Group of Sea Scouts ships out on training cruise on the bay


November 09, 1999|By John J. Snyder | John J. Snyder,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

SAY THE words "Boy Scout" and the mind conjures up a khaki-clad young man draped with a sash full of merit badges.

With Sea Scouts, things are a little different. Many people have never heard of them, although the Sea Scouts -- who are usually 14 to 21 years old -- have been part of the Boy Scouts of America since 1912.

Their emblem is the familiar Boy Scout fleur-de-lis set over an anchor.

On Saturday, a trio of Sea Scouts from east Columbia, veteran sailor Bruce Johnson and adult leader Fred Martinez Jr. sailed from Sparrows Point on a one-day training cruise.

Johnson is commodore of the Sea Scouts Northeast Region and skipper of Ship 361 -- the local unit.

A bright November sun was shining with barely a cloud in the sky. Temperatures were forecast for the 60s -- and winds would be steady, about 15 knots.

The group drove 25 miles from Columbia to the Old Bay Marina in Baltimore County. The dock at Sparrows Point is the closest that the group can afford.

As the marina parking lot filled with day sailors taking advantage of the fine weather, Johnson and his crew went through a checklist of tasks to prepare for getting under way.

Sea Scouts Evan Griggs, 14, of Long Meadow; Greg Marmon, 16, of Kings Contrivance; and Fred Martinez III, 16, of Ellicott City worked aboard Sea Scout Training Vessel (SSTV) Delphinus -- a 30-foot fiberglass sailboat donated to the unit by a Chester County, Pa., couple.

The Scouts tested the bilge pump, filled the freshwater tanks and adjusted the mast rigging. They talked of jib sheets and Jennies, jam cleats and spring lines before settling down to look over the nautical chart they would follow.

The crew planned to sail on a triangular course from Sparrows Point to Gibson Island and the Bay Bridge, before turning back to port.

"Evan, you are the first lookout," Johnson said as he handed Griggs a pair of binoculars. The lookout's job is to watch for watercraft and other obstacles.

"Release the stern line," Johnson gently commanded from his spot aft, where he could control the tiller and the inboard motor.

With a steady wind on the starboard (right) side pushing them into the pier, the Delphinus was moving grudgingly.

"Fend off that piling," Johnson ordered.

The boat inched forward in the narrow slip. Young Martinez pushed against the thick wooden posts sunk deep into the muck as he walked along the port (left) side deck.

Griggs and Marmon took a strain on a line pulling the boat from the pier.

Clearing the berth, Johnson turned the Delphinus hard to starboard into the light chop of Old Road Bay. The engine pushed them through an unseen channel in the shallows, Johnson keeping an eye on the electronic depth gauge.

Passing the last boats in the marina, the Delphinus turned to port, heading toward open water. Under a clear sky, it moved past the red buoys and green channel markers into the shipping lanes.

Moments later, the Delphinus passed under Key Bridge, wind filling its sails.

Sea Scout Ship 361 has been meeting at the First Presbyterian Church of Howard County -- a landlocked building at U.S. 29 and Route 108 -- for 25 years. The group is called a ship instead of a troop. The skipper is the ship's leader.

"I think it's a great way for young adults to learn teamwork," Johnson says.

The Sea Scouts vary in experience and skill from some to none.

Fred Martinez and his son learned about the Sea Scouts at a Boy Scout rally last year.

"My boy saw the Sea Scouts' table and said, `Dad, look at this,' " Martinez said. "The Sea Scouts were energetic and excited about sailing -- so we signed up."

Martinez, who volunteers for the Ship's meetings and weekend activities, is learning to sail.

The Martinezes, natives of Albuquerque, N.M., had never been on the water in anything larger than a canoe before Saturday's cruise.

"All these boys call me the landlubber," Fred Martinez said with a grin. "The only thing we had where I grew up were prairie schooners."

Ship 361 has received four boats from local donors. Two are moored at the marina and two are being restored ashore. A pair of slips in Sparrows Point costs the group $1,700 a year, but upkeep is the biggest expense.

"A boat is a large hole in the water that you pour money into," Johnson said.

The Ship earns the money by selling Naval Academy souvenirs at Navy football games in Annapolis. They act as ushers at academy functions. Sometimes they sell soda at a booth at the Maryland Renaissance Festival in Crownsville -- dressing in period costume.

Johnson, a librarian at the Library of Congress, pays some expenses out of pocket.

"It's not much on a librarian's wages," he said. "Things are always tight, and we can never have enough to do what we want to do."

An Eagle Scout, Johnson began his Scouting career as a "dirt Scout," as he jokingly calls Scouts on land. His daughter Cristyn, 15, has been in the Ship for two years. Sea Scouts has welcomed young women into its ranks since 1972.

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