Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Occoquan Sea Scouts to Crew for Historic "Half Shell" Water Taxi at River Festival

The Sea Scouts in Occoquan will provide the first volunteer crew to the historic Chesapeake Bay oyster buyboat "Half Shell" on Saturday, May 2nd. The vessel will be among three used to provide water taxi service during the Occoquan River Festival, a service spearheaded by Leo Smith of Carefree Boat Club, who also created the connection between the Sea Scouts and the Half Shell.

The Half Shell will run between Belmont Bay Marina and the Occoquan Town Dock, from 10:00am to 7:00pm, with a total of 20 dockings. The crew will consist of 2 or 3 scouts, on shifts of varying length, depending on the scout’s experience. The Sea Scouts will serve as line handlers, standing by to tie up at each dock when the boat arrives and untying when time to debark. Stowing of the line, the gangways and other loading and unloading efforts will be part of their duties. While on-board and under weigh, they will assist the passengers as necessary.

Half Shell’s captain, Andrew Samworth, has “made a 20-year career of working on boats,” and is “very happy to be using boats to reach the youth in our communities now.” The captain visited the Sea Scouts’ website,, and is “excited to see how much the group is doing.” The Sea Scout group leader, Skipper Shay Seaborne, noted that, “If things are quiet and smooth during the Festival, scouts could take turns joining the captain in the pilothouse for some real-life piloting lessons, and nothing beats hands-on learning!”

Samworth attended the Sea Scouts’ meeting on April 7th, to introduce himself to the teens and give them an idea of what is needed. He and his proposal were received with enthusiasm, particularly when the Skipper explained that this will count as service hours for advancement. The scouts’ prior service hours were gained mostly on workdays and fund raisers. Fifteen-year-old Gus MacDonald, a Sea Scout who lives in Manassas Park, found it a welcome change. “Getting service hours aboard a boat? Yes!” he exclaimed.

The scouts will start their River Festival service day with a basic orientation on the boat. Safety will be the main message. “The most important thing that I want to stress is that the Half Shell is considerably heavier than the boats your scouts are used to crewing,” he told Seaborne, “Therefore, no body parts are suitable for fending off.”

The Skipper affirmed that safety is her number one priority, “about half of our scouts are experienced with larger vessels, as we train and have an annual week long cruise aboard a 46' ketch,” she said, adding that, “I and other adult leaders have repeatedly highlighted the importance of never fending off with body parts, but on this and other safety topics, there is no such thing as too much reinforcement.”

Samworth is a former Sea Scout who appreciates what the scouting program gave him, while Seaborne learned the value of the Sea Scout program as an outsider in her teens; the National Park Service barred her from joining the group it sponsored, but she saw what it did for the boys who belonged. As a Park Service volunteer, she often worked along side the Sea Scouts, handling boats of various types, chipping and painting, sailing, and growing to like the smell of diesel fuel. Seaborne is “delighted to be in the position to give these young people the opportunities and mentoring I was denied.” As the group’s leader, she sees direct results of the positive effect that Sea Scouting can have on teenagers. “I love to watch them learn and discover,” she said, “to see them stretch outside their comfort zone and try new things, take on greater responsibilities, find their competency and confidence, and take off in new directions.”

Half Shell is part of the Living Classrooms Foundation, and Samworth would like the Occoquan Sea Scouts to join him during summertime activities in the foundation's Shipboard Education & Environmental Outreach Program, such as seining and taking water and bottom samples from the river. Seaborne is excited at the prospect, saying “this is stuff right up my alley; when I was aboard the Lightship Chesapeake, the vessel was a floating environmental education center, and they welcomed me as a volunteer because of my background in marine biology and oceanography. I know how scientific learning about the local estuary and environment can spark further interest and studies.”

Captain Samworth and Skipper Seaborne each have their own understanding of Sea Scouting—his as an insider in his youth and an outsider in adulthood, hers as an outsider in her youth and an insider in adulthood—and both appreciate the important benefits the program offers youth in the community. The Sea Scout crew for the water taxi is just the first result of combining their experience and resources to provide teens with multiple opportunities for real-life, hands-on maritime learning. The scouts’ response indicates the adults are going in the right direction, and enthusiasm is high. “This is fantastic!” MacDonald said.