Thompson and Everest Ashford. (Gabi Ashford)

The Port Townsend Sea Dragons team poses with the PNW Regional Coordinator Wes Thompson after qualifying for the MATE International ROV Competition. Shown, from left, are Logan Flanagan, Ayden Ratliff, Nathaniel Ashford, Ella Ashford, Thompson and Everest Ashford. (Gabi Ashford)

Port Townsend Sea Dragons underwater robotics team headed for international contest

Fundraising underway to cover travel expenses for students

PORT TOWNSEND — The Port Townsend Sea Dragons underwater robotics team that qualified to compete in the International Underwater Robotics Championships back in May is now trying to raise money to cover travel expenses to Tennessee.

The team left for the competition on Monday, with most of the team driving to Kingsport, Tenn., with their ROV — the S.S. Dragon — and two other flying over that night and Tuesday. The championships run from Thursday though Saturday.

Despite the fact that they are already at the competition, the team is continuing to raise funds.

Of the $5,000 to cover travel expenses from Washington to Tennessee, $4,700 has been raised.

This money has been donated by community members and businesses throughout the Olympic Peninsula.

The team comprises high school seniors Ella Ashford (home-school) and Logan Flanagan (Port Townsend High School), freshman Nathaniel Ashford (home-school), seventh-grade student Everest Ashford (home-school) and sixth-grade student Ayden Ratliff (OCEAN).

The large age gap is a unique factor for the team — which is competing at the high school and college level — according to team CEO Ella Ashford.

“It’s really interesting,” she said. “It’s our strength and our weakness. We have the youngest overall average age and the youngest member overall in the Ranger division.

“Everyone thinks differently and adds a different perspective. Having that broad range of ideas has been a definite strength.”

The Sea Dragons tether manager Everest Ashford retrieves the S.S. Dragon from the pool during practice. (Ella Ashford)

The Sea Dragons tether manager Everest Ashford retrieves the S.S. Dragon from the pool during practice. (Ella Ashford)

Ashford did speak to some of the challenges of having the younger members, saying many have a shorter attention span than older ones, so the team had to work hard at balancing work and play, which helped them “work really well together as a team.”

The team has competed in the Marine Advanced Technology Education Remotely Operated Vehicle (MATE ROV) competition since 2016, when the group was founded as part of the Port Townsend STEM Club.

On May 11, the team competed in the 2019 Pacific Northwest MATE ROV and won first place, after competing against 15 other teams, which qualified them for the MATE International ROV Competition.

The S.S. Dragon took the team 1,000 hours spread across four months to build, as the team started the project in February. The S.S. Dragon has the ability to inspect drainage pipes, release simulated fish back into an environment, and recover a civil war era cannon. This is all to fall under this year’s overall theme “Innovations for Inshore: ROV Operations in Rivers, Lakes and Dams.”

The S.S. Dragon operated “above and beyond the team’s expectations” during the PNW competition, according to a press release.

“Because of our innovative ROV design, I was expecting to do well at the event,” said Ayden Ratliff, pilot, engineer and the youngest member of the team.

“But when they announced us as the winner, we were all so excited to go to Tennessee that we all leapt from our seats to go receive the award.”

This is the second year in a row the team has qualified for the International Competition, as last year they had taken second place, whereas the PNW allows the top two teams in the Ranger and Explorer categories move on in the competition. The other two lower categories are Scout and Navigator, which do not qualify for the International Competition.

Though the team is already well on their way to the competition, it is still trying to reach that last $300 to cover the last of the expenses. A GoFundMe account has been made and supporters can donate at www.gofundme.com/seadragons.

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Reporter Zachary Jablonski can be reached at [email protected]

The Sea Dragons’ 2019 ROV, the S.S. Dragon, won first place at regionals and sent the team to Tennessee for the international competition. (Ella Ashford)

The Sea Dragons’ 2019 ROV, the S.S. Dragon, won first place at regionals and sent the team to Tennessee for the international competition. (Ella Ashford)

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