There was just one, "teeny-weeny little problem," John Ryan observed as he tried to raise the main sail on the 19-foot boat. The mast had slipped out of its housing on the deck.
Ed Wright, skipper of this group of Sea Explorer Scouts, sprung from the tiller toward the center of the boat and pulled on a series of lines strung through pulleys to get the mast back into place. John, a 13-year-old from Glen Burnie, scrambled across the foredeck to take care of the sails.
Within a minute, both sails were up and catching the wind. The little boat was heeling up as it plowed through Curtis Creek at the Coast Guard yard.
The idea, said Mr. Wright, who organized the first-ever sailing camp for Baltimore area Sea Scouts, is to "basically let the kids do it."
"The more mistakes they make, the more they'll learn," he reasoned. "And what could be a better place to make those mistakes than here, in protected water with Coast Guard all around?"
The camp started Monday and ran through the weekend, when the campers were scheduled to sail overnight to Rock Hall on the Eastern Shore. The 14 Scouts from throughout the metropolitan area spent much of the winter studying basic seamanship and navigation, then began applying those lessons afternoons and evenings on donated boats in the cove near the Coast Guard Yard marina.
"We learned to tack, jibe, trim the jib. Yeah, its fine," John exulted Wednesday night.
But Phil Wagaman, 15, of Aberdeen, wasn't so sure. When the boat began to heel, he inched nervously up to the high side, eyeing the water.
"Uhh, yeah. I sailed some last year," he said.
But what has he learned this year?
"Not too much," he decided.
Chris Shamblin, who was inching to the high side with Phil, learned earlier Wednesday what to do when small boats -- which are notoriously unstable -- capsize.
He and Al Liebergott, one of the instructors, had been sailing an 18-foot Harpoon when a sudden, strong gust of wind caught them unawares and sent the boat over. Both were wearing life jackets, but both got their legs tangled in lines as they tried to get clear of the rigging.
While the lines pulled them down, the life jackets pushed them up, pulling the lines tighter.
Chris, a 14-year-old from Ferndale, said he couldn't free himself until he unclipped the life vest and dove below the water. And as soon as he could, he pulled the lines away from Mr. Liebergott's leg.
"I told Chris I was getting tired of trying to hold myself up," Mr. Liebergott recounted. "And he just went and did what he had to do."
Chris thought the whole thing had been an adventure at first. "We came close to tipping over a couple of times, and nothing happened," he said. "It was fun. But when it really went over, I said, 'Oh, God!' "
But it was a learning experience, Mr. Wright figured. "That's part of the reason you take them out here," he said, "so they learn what to do when a boat turns over."