Standing watch on the waterfront
New London - There can come a time on a sailboat when the sails are trim and there are no more orders to follow and the only sound is the wind pushing at the mainsail.
That's what happened about an hour into a sail in the Thames River Wednesday with members of the Sea Scouts, a youth organization that teaches youngsters marine skills and that will help staff the waterfront for OpSail 2012.
Capt. Scott Bacon of Ledyard and his crew of six teens had maneuvered the 28-foot Sea Bee out of its slip at Thamesport Marina. The jib was raised, the mainsail unfurled and a couple of tacks later, with the lines snug and winch handles secure, the helmsman held the course steady.
No one spoke.
"They're all great,'' Bacon eventually said of his mostly novice crew.
The six young scouts aboard Sea Bee are part of the national youth organization affiliated with Boy Scouts of America. Their troop, which in Sea Scout lingo is called a "ship," is named Ship 584, the Dragon. The scouts are sponsored by the SubVets in Groton and keep their boats at Thamesport Marina in New London.
Next weekend the scouts will be volunteers for OpSail/Sailfest, working on the docks at the city's Waterfront Park to help tie up schooners and work dinghies helping mariners come ashore.
"They're my line handlers,'' said Barbara Neff, who is in charge of Sailfest. "They're like the Boy Scouts for the water."
Marshall Parsons, skipper of the ship, said the scouts are excited to be helping out during the weekend festivities. The scouts and leaders will stay overnight on their boats.
"We're going to be eyes and ears on the waterfront,'' Parsons said.
Sea Scouts was founded in 1912 in Waltham, Mass. The local chapter, which comprises about 30 members and 15 adult leaders, might be the region's best kept secret.
"People are amazed when they hear we're around,'' said Bacon, who has owned boats all his life and volunteers his time with the scouts. "We tell people about Sea Scouts and they have no idea.''
Scouts learn nautical terms and basic sailing techniques in the classroom and then put those skills to the test on the ship's five sailboats and one powerboat. They take afternoon sails, day sails, overnights and extended excursions. Last year they spent 10 days in New York City.
The scouts will march in the Fourth of July parade in Groton and will hold a pancake breakfast fundraiser July 21 at Applebee's restaurant in Groton.
"I've been a member for one-and-a-half years and I've had nothing but a great time,'' said Anthony Reynolds of Waterford, captain of the Bounding Seas, a 1968 33-foot cabin cruiser the scouts are helping to restore. He volunteered shortly after his son, Chris, became a scout.
The ship meets throughout the year on Mondays at either SubVets hall or at Gales Ferry Community Center. Anyone between the ages of 14 and 21 can join. Dues are $40 a year, or just under a $1 a meeting.
Katherine Rivers, 16, of Pomfret has been a scout for the past two years and is one of the most advanced sailors in the group. "I never sailed before I got here,'' she said Wenesday while helping to give orders during the two-hour sail.
Her first time out in a boat, Rivers said, the tiller broke and the boat had to be towed in. But she wasn't nervous at the time. "I love it," she said simply.
This summer Rivers will attend a 10-day leadership training program, a sort of boot camp for Sea Scouts, in Galveston, Texas.
Bea Mills, 14, of Groton, who rode aboard Sea Bee on the sunset cruise to see if she wanted to become a member, was thrilled. She wasn't happy in Girl Scouts, she said, explaining that was looking for a little more adventure.
"I'm definitely joining,'' she said.
Anyone interested in joining the scouts can call Parsons at (860) 938-7681 or contact firstname.lastname@example.org
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