Teenage girls have many choices for where they spend their time, but those few who join the local all-female Sea Scout program can change the course of their lives in unimagined ways. New hard skills, such as navigation and engineering can be developed, but more importantly, confidence, self-reliance, leadership and team skills grow from the experience of maintaining and piloting a powerful ship through calm and troubled waters.
Sea Scouts are a maritime education program offered by the Boy Scouts of America for young men and women. The Sacramento and Delta area hosts several Sea Scout programs, but the Liberty-Maritime Museum program is unique as the only large-boat, all-female program in the country, according to the Liberty boat’s Capt. Jim West.
The crew, currently ranging in age from 13 to 18, operates and trains on the Liberty PTF-26, a Navy coastal gunboat that was formerly stationed in DaNang, Vietnam, and was the last patrol torpedo boat made. The aluminum boat is 95 feet long, carries a gun (non-operational) on the stern and was designed to withstand torpedo blasts to two of its nine waterfront compartments.
This season, the girls spent five months swapping out a blown engine. Normally, this time of year would have been focused on ship maintenance and training. Nevertheless, the crew, whose motto is “Facta non Verba” (Deeds not Words), dug deep and made time to train for a May 2013 competition. Their effort paid off as they won eight first-place awards at the Ancient Mariners Regatta competition in Alameda, Calif., a national Sea Scouts competition. In addition, they were awarded the Navigator’s Trophy for the boat with the highest overall score in navigation challenges.
The crew has just returned from a 17-day cruise to Monterey, Calif., where they gained more experience in operating the boat in the ocean and in other live conditions. Their cruise duties were split between deck crew (steering the boat, hauling lines and standing lookout), engineering crew (starting and running the engine, and checking pressures and temperatures) and the navigation crew (plotting the course, and operating radio and radar).
Other training during the year includes drills, such as those for fire, man overboard, collision, loss of steering and abandon ship. The scouts also participate in an annual Coast Guard training at Yerba Buena Island, where they practice putting out fires and don immersion survival suits before jumping into the San Francisco Bay.
Teen girls who are interested in the Sea Scout program do not need to have any previous maritime experience. Many come to the program “knowing nothing, not even port versus starboard,” and only need to bring a good work ethic and the ability to get along with others, said West. He starts newcomers on learning knots, which “teaches them they can be perfect at something.” Capt. Jim West, Executive Officer Rebecca West, Chief Engineer Kent Dryden and other volunteers lead the girls in their skill development and boat handling.
Participating in Sea Scouts can cultivate fortitude, build new skills and even steer a course toward a new career path. After one member took her first ocean trip, she decided that she wanted a career as a marine biologist. Other paths including joining the Navy, becoming an environmental researcher, managing a hydroelectric plant, attending the Maritime Academy and serving as second mate on a ship.
Jim West is himself a former Sea Scout who became a mechanic, tugboat captain and instructor at the Maritime Academy. He volunteers countless hours to the program. “It’s an addiction,” said West, who adjusted his work life to better fit the Sea Scout program.
The Liberty’s Sea Scout program is operated out of the Liberty-Maritime Museum. The museum includes several other, smaller boats and is located on the Garden Highway in Sacramento and in Rio Vista. One goal of the program is to be able to hold an open house on the Liberty boat in Sacramento, in addition to its current annual open house on the Delta. The museum is also applying for the boat to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The program is funded by boat donations (the boats are then sold by the museum) and cash donations from groups and individuals. Donations may be made through the Liberty-Maritime Museum website. Program and contact information are also available on the website or by emailing Liberty-Maritime@msn.com.