Sea Scounts Say Anchors Aweight!
A revival of the historic Sea Scouts program is giving Kaua’i youths the opportunity to learn seamanship and leadership (and have fun)
A hunger for adventure is the common thread that binds Sea Scouts together, says Commodore Larry Richardson, who recently led the movement to bring the co-educational Boy Scouts of America ocean program back to Hawai’i.
It’s been decades since Sea Scouts was anchored in the state, but that didn’t stop Richardson from navigating its rebirth toward the Islands so that young adults could have an extracurricular boating and training curriculum.
“I’ve got to be honest,” he says. “This is really a lot of fun to be out on the water and have all these adventures.”
Watching dolphins glide alongside one of their vessels and spending weekends out at sea on the Sea Scout Ship Decisive, a 40-foot cruiser which sleeps 12 comfortably and is “like a big ol’ motor-boat,” are examples of the monthly ventures the kids experience, he says.
“You know, when you’re out there on the water, it’s this whole other world that most people don’t see,” adds Richardson, who started out as the skipper, but was recently promoted to commodore. “Most people don’t see the island from the water.”
But he explains, Sea Scouts isn’t about him taking the kids out on the boat. “It’s about them taking themselves out,” he says. “They drive the boat, they do the navigation, they handle all the lines. For the most part, I’m just there to oversee stuff and make sure that everybody’s being safe.”
About 30 young adults, ages 14 and up, have entered into the program – which meets weekly and has monthly boating activities – since its inception in the summer of 2009. Approximately 10 to 15 actively participate at any one time.
“A lot of my friends have been having a lot of fun and saying this is a good experience,” says Kaua’i High School junior Jacob Sauceda when asked why he decided to attend his first Sea Scouts meeting this month.
Most of the youths are currently apprentices, but each has the opportunity to graduate to more advanced levels as they move through the curriculum, Richardson says.
The program offers direct vocational and life skills training, as well as character development, Richardson says. “The values of scouting are definitely pumped up on our ship.”
Lila Detreaux, who has been with the program about a year, has already moved on to become Aloha Council Sea Scout boatswain, says Richardson. He is especially proud of her leadership skills, which propelled her to the position where, he says, “she gets to tell people what to do.”
But even though most are only at the beginning stages of their training, Richardson says he could-n’t be more pleased with the way the high school students have already progressed. Their performance at Hawai’i’s first Safety at Sea weekend conducted recently at the Coast Guard base on Sand Island on O’ahu offers a good illustration.
The state’s three Sea Scouts groups from Waianae, Kona and Kaua’i were able to experience how the Coast Guard conducts its daily activities.
“If the whole island could have seen how good the kids from Kaua’i were, the whole island would have been proud of them,” says Richardson, who spearheaded the event and also volunteers with the Coast Guard Auxiliary. “They were literally that good.”
Richardson’s passion for bringing Sea Scouts back to Hawai’i stems from his childhood, when a friend encouraged him to participate in one of their meetings in the early 1980s in Martinez, Calif. Richardson says he was immediately hooked after riding on their 50-foot boat for the first time.
Moreover, Richardson served as an officer on the same ship approximately 20 years later when his son, Max, who is now stationed on a Coast Guard cutter at Cape Cod, Mass., also joined the Sea Scout program in Martinez.
“Other people have tried to start Sea Scouts in Hawai’i, but because they weren’t Sea Scouts themselves, that was the missing ingredient,” says Richardson, who along with his son pitched the idea to Kaua’i Police Activities League chartering organization.
Sea Scouts originally got its start in 1912, two years after the Boy Scouts of America formed, Richardson says. It was actually launched by Hawai’i resident James Austin Wilder, who became the chief Sea Scout in 1917 and wrote the first manual for the program.
But since the last evidence of Sea Scouts curriculum circumnavigating the islands was in the 1940s, Richardson says, “We didn’t have anything to start.
“We didn’t even have a toy boat, we didn’t even have a rubber air mattress. We had nothing.”
Sea Scouts Kaua’i has now acquired by donation the SSS Decisive, a 26-foot sailboat, a small 22-foot motorboat and a 9-foot dingy.
And even though the SSS Decisive needed a lot of work, Richardson says it wasn’t long before the cruiser was regularly leading the kids out to sea.
Though the Sea Scouts still work on the boat some weekends, doing maintenance such as fixing the lights or repairing the shower, it helps develop a sense of ownership and pride, says Richardson, who moved to Kaua’i in 2004 and currently paints houses for a living.
When taking the SSS Decisive out for as long as five days during the summer to locations such as Hanalei Bay, it feels like a home away from home, Richardson says:
“When you’re living out on the ocean, you’re living somewhere that, really, you shouldn’t be able to.”
Every Sea Scout group has different points of focus, like scuba diving. “On Kaua’i we go cruising,” he says. “But it’s not like every cruise that we’ve ever been on is like a pleasure yacht. Here, we’ve got rough seas, stuff breaks, and we’ve got donated equipment and a shoestring budget. I mean, sometimes it’s tough.”
Nonetheless, he says, “when you get home from a cruise, you wake up the next morning and think, ‘Did that really just happen?’
“There’s a big, beautiful world out there with a lot of opportunities, and you can do it. Your wildest dreams are not beyond reach. It might take a lot of work, but there are some kids here I know will do big things.”
Visit seascout.org or contact Richardson at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.