by BRANDON KATHMAN
The local Sea Scouts of Ship 27 in Hernando Beach enjoyed the trip of a lifetime this year, navigating a large sailboat from Islamorada through the Florida Keys by themselves.
“We all recently sat down and talked about the future of Ship 27,” Ship’s Yeoman Brendan Young, 14, said. “The consensus was we wanted to have fun, learn how to sail and develop new skills. I was definitely anxious about the trip, but I think it helped a lot with leadership skills and sailing skills.”
The Sea Scouting program in the United States began in 1912 with early support from the Naval Department. Serving boys and girls between 14 and 21 years of age, the program was founded to promote better citizenship through maritime skills. While a part of the Boy Scouts of America, Sea Scouts offers a more specialized experience, frequently supplementing the traditional program.
Today, the Scouts of Ship 27 in Hernando Beach carry on that legacy in a small fleet of sailboats, pontoons and kayaks. This most recent adventure entailed sailing the 41-foot Stormalong from Islamorada to New Port Richey around the Florida Peninsula and through the Keys. The boys were accompanied by Captain Josh Barnett of Calen Yachts, and their 5-man crew consisted of Boatswain Kip Novas, 16, Andrew Eaton, 14, Tristan Conway, 14, Damian Moran, 15, and Young.
“I take about 15 or 16 crews out a year,” Barnett said. “Every now and then a Sea Scout group is mixed in. We had a great time.”
As experienced sailors, the boys were able to man and navigate their two-masted vessel with minimal assistance. Young said their adult leader, Skipper Mark Rothenburg “did an amazing job training and developing the Ship,” having them attend many training sessions in preparation for the voyage.
“Sea Scouts is a youth-led organization with adult oversight,” Rothenburg said. “This recent adventure was planned and executed exclusively by the youth and was a tremendous success. Despite the challenges of hurricanes and COVID-19, the Scouts had a life-changing trip.”
Unfortunately, Hurricane Laura forced the boys to abruptly change their charted course, weathering the storm that battered much of the Gulf in the safety of the Florida Keys. There the boys found a bounty in the crystal blue waters, feeding themselves with fresh-caught mackerel, a toothy predator known for its rich fillets and flaky texture.
Young recounted one nerve-wracking night when something seized one of their fishing lines, pulling hard enough to rip the rod holder from the wall. A youth was able to grab the pole, and on rousing the rest of the crew from their sleep, they were able to bring the behemoth in together. Flashlights revealed the culprit to be a 7-foot nurse shark.
“When I saw it happen it was very scary,” Young said. “It was a huge shark and we had to take the hook out.”
The boys also enjoyed snorkeling along the many shallow-water reefs and wrecks. Young said they saw thousands of fish beneath the surface and would love to explore scuba diving in the future.
“We all had an amazing time out on the water.” Kip Novas said. “I learned a lot from this trip and am more confident in myself and my Scouts.”
Throughout the pandemic, Ship 27 has remained active, even hosting a large-scale cleanup of neighboring Coon Key in Hernando County in May. Following the successful cleanup and finalization of the Keys trip, Skipper Mark Rothenburg announced he is stepping back from the Ship to pursue a position with the local Council serving Sea Scouting throughout the Greater Tampa Bay Area. He is succeeded in his role with Ship 27 by Navy veteran Bill Novas.
Ship 27 meets on Saturdays in Hernando Beach where their fleet is moored. Young said the Ship is currently recruiting and would love to have any youth interested in sailing among their ranks. Parents of interested youth can call the local District Executive’s office at 352-459-9375.