I read Tolkien as a boy and was told that all elves fall in love with the sea. I read Moby Dick and became a whaler at heart. Not a slaughter man of fat, dumb right whales, but a Yank hunter, doing battle with mighty sperm whales, leviathan, the greatest carnivores to ever live on earth. Ahab is my hero. I read Melville's masterpiece again and again - nine times to date. Then there was all that dreaming about getting into the Navy.
As I began my work at summer camp, I continued to long for the sea. I had sung Six Pence with Winston and learned to sing Myra Myra and What Do You Do with a Drunken Sailor with Darell Budd. When I became the Camp Director at Loll, I enlisted first Leonard Hawkes and then Curtis Grow to help me collect a battery of sea shanties and we taught them to the staff. High in the mountains we sang of the sea, elves longing for the west. Our repertoire included Whaling songs, Eighteen Hundred and Fifty-three, My Father Was the Keeper of the Eddistone Light, Blow Ye Winds, and Tis Advertised in Boston. I carved wooden whales and told stories of fighting whales. Our dreams were down to the sea in ships.
Sailing is a challenging program to offer at a Boy Scout camp. A challenging program, and a challenge to program. I have never learned to sail. It came into my camps very slowly. Years ago, someone donated a catamaran to Camp Bartlett. We were never allowed to use it. The "powers" assured us that the Fife Lake was too small for the boat. I suggested that it be given to Loll, but they assured me that Lake of the Woods was also too small for sailing. Tom Bird traded that cat to the Great Salt Lake Council for a collating machine. We never got to take it out.
In the early 80's we had some little yellow Sunfish sailboats at Loll. We fussed around with them, but they were always getting broken, no one really knew what to do to keep them together or how to make them go. These boats spent the summers as heaps of mess on the beach. In 1985, when I was back at Bartlett, Loll traded those little Sun Fish to Bartlett for some surplus food. They actually worked pretty well on Fife Lake, but were a limited asset to the camp, mostly we just floated around in them. They were staff toys, but we didn't really know how to make them work.
The next summer we were back at Loll. The camp had acquired a very nice little sailboat, and once again there was no one who knew how to sail. We tried, but then one of the staff dropped the dagger board in the deep part of the lake. So much for sailing at camp; we were cut off even as we strove to learn.
I have a few pictures of some of the staff on a sailboard. But how do you share a sailboard with a camp full of scouts. It seemed like more wasted equipment. We went eight years at Loll without sailing. Then in 1995 much of the crew went to Cherry Valley.
We had been asked to come to check out CCV in September. I went down to the sea dreaming of whales and sails. Janice and I visited the camp over the UEA break. That first day, as we walked through CCV, we came across the boat yard. There were piles of rotting boats. The entire camp was a jumble of junk, but this particular mess held a pledge of something special we could do with the sea, some chance to resurrect what had once been Cherry Valley, to build it to what it could be. The boats, canoes, rowboats, sailboats and rubber rafts, were broken and jumbled, long unused, but full of promise. They looked good to me, and the Camp Ranger spoke glowingly of their wonder. There was an honest to goodness yacht there. I began to get excited, although a little nervous as well. The mess was still there in November when we went out again with Jody, Julie, and the kids. We started making plans for kayaks, war canoes, and sailboats. There had been a big motor boat and a glass bottomed double hulled motor driven catamaran tied to the peer.
When we got there in June with our staff, all pumped up on promises of the sea, the boats from the boat yard were all but gone. There was a broken wreck of a Hobie Cat, two broken little sailboats, only one of which could be made to sail, and a few fiberglass canoes; CCV's Ranger had hauled all the rest to the dump. At least that is what he said, so he probably did something else with them. The motor boats tied to the peer the fall before were also gone, they had never belonged to CCV. They were the property of the Catalina Island Marine Institute (CIMI). The force of the frustration I felt at having been so deceived was tidal. After all, not telling the truth is by definition lying. Among the rationalizations for this dishonesty, it was explained that sailing on the open sea was too dangerous for scouts. I came to realize that for years the campers from CCV almost never got in the water, let alone went out on to the sea in boats. Our predecessors version of waterfront activity boiled down to lost bather drills. We sang “by the waters of Babylon” and I sat down and wept.
It would take a sea of words to explain the disaster we found upon our arrival at Cherry Valley that June. I will not embark into that tempest now. The state of the sailing program at CCV provides the perfect metaphor for the calamity we found there. Other than a dozen little fiberglass canoes and the six neglected war canoes, the only boat anywhere near sea worthy was that one broken little sailboat, so old that all the fittings were all made of wood.
