Learning on the River

Sea Scouts Welcomes All Teens Aboard

The Columbia River serves as the classroom for the SSS Freedom, whether kayaking, sailing, skiing, or boating. Photos by Deidre Baumgarten

By Lea Mathieu

“Every time we go out on the water, we learn something new, and we discover things as a team,” says Megan Lenardson. “Sea Scouts is a great learning opportunity where it’s OK to make mistakes and grow and learn from them.”

Megan is a founding crew member and current boatswain of the Sea Scout Ship Freedom, a Boy Scouts of America Sea Scout unit started in The Dalles a year ago. Sea Scouts is a coed high-adventure program offered through the Boy Scouts of America, open to ages 14 to 20. No boating experience is required. Scouts looking for an added challenge are welcome to be multi-registered.

Deidre Baumgarten, who has been in Sea Scouts since she was 14, initiated The Dalles ship when her own children became old enough. Deidre has been an adult leader in Sea Scouts for more than 20 years, is the Area 1 commodore for the Pacific Northwest, and volunteers at the regional level of Sea Scouting.

Since COVID-19 closed schools in the spring following the ship’s charter, recruiting members has been a challenge. The acquisition of a 36-foot former Navy ship in September provided new room and incentive to welcome more teens aboard.

The Pathfinder is an LCPC MK-4 with a shallow draft that allows it to go close to shore. It has a steel hull and runs on a Detroit 6-71 engine. Sea Scout units have slept as many as 12 people on board. It is the ship Deidre grew up on in Sea Scouts, and she is excited to have it back in The Dalles.

The current crew was introduced to the ship on an overnight trip up the Columbia River from Portland. It was their first river cruise and the first time any of them had been through the locks. At a recent meeting at the marina, crew members took inventory of the ship’s contents and began a thorough cleaning.

Boatswain’s Mate Logan Baumgarten says his favorite part of Sea Scouts is hands-on work on the boat.

Prior to acquiring The Pathfinder, the crew was on or in the water in a sailboat, kayaks, canoes, tubes, or just swimming. All those activities will continue.

Last October, crew members brought their new ship, The Pathfinder, up the Columbia from Portland, going through the locks for the first time.

While the SSS Freedom crew enjoys being on the Columbia, Sea Scouts thrive in many locales. For example, the SSS Heatwave in Lake Havasu City, Arizona, calls itself “the Little Ship in the Desert,” and is a well-regarded scuba unit.

Scuba diving and kayaking were not part of the original Sea Scouts design in 1912, but the program still follows its original overall intent. As stated on its website, “For over 100 years, Sea Scouting has promoted better citizenship and improved members’ boating skills through instruction and practice in water safety, boating skills, outdoor, social, service experiences and knowledge of our maritime heritage.”

From her own experience and work with teens, Deidre says other benefits to participants include “personal growth and leadership, self-esteem, confidence, empowering them to make decisions on their own and work together as a team.”

All crew members have a chance to be part of leadership, which the teens elect.

“My favorite part of Sea Scouts is the responsibility and trust I’ve been given,” says Ethan Hansen, the ship’s purser.

Individuals can advance through the demonstration of skills and knowledge. The rank of quartermaster— similar to Eagle Scout—is the highest award a Sea Scout can earn.

The program is a good start for a military career. Many Sea Scouts go on to join the U.S. Coast Guard, Navy, or Merchant Marines. Sea Scouts is the official youth program of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary. However, many teens join just for the fun of it, taking life lessons learned along the way and applying them to any path in life.

Youth leadership extends to competitions, which Annika Baumgarten, the ship’s yeoman, says she especially enjoys.

“My favorite part of Sea Scouts is when we go to regattas and compete, testing our knowledge,” she says. “I’ve made new friends at major events.”

The competitions emphasize practical maritime skills and require teamwork.

Adult leaders are encouraged in the program, following a rigorous background check. Tedd and Rymmel Lovell, Deidre’s parents, are the “grandparents” of the ship, with Rymmel serving as galley chief and Tedd as first mate.

More adult volunteers are welcome, especially in areas of expertise such as engines, electricity, boat repairs, navigation, and sailing.

Deidre and the crew are grateful to the North Wasco County Parks and Recreation District, the Port of the Dalles, The Dalles Marina, and The Dalles Yacht Club for supporting Sea Scouts.

Various other groups provide support to ensure no teen is unable to participate for financial reasons. The growth of the program will continue to depend on the generosity of supporters.

The SSS Freedom meets Tuesdays from 7 to 8:30 P.M. at United Church of Christ Congregational, 111 East 5th St., The Dalles. An optional subgroup meets at 6:30 P.M. to work on the Boy Scouts of America God and Life badge with the ship’s chaplain, the Rev. Lea Mathieu. The Sea Scouts also meet at the marina to work with the boats. For more information, Email Deidre Baumgarten, call her at (707) 363-5353, look up SSS Freedom on Facebook, or visit the Sea Scout BSA website.