In 1910 the founder of the Boy Scouts, Lord Baden Powell, created the Sea Scouts as an extension of the Scout training, to develop character, patriotism and discipline and perform community service. The Scouts would gain knowledge that would help them become self-supporting.
Sea Scouts started in the United States in 1912. Arthur Carey in Massachusetts had a Troop of Sea Scouts and in Philadelphia Charles Longstreth organized a Sea Scout patrol. Both Carey and Longstreth wrote pamphlets on Sea Scouting. By 1930 over 8,000 boys had become Sea Scouts. Training courses for leaders were developed and uniforms and equipment became available. During the 1940s those Sea Scouts who joined the Navy were highly regarded and were seen as better trained to help the Navy win the war.
Sea Scouting today is a coed program for 13 to 21 year olds with the goal of teaching leadership and responsibility through a boating program. Sea Scouting provides an advancement program that teaches skills needed to become competent sailors and mature leaders. Those who attain the highest Sea Scout rank, the Quartermaster Award, can qualify for a higher entry enlisted rank and pay scale if they join the U.S. Navy or Coast Guard. Every Sea Scout unit is called a “ship” and its top adult leader is called the “skipper.”
How is a new ship launched? Ship 18 was established after Larry Vodopevic was approached by a neighbor who recommended Larry as the skipper. Knowing Larry was already involved with a Boy Scout Troop and that he had been an Eagle Scout, neighbor Al Grover had already talked to Father Alessandro da Luz, of Our Holy Redeemer Church, who had also been an Eagle Scout. At a ship planning meeting with members of the sponsoring church, Al Grover, Father Alessandro da Luz, members of Operation SPLASH and Larry Vodopevic, it was decided to move forward with Larry as skipper and adult assistants with Father Alessandro da Luz as Ship’s Chaplain and Charter Organization Representative.
The first Ship Open House gathering of young men was in April of 2016 and Ship 18 was officially chartered in August of 2016. They recruit from local scouting groups and from schools and churches in the Freeport area. They advertise in the Church bulletin, the Scouts speak at Masses and they have put up posters. Currently, Sea Scouts in Ship 18 come from Freeport, Elmont, Franklin Square and Oceanside. Right now the cost of joining Ship 18 is covered by the Ship. The Scouts pay for their own uniforms and the manual can be downloaded from the web. The Sea Scout uniform is the working blues in the Coast Guard style.
Sea Scouts can earn four ranks: Apprentice, Ordinary, Able and Quartermaster (the highest rank, equal to Eagle Scout in the Boy Scouts). The objective is to carry out a program of activities that will develop character, teach them how to make good decisions and take responsibility while satisfying their need for fun and adventure. The appeal to new Sea Scouts is the opportunity Scouting creates to be in charge. By guiding them as advisors rather than as a parent or boss, it’s a way for teens to learn how to make good decisions. They learn responsibility while having a guiding hand available to see that their mistakes aren’t critical. New Sea Scout leaders can find help on Facebook and online message boards. Scout leaders are happy to be approached by new program leaders trying to grow and improve their ships.
The Sea Scouts have a chance at meetings to plan and direct their own activities and events. So far they have done cleanups with Operation SPLASH, going out in a SPLASH boat collecting trash with nets from the boat in the canals around Freeport and have made separate trips along the shoreline on foot collecting trash. They plan to incorporate these trips on a monthly basis, spring into fall. The SPLASH pictures of the boys disappeared when the phone got wet.
In the summer of 2016 the Sea Scouts were invited to a BBQ at Al and Artie Grover’s house on the water in Freeport. Close to the bay, you can see a channel marker buoy about 100 yards from the Grovers’ dock. After they ate, Al Grover brought out an old 8 foot pram and calling it the “Rowboat Challenge,” he offered a prize for the Scout who made the fastest round trip, rowing the pram to the buoy and returning. The adults quickly realized when none of the boys made it to the buoy, that they had never learned to row. The bayrat instincts of the older generation have not been passed along to the younger generation.
