Sea Scouts of the San Juans

Unfazed by the Pacific Northwest drizzle, the young members of the newly formed San Juan Sea Scout chapter trooped down to the dock for a good look at their sailboat, The Barnacle. The islands’ chapter was founded by Skipper Eric Stone, with the help of many islanders, about a year ago.

“It’s the perfect example of it takes a village, a community,” Sea Scout Skipper-Mate Kelley Balcomb-Bartok said, noting all the players who have stepped up to bat in order for the Sea Scouts to get off the ground.

The Port of Friday Harbor donated a mooring slip and The Friday Harbor Yacht Club agreed to make each Sea Scout a club member, with yacht club benefits, which is why the scouts are able to meet there from 6:30-8 p.m. every Monday. The San Juan Island Power Squadron also assisted by sponsoring the island chapter and will be providing boater safety workshops for the scouts.

Sea Scouts are under the Boy Scout of America umbrella. They are a coed group whose merit badges center around boating and water skills.

According to the Sea Scout website, Sea Scouts originated in Britain around 1910. Sea Scouting in America was founded by Arthur A. Carey of Waltham in Massachusetts around 1912. Nearly 110 years later, Sea Scout units, or Ships, are located across the nation, even in areas with limited access to water. The groups focus on paddleboarding or kayaking skills using lakes and rivers, Balcomb-Bartok said.

To become a Sea Scout, one must be at least 14 years old, or have graduated from eighth-grade, and can be up to 20 years old.

“[Sea Scouts] combine traditions of the past with the technology of the future, and whether one looks to the sea as a career or lifelong hobby, it is worth exploring. Sea Scout units … use a variety of paddle craft, power boats, and sailing vessels, and promote service to others and advancement that rewards individual pursuits of excellence. Each level marks progressive growth as a seaman and leader, culminating in the prestigious Quartermaster rank,” the website explained.

The fledgling group has stepped in to provide community service, acting as the safety vessel during the Shaw Classic sailing race Aug. 20 aboard its motorboat, The Blackfish.

The students are ready and willing to provide a safety vessel for other community events as well.

Ship 4013 is quickly acquiring a full-fledged fleet, according to Balcomb-Bartok, which includes two 16-foot wooden racers, as well as The Barnacle and The Blackfish.

Currently, the local Sea Scouts Ship consists of 10 members. There are at least two young scouts waiting in the wings to come of age and join the ship.

The Sea Scouts huddled below deck around The Barnacle’s table on a rainy Monday night, telling the Journal why they joined.

While Kyla, Balcomb-Bartok’s daughter, has always been interested in all things relating to water and nature, she said she wanted to learn more about boating.

Cody, Balcomb-Bartok’s son, will be installed as boatswain at the Bridge Ceremony, an annual event wherein new leadership is established and merit badges distributed. A boatswain is the crew leader, elected by the ship members, Balcomb-Bartok explained. The teens, he continued, are the ones in charge, the adult skippers provide guidance and support.

“I wanted to join because I always loved sailing,” Cody said, adding he also wanted to meet new people and have some fun on the water.

A recent island arrival, Josh Mellinger, moved from the landlocked Midwest. However, his parents were active boaters in North Carolina, he said. They were excited he had the opportunity to learn about boating now that they were once again near water. Josh is set to become boatswain mate-elect at the ceremony, securing his place as the next boatswain.

Another scout, Justin Ha, the ship’s first boatswain, noted he has lived on a boat most of his life and was excited there was now a Sea Scout program in Friday Harbor.

Under the Sea Scout Ship 4013 Blackfish Code of Conduct, each member declares to act responsibly; treat peers respectfully; and to have fun.

When asked if there was anything else the scouts wanted the public to know, Justin piped up, “Join!”

Back in the Yacht club, the group demonstrated its camaraderie and excitement as it brainstormed different topics for merit badges — sailing, kayaking and paddleboarding were all mentioned. Underwater skills, such as snorkeling and SCUBA diving, were also suggested. SCUBA diving garnered the most enthusiasm. Member Flynn Wilkinson noted that he was interested in marine biology, and therefore, SCUBA could be useful in his desired career path.

Justin also thought along potential career lines, adding, “I’d like to get my captain’s license one day, and being a Sea Scout will help me toward that goal.”

Josh noted he is most interested in CPR and First Aid training.

“If anyone ever died in front of me, I would feel terrible if I couldn’t do anything to help save them,” he said.

An array of field trips was also discussed, including tours of U.S. Coast Guard cutters; visiting local parks; and camping on the outer islands.

Teaming up with neighboring Sea Scouts, like the Ship from Seattle, is an option that was placed on the agenda.

“Remember, some of these groups have been around for a long time, and are well funded. We aren’t there yet,” Balcomb-Bartok told the teens with a laugh. “We will get there. We have to start small.”

The Friday Harbor Power Squadron is a nonprofit organization, so all financial donations to the Sea Scouts are greatly appreciated, tax-deductible and will be used to support the mission of Sea Scouts promoting better citizenship while teaching kids water safety and boating skills. For more information about the squadron, visit www.fridayharborpowersquadron.com.

For more information about the Sea Scouts, visit https://seascout.org/. To contact the Friday Harbor Sea Scouts, email SJSeaScouts@gmail.com.