Author: Thomas A, Ship Boatswain
Like so many other organizations, Sea Scout Ship 1942 learned it would be barred from any in-person activities in March of last year. Initially, our prospects of an action-packed summer full of long cruising and Monday night sailing just seemed to be on delay for a while. Of course, this would turn out to be far from the truth. As we slowly learned the severity of the pandemic in March, our Scouting council put a blanket ban on any outdoor or in-person activities.
As a new(ish) Sea Scout, I was disappointed to say the least. The coming summer was supposed to be my first full one with Ship 1942, filled to the brim with our exciting summer program activities. But, just like everyone else, those opportunities vanished before my eyes.
It was now up to our Boatswain and Skipper to develop a plan to keep the Ship alive. Needless to say, they were worried. Worried that without any outdoor activities or motivations to be involved with the Ship, our recruitment would die out, and our Ship along with it. Finding a way to at least keep us afloat for the time being was the most critical step. So to start, the Ship purchased a “Zoom Premium” account and began hosting weekly meetings. This is usually something we do over the Winter when it’s too cold to sail, and it provides us with a great way to teach, learn, and socialize together. However, this year our weekly meetings would continue into the Spring and Summer.
At the time I started attending these meetings, I wasn’t expecting much. I mean, how could a simple Zoom meeting replace the thrill of sailing?! But, like so many others in our unit, I was pleasantly surprised when I found myself enjoying the virtual meetings. They were productive, engaging, and a great way to be social. However, as these meetings became commonplace, our Quarterdeck realized that Scout rank advancement, a critical part of any Scouting unit, would be yet another challenge to overcome. Without a way to teach the skills required for our Scouts to advance, youth interest was sure to die out. Plus, we were running out of things to do on our Zoom calls!
Our youth-led instruction program was born out of these two problems. Every week, a new Scout would take the time to learn a new skill or area of knowledge, produce a presentation and demonstration of that skill, and then present that during our meeting. This proved to be a great success and enabled Scouts to keep progressing in rank. To complement our Scout-led instruction, Sea Scouts all over the country were offered discounts on numerous online boating courses, including those from NauticEd and BoatUS. With many of our Scouts learning in these two ways, we certainly were developing into a very book-smart group!
That said, there’s only so much “Zooming” and web scrolling one can do, and many of us were still craving a taste of sailing. Our Skipper, along with our most senior Ship adults, made a virtual trip to our charter organization: St. George’s Episcopal Church. They were there to make a request: given easier COVID restrictions at the time, they asked our chartered organization for permission to hold outdoor events. To my surprise, the Church, along with our Scouting council, permitted us to hold limited outdoor events.
I was elated! I had spent many summer hours working towards advancement and learning new skills, and I was ready to demonstrate them on the water. Alas, I soon learned that I wouldn’t be sailing, but canoeing. Our primary sailing vessels, 18’ Flying Scots, were too small to allow for adequate social distancing onboard. Fortunately, our Scouting Council had a set of ten 14’ canoes they were willing to lend us. Aboard these canoes, two rowers would have nearly ten feet of distance between them, thus passing the BSA COVID safety protocols.
And just like that, we all went into overdrive mode to prepare for a series of “canoe treks” throughout Virginia and Maryland. Our first event took place on the James River. Although our time was cut short for weather, everyone who attended was just glad to be outside, together (6+ ft apart, of course), and on the water. It wasn’t sailing, but it was enough for us.
Meanwhile, our Ship was due for a new Quarterdeck. The new Quarterdeck (board of youth officers) would inherit the challenges of operating under COVID, and would have to live up the high standards of our previous officers (believe me, they had set quite the high standard). Lo and behold, I found myself running for Ship’s Boatswain. Upon my election, I felt a great sense of pride that my fellow Scouts had chosen me to lead them through the remainder of the difficult year. Alongside me on the Quarterdeck would be many of our most experienced Scouts, including those who pioneered our “COVID program.” Ready to lead and excited to get back out on the water, planning began for our next two canoe treks.
The first of these took place in September on the Shenandoah river. Starting from a local farm (thank you, Mr. Johnson!), we would paddle 20 miles in two days and camp overnight in the woods. With special help from our Ship’s Store Keeper and our very own Mike Taylor, we had delicious food and more canoes than we knew what to do with! It was truly a wonderful event, and a great reminder for why I joined Sea Scouts in the first place.
Our next canoe outing took place on Mallows Bay, the site of a sunken WWI fleet. Although this trip was much shorter than our previous treks, it was just as fun. We organized a tour of the “ghost fleet” with Dr. Langley, the Maryland State Underwater Archeologist and lead conservationist at Mallows Bay. The mid-November weather was perfect, and the tour just the same. Our Scouts learned all about each of the vessels that lay at rest in the bay, as well as the conservation efforts and history of the bay. Special thanks to Dr. Langley for her amazing tour!
With that trek out of the way, our outdoor program for the year came to a close. There was talk of one last trek, but with the weather turning, we had to call the plans off.
Still, the virtual weekly meetings we had been holding every week continue today. Despite all of the challenges of last year, our Ship managed to adapt and improve in so many ways. More Scouts are joining us (and advancing rank) than ever before, our website was completely overhauled (www.seascoutship1942.org), and many of our officers are now serving at the council level. We all feel so fortunate to have had these opportunities, especially since not every Ship did. Thank you to everyone who made last year possible, and here’s to improving even more in 2021!