Photo courtesy Sam Lombard: Area youth from throughout Seattle work on their boating skills as members of the Sea Scout Ship Yankee Clipper.
Photo courtesy Sam Lombard: Area youth from throughout Seattle work on their boating skills as members of the Sea Scout Ship Yankee Clipper.
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The Sea Scout Ship Yankee Clipper program is celebrating two major anniversaries this year but hopes its storied history will continue long into the future.

Founded in 1930, the Sea Scout Ship Yankee Clipper, the Seattle unit of the Sea Scouts, is celebrating its 90th anniversary this year.

As well, the current Yankee Clipper boat, which was originally built in 1943 by the U.S. Navy, is celebrating its 70th anniversary as a Sea Scout vessel, as well.

“We’ve had several boats prior to this one,” Skipper Steve Grassia said. “Thousands of kids have walked across our decks.”

As an offshoot of the Boy Scouts of America, Sea Scouts learn about boating and maritime heritage through hands-on experience and education, Sea Scout Ship Yankee Clipper Mate Eric Hanson said. Sea Scout units, called ships, are established all across the country, and the Sea Scout Yankee Clipper is one of the longest continuously active units in the Boy Scouts of America’s Chief Seattle Council, according to its website.

Hanson said, while Sea Scouts has outlined formal training, a lot of the program is very hands on.

“So, for example, when we are operating the boat and are underway, we are kind of operating the boat like it’s a commercial merchant vessel,” Hanson said, adding the boat has four watch stations, with two lookouts, a navigator and a helmsman. “So those are the four main positions, and the kids will rotate around and man those four positions while the boat’s under way.”

While the initial draw is getting youth out onto the water and on a boat, Hanson said, the program exposes the youths to the different aspects of the maritime world. Not only do Sea Scouts learn about operating and maintaining a boat, their education either directly or indirectly touches on everything from the weather, to navigation, to ocean currents and oceanography, to astronomy and marine biology.

“We give these kids a head start learning what it’s like to work on a ship and give them advice on all the career opportunities that are available out there,” said Hanson, who has worked in the maritime industry for 35 years.

The local Sea Scout unit typically meets from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. every Thursday at the boat, which is moored at Pacific Fishermen Shipyard in Ballard, close to the Ballard Locks.

During the winter, the Sea Scouts focus on maritime training for the formal advancement program, where the youth gain ranks through experience and testing. In the spring, the Sea Scouts begin maintenance on the boat, put on the sails and service the engine by replacing the diesel filters.

They also begin taking out the Yankee Clipper, sometimes stopping at Fishermen’s Terminal in Queen Anne to get ice cream, Hanson said.

In the summer, when the Sea Scouts are out of school, they meet for four hours and take the boat out to the Ballard Locks and into the Puget Sound. In August, they take a 10-day cruise, and participate in the many summertime community boating events. In the fall, they winterize the boat.

Hanson, who has been volunteering as a Sea Scout leader for the past four years, said there are currently five Sea Scouts, but ideally they would really like to have 20. The Sea Scouts are open to both boys and girls, and current members come from all throughout Seattle and even as far away as Bremerton. Because of safety concerns, ages are restricted to 14- to 21-year-olds, although exceptions are made to youth who are 13 ½ and who have graduated eighth grade.

As a Sea Scout, the youths learn a lot more than just sailing, safety and seamanship, Grassia said. They also learn a lot of life skills, such as personal responsibility, leadership, teamwork and character development.

“That’s really our focus in scouts,” he said. “We just happen to do it on a boat.”

As a Sea Scout, members perform a variety of duties on the boat, from cleaning the deck to cooking in the galley.

“They learn to work together as a team, and they learn leadership skills that a lot of the time are not taught in school,” Grassia said. “They’ve got to pull together as a team to make all this stuff happen.”

Sea Scouts also do community service and participate in many community activities, such as the Fall Fishermen’s Festival.

Blake Coe, a recent graduate of Ballard High School joined the Sea Scout Ship Yankee Clipper because he became interested in boating as a child and took his first lessons at age 8. Afterward, he decided he wanted to learn more, which led him to the Sea Scouts.

“I think it’s a really one-of-a-kind program,” Coe said. “There aren’t many things like it any more in respect to scouting.

“Even having access to a boat like the Yankee Clipper, where it’s a mix of practical skills, tradition and maritime history, it’s become an amazing opportunity,” he added.

He also welcomed all the friends he has made through the years and recommends Sea Scouts to anyone interested in boating and the maritime world.

Coe intends to pursue a maritime career and was recently accepted into the Seattle Maritime Academy, which is part of Seattle Central College. He said he wants to earn the rank of an Able-Bodied Seaman, after which he could be hired on any number of vessels.

Grassia said boys and girls who become Sea Scouts are in good position to get hired in any number of jobs in the maritime industry, which is experiencing a chronic employee shortage because of an aging workforce.

“There aren’t many young people coming into the maritime industry,” he said.

Hanson said the maritime industry has any number of land-based jobs, from shipyard work, maritime insurance, maritime law, ship building and more.

“It’s not all having to leave for half the year round,” Hanson said. “A lot of people don’t really understand there’s a huge industry on the land side.”

To learn more about the Sea Scout Ship Yankee Clipper, go to seascoutshipyankeeclipper.com, visit the group’s Facebook page, www.facebook.com/yankeeclipperseascouts/ or email Hanson, ericleehanson61@gmail.com.