Do you know what the hardest thing about growing up on a boat is?
As someone who has been piloting a 90 foot vessel since the age of 15, getting my drivers permit was a steep learning curve. Think about it. I was at the helm of Odyssey for a little over a year before I ever sat in the driver’s seat of a car. I had 14 months of skippers constantly reminding me to turn the wheel slowly, let up before you reach the heading you want, and for heaven’s sake – no more than three spokes at a time unless it is an emergency!
My poor parents had no idea what to do with me when I tried to pilot our minivan live a hundred ton vessel down the treacherous straight which was our driveway. I tremble to think how it would have ended it I had grown up on a tiller. In fact, when my friend’s dad was teaching us all how to parallel park we insisted that he give us instructions in boat terms. Once he started using phrases like “right rudder” and “left rudder” we all parked the car no problem. But if that’s the price to pay for high school memories of wind in our hair and ocean spray on our faces, I know there’s not a single one of us who wouldn’t pay it.
And where am I to go me Johnnies?
Where am I to go –
For I am young and a sailing lad and where am I to go?
My crew and I all pretty much have the same problem: we are very bad at being inconspicuous. Perhaps it’s the bright red t-shirts, perhaps it’s the huge duffle bags and random pieces of drift wood. More than likely it’s our loud voices and boisterous attitudes, whatever it is it draws attention. No matter where we go we will almost inevitably get the question “So, what are Sea Scouts?”
This question is more complicated than it might seem, and each crew members has a different answer. We rattle off these five sentence summaries so often that most of us have them memorized. Mine goes something like this:
“We’re a training program for youth sailors, basically Boy Scouts on a boat, but co-ed. So yes, I am a card carrying Boy Scout.” (Short pause for them to realize I’m a girl and then laugh or stare confusedly at me) “See that ship out there? No, not that one, the one with the tallest mast. Yes, that’s Odyssey, we’re currently sailing her for (insert amount of days) to (insert destination), you’re more than welcome to come aboard and tour her.” Short conversation about the ship’s history, how she was built for the Vanderbilt’s in 1938, then commandeered by the navy during World War II, then bought by the Boy Scouts for only a dollar in the 70’s. A few questions about the program, where do you meet, what do you do, how old do you have to be to join, and so on. Then the conversation will almost always end with them saying “You are so lucky to be in a program like that.” We always smile and say “We know.”
And we mean it. It’s the chance of a lifetime and not one of us takes it for granted, because, Sea Scouts is about so much more than we can say in a five minute conversation on a dock. It is about teamwork and perseverance and leadership and friendship, but most of all it is about being young on the sea. We're the kind of kids who know sea shanties better than the hottest new song, who learned to dance on a dock to a live fiddle, whose first time going through customs was in a harbor instead of an airport. Growing up on the sea means that you know things which few other teenagers have ever even been exposed to.
We can navigate with nothing more than a paper chart and a compass by using dead reckoning and running fixes. We understand day markers and navigation buoys and keep the official log book of SSS Odyssey.
We frequently cook for 20 people in a kitchen smaller than a walk-in closet, which involves starting and keeping our diesel stove running, powering three different appliances off of one outlet, and heating water for dish washing in an electric tea kettle.
We are responsible for almost all of the maintenance aboard Odyssey. From varnishing to sail repair, to engine maintenance, and deck swabbing, the skippers make sure that we keep our ship in tiptop shape both above decks and below.
But if that’s the price you pay for being a Sea Scout then there’s not a one of us who wouldn’t pay it. Because these are days we will always remember, nights we will never forget. I'm sure that even the coldest shift of anchor watch will have a strange loving glow about it twenty years from now, and the days of dead calm will forever be burned in our mind.
We are young - we rule the ocean and we live every day to its fullest. And that is what Sea Scouts really is.
- Kesia Lee