Sea Scouts: A Beautiful Odyssey

Spoiler Alert! Shameless plug for donations below!


Melissa recently wrote an article for on the Odyssey,  (SSS Odyssey, Tacoma’s Maritime Jewel) . This ninety foot Sparkman and Stephens yawl is docked on the Foss Waterway and is always a beautiful site underway.  Melissa and I enjoy every encounter we have with her. From Princess Louisa Inlet to Budd Inlet, she makes the Salish Sea a little prettier.

All the hard work pays off on a day like this.

Keeping this jewel looking good and sailing well is no easy task. The Sea Scout Troop 190 works long hours maintaining the boat, taking her to maritime festivals and providing week long High Adventure cruises for Boy Scout Troops around the country. While such efforts are great fun and perfect training opportunities for young scouts, they also raise badly needed funds to ensure that the mission and the boat can continue.

The Sea Scout Mission

Skipper Dan Dawes quizzes a new scout. Yes, Sir, Skipper, Sir!

As a Sea Scout Ship, the adult leaders on board are tasked with educating and mentoring the young scouts in the the safe operation of this historic vessel. If anyone deserves a lifetime achievement award for dedication to our community, it would be these men and women who volunteer their time and experience. Every outing on the Odyssey requires an adult skipper, licensed by the Coast Guard to operate a  vessel of this size. So at a minimum they possess a 100 ton ticket. Many of these professionals have had long careers in the Merchant Marines, Coast Guard or the Navy. In addition to the skipper, there is always one other adult on board to manage the various other operations of the boat, KP,  watch schedules, cleanup and a myriad other functions needed for the efficient, safe operation of the ship.

Such experience on board a ship the size of the Odyssey is vital. The scouts themselves perform all the duties and make key decisions at every turn in the safe handling of the ship. Navigation, docking, anchoring, sail change; all of the the many decisions that must be made on any ship are made by these young men and women, aged 13 to 21. Melissa and I felt some pride in knowing that these young adults will be tomorrow’s capable leaders.

Scouts checking their charts at the Nav Station. Course headings are called up to the helm at least every fifteen minutes, then recorded in the log book.

All Hands On Deck!

In addition to the usual skills learned as a Sea Scout, none can be more important than the quick response to an emergency. Melissa and I got to witness a couple of drills when we were guests aboard the Odyssey on Mother’s Day this spring (see: Unlimited Weekend). During our cruise north to Tacoma,  the ship suddenly slowed to a crawl. I heard one of the senior scouts calling ‘All hands on deck! All hands on deck!’. Just short minutes later roll was called as all were gathered in the cockpit area. Skipper Dawes reported the scenario for the drill:  that we had just struck an object and were taking on water. Then, one at a time he drilled individual scouts on the actions needed to handle the situation. “Where is the damage control kit? Go and put your hands on it.”  “How do you activate the life raft? How many people can she carry? What is the proper radio transmission in this situation? Who will radio a Pan Pan?”. These and many more questions were fired at the scouts. Some of the older hands bit their tongues as the skipper grilled the newer scouts and put a bit of pressure on them. Much better to squirm a little now and learn the correct way to respond to an emergency than to panic when you are needed for the real thing.

We were proud to see our future leaders being groomed aboard the Odyssey

These drills are not just for the fun of it. They are required per Coast Guard regulations and the scouts are preparing to be tested. Soon there will be a Coast Guard representative on board watching and taking notes, scoring the scouts on their performance. Passing the test is critical as Odyssey carries passengers other than crew. During the summer months, in particular, Boy Scout troops sign up to be taken on their High Adventure cruises up to the San Juan and Gulf Islands. This is one of the major money making operations for Odyssey, which spends many thousands of dollars a year on fuel alone.

The ‘Man Overboard’ drill is another important exercise. Shortly after passing Pt. Defiance, the alarm was sounded and the ‘spotter’ claimed his place, pointing directly at the victim, a certain ‘Freddy Fender’. Odyssey slowly circled, the dinghy was lowered into the water and a scout deployed. Another went to the bow and prepared to throw the flotation device.

Nice arm!

All went smoothly until it looked like we might be in the way of the ferry to Vashon Island. Should we give way? Call off the drill?  We were all worried Mr. Fender would be run down. This was a timed drill, and just that amount of slight dithering threw everyone off the mark. I fear Mr. Fender did not live to see another day. It’s obvious the scouts have run this drill many times, but they were disappointed that this time it took just seconds too long. For the Coast Guard, that can’t happen, even if a ferry is approaching. On the long wish list for this troop is a full submersion survival suit that would allow them to practice with a live human being. Sounds like a great plan!

Victim retrieved

 How you can support the Sea Scout program

(Yes, a shameless plug.)

Some serious timber for a serious ship

These kids are the future leaders of our country and, frankly, with kids like these in command we can all breathe a sigh of relief. Many of the senior scouts have goals that include attending maritime academies as well as active duty service in the Navy or Coast Guard. It’s hard to put a price on the experience, training, and discipline that they gain from participating in this program; the kind of learning that schools simply cannot offer for any amount of money. Having this program in Tacoma benefits us all.

A program of this size and complexity runs on the tireless efforts of the scouts, their adult leaders (God Bless ’em) and contributions from many generous sponsors. If you ever go aboard the ship for a visit, you will see the donation box below, ready to accept a donation. But why wait? Thanks to the magic of the Interweb, you can click on the image below and make a contribution to the Odyssey right now. The Tacoma Youth Marine Foundation supports programs like the Sea Scouts and serves as the Odyssey’s home port. As a 501c3 organization, all contributions are tax deductible.


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3 thoughts on “Sea Scouts: A Beautiful Odyssey

  1. Pingback: An Apologia for Boat Brokers And Some Pretty Good Sailing | Little Cunning Plan

  2. You just have to bait me like this don’t you. Thats okay, yank my chain. I probably deserve it.

    As a side note, I love the seascouts. Did some work with them while I was active in the BSA. Great program. It was over in Florida.

    • Aw, Tate, we would never deliberately bait you! Not ever! 🙂 It is actually a coincidence that this article was published after your recent post. We’ve been waiting to run it until the tandem article was published on Three Sheets. Hey, at least we are not asking people to donate to our own fund!

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