As ice chunks floated down the Kennebec River and wind gusts rocked soaked bare branches outside the windows of the Maine Maritime Museum in Bath, a group of mostly strangers gathered in the museum’s Long Reach Hall on a rainy March afternoon. They gathered to set up a new Sea Scouts ship based at the museum.
A core team of about eight people spent a year or so getting ready for this rainy day at the end of March. It all began when Steve Saucier, district executive of the Downeast District of the Boy Scouts (which includes Knox, Lincoln and Sagadahoc counties) approached Jim Nelson, a Cub Scouts leader in Brunswick, about starting a Sea Scout ship at the museum. Nelson works part time as an educator at the Maine Maritime Museum, is a former mariner and a nationally-known author of maritime books such as “George Washington’s Secret Navy” and “Reign of Iron.”
On recruitment day, about 20 people-parents and their children and adults interested in volunteering-milled about Long Reach Hall, chatting, laughing, asking questions and checking out the various maritime items on display. They came from Richmond, Topsham and Brunswick. Some have scouting experience, some have maritime experience and some have neither. Most of the possible recruits are young men but there are three girls, including Nelson’s daughter, Betsy, who good-naturedly said she went to the meeting partly because of her own interest and partly because she was dragged to the meeting by her father.
Sea Scouts are a division of the Boy Scouts of America, geared for males and females ages 14 to 21. The Sea Scouts began in England at the start of the last century as a means for older Boy Scouts to learn about seamanship. Sea Scout units are called ships and leadership positions are designated with traditional maritime titles like skipper and mate.
The Sea Scouts themselves are the ones who direct their ship. They choose their leaders, determine the design of their uniforms and decide what the ship’s focus will be. They can sail tall ships, go white water rafting or build their own vessel-or all of those options and more.
It was the mention of kayaking as a possible activity that caught the attention of Franzi Chesley, 14, of Brunswick. Chesley was at the recruitment meeting with her parents and younger sister because her brother, Steven, was interested in joining the Sea Scouts. But as she learned more about what Sea Scouts is about, she became interested in joining, too. “I think it would be a good opportunity,” she said.
Like Chesley, Tad Bond, 15, of Orrs Island, sees joining the Sea Scouts as a chance to do small boat sailing. Bond, who is a Life Scout working toward becoming an Eagle Scout, has been part of the core team planning the museum-based ship. He likes that he’ll be able to go exploring with people his own age and likes the idea of being part of a scouting group that has flexibility. “I’m not really looking for a ranking system as in the Boy Scouts,” he said. “I’m looking for the experience of being out on the water.”
There are six Sea Scout ships in the state. According to the Sea Scouts website (www.seascout.org), those ships are in Belfast, Southwest Harbor, Lewiston, Cape Elizabeth, Rockland and Kittery.
When Saucier approached Nelson about starting a Sea Scouts ship at the museum, Nelson immediately recognized the potential of Saucier’s idea. Having a Sea Scout ship based at the museum made a lot of sense because of the Maine Maritime Museum’s obvious connection to all things maritime but also because of the museum’s own goal of becoming more involved with the community. “It’s a natural fit for the museum,” Nelson said. “What we’re all about here is maritime education, and that’s what the Sea Scouts do.”
As it stands now, the museum would provide space for the Sea Scouts to meet and Nelson will act as a liaison between the group and the museum. As things develop, Nelson said the museum could act as an agent to find grant givers for the new group and if and when the scouts get their own vessel, the museum could be a place the scouts could moor and store their boat.
The museum’s relationship with the Sea Scouts is expected to be a two-way street. The scouts, for example, could aid the museum by fixing up boats the museum can’t currently afford to repair. “There are lots of possibilities,” Nelson said.
Nine of the young men and woman attending the recruitment meeting have signed up, making Sea Scout Ship 243 official. Going forward, the new ship plans to meet at the museum the first and third Wednesday of each month. Membership is an annual fee of $10. Those interested in joining should contact Jim Nelson at firstname.lastname@example.org.