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Off Balance On Purpose at Sea

Last week I had the incredible experience of leading a crew of six Boy Scouts (including my son) to the Florida Keys for a Coral Reef Sailing adventure at BSA’s “Sea Base.” This is one of the High Adventure opportunities within Scouting, and provided an opportunity for us to learn and experience volumes during our one-week excursion.

We went from knowing very little about how to operate a sailboat on the open ocean to becoming a “working crew,” each person performing their tasks quickly and competently, as we implemented our Captain’s commands. By the end of the week we were hoisting sails, trimming sheets, furling the jib, tacking, jibing, and … well … sailing, with a surprising level of competence.

The Captain, Tom Gaunt, owns the 41 foot vessel, “Juan Cadiz.” He has been leading Sea Base trips for more than ten years, and has a true passion for sailing, as well as teaching. Truly, Captain Tom pours his entire spirit into helping young men and women (our boys were all 14-15 years old) develop skills, understanding, and work habits that will serve them throughout their lives. Not only a skilled sailboat captain, Tom is also a master storyteller, and we spent our evenings enwrapped in his historic accounts of the Conquistadors, Buccaneers, and 19th century Wreckers and Salvagers who occupied (and thrived) in the very waters we sailed.

Our trip was met with challenges, the largest of which was extreme weather. The first four days all included (and at times were dominated by) torrential storms. These conditions made for high winds (excellent for sailing, but poor for snorkeling the reefs). The near constant downpours made it difficult to stay dry, warm and comfortable, which actually helped this feel more like and adventure and less like a pleasure excursion. Many a meal (which the boys prepared themselves in our Galley), we ate standing close together in the Captain’s cockpit, trying to stay dry and warm. And the evenings were challenging, trying to sleep (except for the two hours of mandatory “anchor watch,” during which you spent your shift on deck, awake, and watching for … anything that might happen, but never did.

Finally, we got some fantastic, clear weather for the final few days of our trip. The snorkeling at this point was fantastic and clear (Alligator Lighthouse Tower and Reef was extraordinary). Sunburn took its toll, and we found ourselves again huddling in the Cockpit, this time seeking shade!

For the boys and adults alike, this experience was a life changing adventure. Some of the biggest lessons I will personally carry forward are these:

  • Don’t be too quick to judge your circumstances. Many times, those challenges are blessings in disguise.
  • When you are in the midst of intense moments, a level head and attention to your specific role help the entire crew to function well.
  • When in doubt, ask questions. You can’t “fake it” when facing a stormy sea.
  • Great leaders (or Captains) know how to earn respect and discipline by embodying the character they demand of others.

I feel certain that we experienced the best of each other and the best of our “crew” as a unified team. I’m so grateful to have planned (along with my wife and father) this undertaking and that we set the dates more than a year in advance to make it happen. These things don’t just occur because you think it would be a good idea. It takes a commitment, a plan, and a coordinated effort. The same can be said of any worthwhile undertaking.

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