Our Holy Redeemer, the sponsoring Church, supports the Scouts in many ways allowing the Scouts time in the pulpit to remind the Scouts and their families of upcoming events, giving them a place to meet, space in the Church newsletter and supporting their Car Washes by providing a water connection and space in the school parking lot. When asked to help out on Parishioners Day, the Scouts were there to bring out food, beverages and water.
The Tree Lighting and Parade of Lights is an annual event in Freeport. At least a dozen lighted, decorated-for-Christmas boats usually follow the Freeport Fire Department’s Rescue Fireboat south on the Woodcleft Canal past Sea Breeze Park to Randall Bay and back. Along either side of the Woodcleft Canal you can’t find any empty space for hours before the Parade starts. It didn’t take Skipper Vodopevic long to connect the dots – the sailboat that had been recently donated to Ship 18 could be lighted by the small generator the boat came with, decorated and entered in the Parade. The generator stopped working as they decorated the boat and the skipper replaced it so their boat could participate in the Parade. The weather on December 2nd was good, the moon was full and the water was calm. The name the boat came with, Ohana, means – family – no one left behind. It was too appropriate to change. The Pray for Peace banner was contributed by the charter organization, Our Holy Redeemer Church.
Early on the boys of Ship 18 were introduced to clamming with several boat trips, instructions how to dig up the clams and open them. These trips have been the most popular events, probably because the boys liked eating the clams and taking some home. They went to the barrier island across from the Jones Beach Coast Guard Station. Another popular event that the boys are looking forward to repeating is the kayak trip they took last summer around Baldwin Bay through some of the canals and the marsh area. Before they went kayaking an evening meeting was devoted to learning about boating safety with a Coast Guard class.
In April 2017 SUNY Maritime College in the Bronx had a Training Day and Ship 18 Scouts attended with their parents and the skipper. The Scouts got to meet Scouts from other ships and see what they do. Some ships emphasize racing. One ship owns a 65 foot cargo vessel that takes a lot of time to take care of. A Ship 18 Scout who had been interested in applying to SUNY Maritime took a campus tour and has enrolled for the September 2018 semester. SUNY Maritime not only serves the students with an interest in maritime careers, it will house, feed, supply books and educate those who are New York residents for just over $21,000 a year. According to PayScale.com, their graduates have annual salaries higher than those of Princeton graduates.
Future possibilities for group activities have been discussed at ship meetings. One event they may try is to prepare an entry for the Annual Baldwin Cardboard Boat Race next September. This is the kind of event that challenges creativity while offering a boatload of fun and improving problem solving skills. Boats can only be made of cardboard, duct tape, rope and/or string and the oars or paddles have to be made of recycled materials. Also on the books for future events are SCUBA Diving classes, small boat repairs and building a rowboat.
The average age of the Sea Scouts in Ship 18 is now 17, a time in boys’ lives that is already crowded and complicated with schoolwork, sports, girls, jobs and family activities. Some of the Scouts who started in the beginning are now in college. The bimonthly meetings now start with the first 20 minutes as a video call to enable all of them to stay with the Troop.
Larry’s day job keeps him fully occupied beyond the 9 to 5 hours most people work. As Assistant Vice President for Audio Visual Design and Service for the Blackstone Group, Larry is responsible for overseeing the design, installation and service of Blackstone’s global offices. Add the time spent on leadership of a Boy Scout Troop, the startup of Ship 18 and an L.I.R.R. commute to his church and family responsibilities, and at the end of the day you might expect Larry to feel overwhelmed, but he gets a lot of satisfaction working with both the Boy Scouts and the Sea Scouts. In his youth Larry’s Scoutmaster was a very busy man who found time to take his Scouts camping and teach them Scouting skills. He was Larry’s inspiration for heading both Scouting groups and he feels he’s paying back. One day maybe Vinny, Lawrence, Shane, Kevin, Robert, Tommy Paul or Collin will look back and be inspired to put the time and effort into leading a Troop of Sea Scouts.