This story appeared in the Antelope Valley Press on
Saturday, August 7, 2004.
The Antelope Valley is home to countless clubs and organizations geared toward an outdoor lifestyle - it seems only natural, with the surrounding mountains, the open skies, expansive desert and sparkling sea. Well - no sea really, and most of the lakes are "dry," but that doesn't stop the Valley's very own unit of the Sea Scouts from pursuing their nautical interests.
Founded in 1912, the Sea Scouting program was born when Boy Scout founder Lord Robert Baden-Powell said the Boy Scouts needed a program that both attracted older boys and gave Scouts a way to learn seamanship.
Over time the program evolved to become a co-educational organization for youth aged 14 to 21. Sea Scouts fall under the Venturer/Explorer division of the Boy Scouts of America, and rather than packs or troops, units are organized into ships.
"It's a fun program, it teaches us more responsibility and workmanship," said Chris Hofbauer, the ship's Chief Petty Officer, or Bosun. "Being that we're working on boats, we're always together and get to know each other pretty good."
Ship 11, which is the only unit in the Valley, was established in 2001 after Ship 11's Skipper Chuck Hoey started taking First Mate Steve Hofbauer (Chris' dad) sailing. They would take their kids and their kids' Boy Scout troop out with them.
"We would go out sailing once in a while and we wanted to try to formalize something," said Hofbauer. "Some of the kids said, 'What about the Sea Scouts?' So we looked into it and said, 'If you guys want to do this we'd be happy to do it.'"
To fund Ship 11, the 501 C-3 non-profit group Ship 11 Committee Inc. was founded to receive tax-deductible donations for uniforms, competitions, activities and, most importantly, boats. To polish their seafaring skills, Ship 11 has five boats of both the motorized and wind-driven sort. Dry-docked in a Quartz Hill back yard, the boats are used to teach Scouts maintenance, repair and responsibility.
During outings, the boats are trailered to the ocean or to one of the nearby lakes where Scouts take turns at the helm to learn navigation, boat handling, proper rigging and water survival.
"We do a lot of sailing with our ship," said Chris. "It's a big group effort because you have different people doing different jobs all at the same time."
The Sea Scout ships are organized into a rank-based system. Scouts choose their peer leaders, or Petty Officers, from among themselves, and in order to advance in rank, Scouts must log work hours on the boats or in community service. In fact, Ship 11's boats have a place to dock only because the Scouts agreed to maintain the back yard where they're parked.
The Scouts have two mandatory meetings each month. In the summer, they meet weekly at their boat yard to work on the boats, conduct marching drills and plan activities to make sure all can participate. In the winter, meetings are spent studying up on book skills and practicing radio procedures at their meeting place at Lancaster United Methodist Church.
Hofbauer said the Scouts try to get at least one outing going each month, but they're not always to the water. One instance was a trip the ship took to the Regional Fire Department Training Center. "They put a live fire inside the tower and made it like a boat fire and we had to take care of it," Chris said.
Steve Hofbauer, a fire inspector for Los Angeles Fire Department and a licensed paramedic, (as well as a Palmdale City Councilman) emphasized that on a ship, everyone is a fireman, and said that one thing they drill for over and over is practicing safety.
Putting in the time and effort needed to gain rank can help boost the Scouts' future if they plan to pursue a nautical career. "The advantage of rank advancement is that it can get you advance rank if you go into the service or get you consideration for advance placement in a maritime academy," said Hofbauer, whose son has his eyes on the Coast Guard. His rank in the Sea Scouts will give him a definite advantage.
"Being in the Sea Scouts helped me see that is what I want to do and that's where I want to be going," Chris said. "With the Sea Scouts, that's going to help me by giving me a little bit of a head start, knowing what I'm going to be experiencing."
Ship 11 participates in two competitions per year, the Southwestern Rendezvous at Naval Station Ventura/Point Mugu and another one in Northern California, where Scouts compete with other ships in events like small boat navigation, uniform inspections, swimming, rowing and quizzes.
"Going there you get to meet many different people - most of them live near the ocean, and we're a little different because we're in the desert," Chris said. "They're surprised usually how much we know and how much we've learned."
Hofbauer said the competitions are great for driving home the Scouts' need to work together and exhibit and follow leadership. "They have to learn to work together and that's what life's all about - making good, defensible decisions and working together as a team," he said. "The adults aren't there to mediate this stuff - if kids get into a tiff they either work it out or go home dejected." But the leadership and teamwork skills they need to compete effectively don't come naturally, said Hofbauer; they are honed through the ship's outings and activities.
"Part of the whole thing is that they learn to make the right decisions and it's different than just sitting down in a class and trying to teach them ethics and leadership skills," he said. "If they learn it by practicing, they learn that because there's consequences to their actions, what better place to learn that than when you're out on the water? Gee, if you guys don't work together as a team, the boat's not going to get to where you need to get it to go."
Right now, Ship 11's numbers are lower than usual for several reasons - a couple Scouts have graduated high school and are off to college, and a few are spending the summer working at camps. Hofbauer said he hopes membership increases, and is working on obtaining a 30-foot sailboat that can accommodate more Scouts.
For Chris, the excitement of new recruits is watching them learn the ropes. "Getting to work with, and experience, other people from where they've never seen the ocean before and getting to teach them is always the best part," he said. "It makes me personally feel good when you get to teach someone something new that they've never done before."
Recruit initiation costs about $100 to cover uniforms, a manual and registration. Dues are $10 per month.
Those interested in joining or donating to the Sea Scouts should contact Steve Hofbauer at (661) 538-7643 or visit their Web site, www.ship11.com.