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Out on the Bay: Sea Scout training for young people

on March 15, 2012

To be frank, Girl Scouts just wasn’t their thing.

Theresa Motley, 15 and Felicity Lockhart, 14, met when they were four years old through their local Girl Scouts Troop in Santa Rosa, Calif. Together, the two decided that they were “bored” with the activities and wanted to do something different.

A few years later Lockhart decided to follow the path of her older brothers and joined the Sea Scouts—a national organization focused on teaching young people knowledge of seamanship as well as maritime history and skills.

“Girl Scouts wasn’t for me,” said Lockhart, now a student at Montgomery High School in Santa Rosa. “ So I decided to give this a try and it’s a lot of fun. I’m enjoying it,” she said.

Theresa Motley, 15

Sea Scout Theresa Motley, 15, takes command of the 26-foot motorboat at the Regatta training. Motley said this is her favorite thing to practice for competitions.

Longtime friend and classmate Motley, wasn’t far behind.

“At first I came because she made me,” Motley said laughing. “No, it’s fun,” she added quickly. “I like it and I also enjoy the water a lot,” she said about the Sea Scout activities.

The National Sea Scouts program will celebrate its centennial this year. The Richmond chapter of Sea Scouts, called the Northland Sea Scouts, has been in existence for 79 years, said Northland’s skipper Paul Hirsh. Adults, male or female, interested in the program can also join. But membership in the Northland Sea Scouts, an all-boys crew, is specifically open to boys ages 13 to 18.

There are several co-ed or all-female ships near Richmond, such as the Odyssey, an all-female crew in El Cerrito and Sea Witch and Albatross, co-ed crews in Martinez, Calif. Nationally, there are about 7,000 youth involved in Sea Scouts and 68 percent are male and 32 percent are female, according to Joshua Gilliland, a spokesman for the organization.

Members of the Richmond club have the opportunity to go on cruises of the bay, participate in regattas, and take Coast Guard training, as well as swim, fish and water ski. The organization is meant to foster camaraderie and teach valuable skills like seamanship, carpentry and navigation, Hirsh said.

The S.S.S. Northland at dock three in Port of Richmond, Calif. This is the official ship for the Northland Sea Scouts of Richmond.

On Saturday, 50 Sea Scouts from across the Bay Area, including Motley and Lockhart, gathered at the historic dry docks of Richmond Shipyard # 3, across from 1313 Canal Blvd. The clubs, five in total, geared up for to practice and train for the first competition of the year— The Seafarers Regatta to be held on March 31 in Martinez, Calif. The Richmond club has hosted the training for the last four years, Hirsh said.

The regatta is a large outdoors competition where Sea Scout groups from across the city or country gather to compete in maritime events. They have the opportunity to highlight their mastery of different sea skills they practice throughout the season.

Many of the skills taught for regatta training are also in the Sea Scouts training manual for advancement, Hirsh said.  A few things the Sea Scouts need to know:  rope climbing, compass mapping, how to navigate and plot a course and how to tie a heaving line bend where they attach a smaller line or rope to a bigger or heavier line to pull a boat to shore.

Sea scouts

Skipper Paul Hirsh demonstrates how to tie a heaving line bend at the Regatta training in Richmond.

They also need to know how to tie other knots like the “monkey’s fist,” which actually looks like a fist and is about the same size as one. The purpose of the knot is to add weight to the end of a rope or heaving line to make it easier to throw.

One of the more complicated tasks Sea Scouts must learn is the “scuttlebutt,” in which crews have to hoist a bucket of water off the ground into the air without it spilling over. In addition, they need to learn how to complete drill commands, like marching in unison. One of the activities, called “flotilla,” is visible from miles away and prepares Sea Scouts for a precision rowing competition, in which specifics commands have to be followed by different crews rowing in small boats. Hirsh refers to the rowing practice as “ballet on water.”

On the docks that day helping with the flotilla was Jeffrey Haight. He’s been a part of the Sea Scouts since he was 13 years old. Now, 18, Haight has graduated to a different role. He is a junior officer, which means he helps to train the current members of the Richmond crew.

“There are a number of things I like about the Sea Scouts,” Haight said. “I liked the competition aspect and learning new things, but my favorite thing was that you get to cruise down the coast and operate these big ships and do things most people don’t get to do, especially teenagers.”

A Sea Scout crew practices their rowing technique at Regatta training in Richmond. Skipper Paul Hirsh calls this "ballet on water."

Hirsh said most kids join Sea Scouts for the adventure, but end up taking away more than that. Each training event teaches teamwork, coordination and discipline, he said. Members also learn responsibility and gain knowledge about sailing. Some of his former Sea Scouts have gone on to successful careers as Coast Guards, Navy men and sailors. Others have continued with maritime activities like boating as a hobby.

Regardless, Hirsh said he enjoys seeing people get something out of it.

“Some of this they can get at school or get at home, but the real takeaway is the practical use of the work,” said Hirsh, who has been in the maritime field for 42 years. “I watch the youth come in and grow up and go to college and then make good and that’s what it’s about. It’s about training the future leaders of tomorrow.”


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