Tyler Shaw, our sailing instructor, did his best with it, gluing the broken rudder and dagger board back together. Tyler struggled to learn his craft from a book and by trial and error. When Jason Jackson took the boat out without putting down the dagger board, ran afoul of some yacht lines and broke the rudder, Tyler almost killed him. Water, water, everywhere and not a chance to sail. However, in spite of the enormity of the obstacle - little Rocky Mountain Boys that we were - we were not to be kept from the sea.
We spent the summer repairing the war canoes. Our squadron grew from six to ten by the end of the season. The Ranger wanted to throw them away, we wanted to take them across the sea to Emerald Bay.
The next summer, we bought some new sailboats, Leto 14's. We also hired Jared, a young man who had learned to sail on Bear Lake. We also were blessed to find a true ally in Jim Alexander. An old Navy man, Jim taught Tyler and my son Bryon what Jared could not. If we were pilgrims lost in the wilderness, Jim was our Squanto. He was a demanding instructor, but the treasure of knowledge he had to share was worth the suffering. We also got our hands on a fine fifteen foot motorized whaler and a fleet of new double seated ocean kayaks. Jared, Tyler, Bryon, and Jim rebuilt the broken cat with the fiberglassing skills they had honed redoing the war canoes and we got a second hobie. Together with at least two new Letos we now had a fleet. We determined to add at least two new boats every season. By the end of our six years at Cherry we had three cats, five Letos and an entire waterfront staff of very fine sailors.
But seven years was all I could take away from Loll, so in 2001 we headed back to Lake of the Woods. Only now we knew how to sail, and we needed to get some sailboats. Bill Wangsgard was helpful. We landed the Blue Goose and put back together a little Sun Fish. We pretty much took any sail boat we could get our hands on. We lost some to the caprice of the Ashton winter, others to the fact that by the time someone donates a boat to the Boy Scouts it is already worn out. But through all the ups and downs we have never forgotten how to sail. Now each summer it is the primary charge of those who know to teach those who don't. It is our goal to fill our waterfront and Ranger staffs with sailors.
The sailing program goes hand in hand with climbing at Loll. This I had observed during my six years in sojourn on Catalina. There is a machine called a wave runner. A kind of a sea going snowmobile. A boy can learn everything there is to know about a wave runner in twenty minutes, then the only way to titillate his adrenalin is either to risk his life jumping the wakes of big ships or annoy others. It is not that way with a sailboat. I recognized long ago that the attraction of sailing and of climbing is that the challenge is never exhausted. The more you learn, the more you realize you have yet to master. As you grow stronger and more skillful you find new places to go both in the world and within your soul. A challenging wall can only be a few feet above the ground, its pleasures not derived from a momentary flush of adrenalin but from success in doing the difficult well. The lightest breeze can present challenges as intricate and as rewarding as the storm, endless variety, endless spice, in endless growth. For these reasons we climb and we sail at Loll. We are able to give our scouts the adventure of trying new things and the fun of doing things they enjoy again and again and the romance of feeling ones life change by universally applicable truths that make mere existence into good living. We are able to place before our staff and endless opportunity for growth and give them the the privilege of sharing with others the joy of living well.
This eager crew is about to embark on the Vital Spark, the flag ship of our fleet.
This is our current sun fish. Maintaining it is no less demanding that taking care of the Vital. Our waterfront directors and their teams are always nursing her along. So many little parts to keep track of. We are always ordering in new bits. Sails must be replaced regularly, and their care is a constant struggle
We use the Cats as part of our advanced camping experience (ACE) program for campers over 14. The Sun Fish is for younger scouts who want to get a taste of sailing or are working on the merit badge.
It needs the same constant maintenance. This past year it was rebuilt and reinforced by our present Waterfront Director, Mike Sutherland.
One of the best things about sailing is the way it requires the staff to develop skill and take responsibility.
Master sailors don't need a strong wind, they just need to know what they are doing.
And great sailors are great teachers. They take the time to show the way, and to lay the foundation for great sailors to be.
Not that there isn't a chance to go for the thrills, to hike out on the harness and really fly.
Little boat or big, there must be skill and there is always a risk.
Do it right and you fly with the wind, the unharnessed might of the wind is suddenly yours to command, to force to your service, to fill your wings and sail away.
In an instant that power that one seems to wield can throw you down. The magic backfires and the strength of the sky throws you where it will, you will mean nothing.
Big boat or small, one must be master or be mastered. But the lessons never stop coming; that is the wonder of sailing at Boy Scout Camp. Fun, Adventure, and Romance all together and never ending. The perfect example of a life well lived.
One learns how to get up when one goes down. There is great power in knowing that you can fail but need not be defeated. Spread the wings of knowledge, practice, skill acquired by real effort, and self esteem earned by excellence and fly.