He told me about a field trip the boys had taken to tour a warship at Long Beach. One of the members of our Sea Scouts had been with them and began showing off what he had learned. Finally, while on the ship's bridge, the boy heard the ship's clock ring two bells. The boy turned to another and explained, "That's thirteen hundred hours, it's the Afternoon Watch." The ship's captain overheard him and was amazed. It was just one example of the knowledge he had demonstrated all day.
Both Sea Scout competitions involved two days of grueling tests of individual skills in piloting, seamanship, and small boat handling as well as teamwork. Most of the ships competing at these events were comprised of groups of teenagers who had various levels of experience between one and four years. We knew that if we entered a team, we would not have any experienced members to carry them through the events.
Generally, the boys were assigned to the facility where I volunteered for the final six months of their terms of incarceration. The best we could hope for was to assemble and train a team in that six months only. Even then, some might get early releases and we would end up with team members with only a couple of months to train. Oh, and let me point out that I only had a few hours to work with the boys each week.
We knew that we would never get permission to transport the boys on an overnight trip to San Francisco, so we planned to attend Rendezvous at Long Beach where we could transport them back to the barracks each night following the day's competition.
Besides teaching them the skills that they would need, I had to come up with uniforms for them. Inasmuch as we had no budget, I had to solicit donations. Fortunately, I was able to purchase second hand uniforms at the Navy Thrift shop, but had to order shoes, socks, ties, and hats as well as all regulation insignia new. A local dry cleaner volunteered to sew on the insignia and press and clean the uniforms for free.
The Deputy Probation Officer was a retired U.S. Marine Sergeant. He taught the boys how to march and spit shine their shoes. They surprised me at one of our Wednesday night classroom sessions, bringing their shoes to show off their handiwork. They were as good as any I had ever seen.
Despite the fact that the boys had very poor study skills, they applied themselves to learning a daunting array of academic knowledge: the 32 points of the compass, the 32 points of relative bearings, first aid, navigation, signaling, and more. They learned knots and marlinspike seamanship. Then they practiced the team events: rope climbing, boatswain’s chair lifts, rowing, swimming (many had never learned how). The most difficult event, the one that few ships could master, even with many years of training and practice, was scuttlebutt; assembling a tripod from three twelve foot spars, erecting it over a barrel filled to the brim with water, and raising the barrel with a rope and tackle, then lowering and disassembling the rig in an extremely short period of time - all without spilling a drop!
I won't keep you wondering. They performed well. They not only won an overall award, they placed third in the scuttlebutt competition.
They made me proud. The Deputy Probation Officer I worked with was beaming with pride when they accepted their award and returned to display it at the facility. I was also proud of the other Sea Scouts at the competition who took our boys to heart. They were genuinely distressed that our boys couldn't remain in the evening for the dance and celebrations. They cheered for our boys, especially at the scuttlebutt finals.
Overall, we entered a team from the juvenile detention facility three years, with three different crews, and they won awards each time. Skippers of other ships approached me with wonder in their voices to congratulate them. One admitted that he had brought teams to competitions eight years before they ever won anything.
NOTE: Inasmuch as regulations preclude me from sharing any photographs of the boys, the pictures accompanying this article are of other Sea Scouts demonstrating the competition events.