Valley Scouts sail the high seas

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In July, 12 Boys Scouts and four adult leaders from Lewisburg, Watsontown and Turbotville set off for a once in a lifetime adventure in the Florida Keys. Their destination was Sea Base in Lower Matecume Key, which is one of the four High Adventure facilities run by the Boy Scouts of America. The camp offers a variety of programs that feature scuba diving, sailing, primitive camping and STEM centered opportunities. During their week-long stay the scouts and leaders lived on a sailboat, learned how to sail, snorkeled, fished, kayaked, paddle boarded, and explored numerous reefs and historic landmarks around the Florida locale.

Their Sea Base trip was originally scheduled for last year. The night before the group’s scheduled departure, Sea Base was shut down due to a hurricane and their adventure was postponed. This year’s group included some of the boys who were disappointed by the weather delay as well as other scouts who filled the remaining open spots.

The scouts and their leaders had prepared for the Coral Reef sailing adventure experience. Living on a boat that was more than 40 feet long, the trip sails through the Keys and takes advantage of the coral reefs by offering snorkeling and fishing excursions as well as instruction in astronomy, navigation and coral reef ecology.

The group was in for yet another last minute surprise that could have ended their plans for a second year. Two hours before the group was scheduled to sign in, Aaron Barner Advancement Chair, Troop 538-Lewisburg received a call from the camp. The captain who was scheduled to lead the group had tested positive for COVID. This time, instead of having their adventure completely canceled, Barner was relieved to find out that the staff at Sea Base had a solution for them. A captain who had been scheduled to be off for the week was willing to take them on a slightly modified cruise.

The group lived on two different boats for several nights. Some of the scouts had never met prior to their trip. One boat was a group of six 14 year-olds, the other was a mixture of some older and some younger scouts. “It was interesting to see that dynamic play out,” Barner said and added the boys did a phenomenal job. The scouts worked together to establish schedules for everything from cooking and cleaning up meals, to assigning shifts for Coast Guard required night watches.

Eighteen year-old Ryan Shabahang’s favorite part of his experience was being able to steer the boat, and though he found it hard to stay awake during the night watch, he used the time to “admire the scenery around me and think about my life and going to college.” The night watch also felt long for Grayson Barner, 14. To pass the time Grayson said, “he mainly thought about sleep, but I also thought about the snorkeling sites we went to and all the fish we saw that day.”

Splitting their week between a few days living on the boat and staying on the Sea Base grounds the group had more of a hybrid course. Leader Barner saw that as a feature not a bug. He explained that the boys themselves did much of the planning by selecting snorkeling sites and other attractions they were interested in seeing. Barner feels “it turned out to be a much better experience for all of us.”

This additional time on land enabled the group to take advantage of the coral reefs at Pennekamp State Park. Ryan Gilmore, 18, of Lewisburg agrees that what could have been a disappointment turned out to be an unexpected opportunity. “We went snorkeling and kayaking. We saw some of the best coral and the most interesting aquatic life of the entire trip there.” Located on Key Largo the park includes approximately 70 nautical square miles of adjacent Atlantic Ocean waters. Creatures the group were able to see included lobsters, nurse sharks, barracuda, sting rays, stone crab, and parrotfish.

Gilmore also valued the opportunity to meet with Mike Johnson, the General Manager of Florida Sea Base. Johnson emphasized to the scouts that the majority of the staff is seasonal/part-time and many are former scouts. This fact reinforces Ryan’s feeling that scouting is unique from other extracurriculars. Being involved from a young age throughout teenage years gives scouting the ability to “instill the valuable core principles of leadership, service, and conservation.”

Advancement Chair Barner shared that the boys and their leaders are in the planning stages for a 2024 trip to a High Adventure Base, Philmont Scout Ranch, in New Mexico.

The Boy Scouts of America have four High Adventure Bases that serve as a way for Scouts to experience out of the ordinary outdoor activities as well as develop their team building and leadership skills.

Summit Bechtel Reserve, West Virginia

Programs include backpacking, camping and rafting on the New River, BMX, skateboarding, mountain biking, zip lines, canopy tours, hunter’s education, climbing, and shooting sports. The base is located in Fayette and Raleigh counties, near Beckley, West Virginia. Summit Bechtel Reserve will host the 2023 Boy Scout Jamboree.

Northern Tier, Minnesota

Winter programs include canoe journeys, winter wilderness camping with dog sledding, ice fishing and cross country skiing. Spring and fall programs of camping and canoe journeys are offered in the Great North Woods of northern Minnesota and Canada.

Philmont Scout Ranch, New Mexico

This base offers backpacking treks, horseback cavalcades, and training and service programs available in the northern New Mexico wilderness.

Family Adventure Camp

Summit Bechtel Reserve, Philmont Scout Ranch and Florida Sea Base also offer opportunities for family, friends and other non-scouting groups to stay at the facilities and take part in the outdoor adventure experience.

Those interested in joining a local scout troop can go to and enter their zip code for the location of the nearest troop. If you need more information, the phone number to the local Boy Scouts of America Susquehanna Council office is 570-326-5121.

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