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Sea Scouts learn lessons for a lifetime

Safety at Sea Day in southern New England brings together young sailors from around the globe

Sea Scout Rachel Sampson gets some navigation tips from Coast Guardsman Matthew Vail during a safety session held at the biennial Koch Cup Regatta.

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The Safety At Sea Day held at the Coast Guard Station New London, Conn., looked more like a water park, with participants getting sprayed while fixing leaky pipes, learning how to swim in survival suits, and even a boat ride on a 41-foot Coast Guard utility boat.

But at the heart of all this was teaching practical lifesaving lessons.

Eighty Sea Scouts from all over the world attended the Aug. 5 safety seminar as part of a weeklong Koch Cup Regatta that takes place every two years. Sea Scouts is a part of Boy Scouts of America and allows male and female young adults ages 14 to 21 to learn leadership and important safety skills by being involved in sailing events all over the country.

"This is the first time we've ever tried this [safety seminar] as part of the Koch Cup," says Keith Christopher, national director for Sea Scouts who is based in Irving, Texas. "We had a great reaction with the kids so we'll definitely do this again."

The scouts were divided into eight teams that attended eight safety stations that covered the following topics: flares, recovery at sea, pumps and dewatering, fire fighting, law enforcement, first aid, driving a Coast Guard utility boat, and fixing leaky pipes.

"I really like this event because in Australia we don't have this type of massive event so it's wicked to come here and do it," says Jayden Rikkers, 19, of Australia. "It's a fantastic thing to travel the world sailing. You can meet people from America, Sweden, Denmark ... all over."

Rikkers, who has been in Sea Scouts for six years, says he has taught sailing and safety to younger Sea Scouts and plans on a career as a physical education instructor.

Todd Jordan, seaman for the Coast Guard Station New London who accompanied the scouts aboard the utility boat, says he loves giving the scouts skills they can use for their future.

"I get overall enjoyment sharing what I do and giving them first hand knowledge," says Jordan. "Hopefully one day they'll join us with the Coast Guard."

Scouts got to take turns driving the boat and received instructions from petty officer second class boatswain's mate Matthew Vail on navigation and operation.

"We enjoy doing this as much as the kids do," says Vail.

Christopher says the organization has a good relationship with the Coast Guard since both are committed to promoting safety on the sea as well as encouraging youth to become involved in marine organizations.

"This workshop was a cooperative effort," says Christopher. "We definitely want to expand this as we move forward."

The Coast Guard Academy, located on the Thames River in Connecticut, near the river's mouth at Long Island Sound, hosted The William I. Koch International Sea Scout Cup, a biennial youth sailing regatta. America's Cup-winning businessman Bill Koch launched the event in 2002 and consists of 40 teams of two scouts each. Twenty of the more experienced teams raced for the Koch Cup in 420 dinghies, and the other 20 raced for the Kiwi Cup in FJ boats. All vessels were provided by the Coast Guard. The regatta is by invitation only, and only scouts between the ages of 14 and 21 can actively race. Cody Stansky, 16 from Jupiter, Fla., and Andrew Britton, 17 of Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., won the Koch Cup this year. The Kiwi Cup went to Abby King, 18, and Barchan Rodgers, 20, of St. Petersburg, Fla.

Christopher says the Koch Cup 2012 edition will be the 100th anniversary of the Sea Scouts of America.

"We've been the best kept secret in this country for 98 years," says Christopher. "These kids have wide open opportunities in the marine field to go into...if anything goes wrong on a vessel, they will know how to fix it."

Sarah Remfry from Tecumseh, Kan., says coming to Connecticut has been a great experience for her because she had only sailed on Lake Shawnee, Kan.

"I had never seen the ocean before; I couldn't believe I saw a jellyfish," says Remfry, 16. "I don't know what I'm going to do for my future yet, but I know for sure I'm going to keep sailing."

Remfry also enjoyed the safety program because it gave the scouts an opportunity to be involved as a team together and get to know scouts from other countries.

"When you are racing, it's just the two team members on the sailboat, and you are separated from the others,' says Monica Traylor, boatswain for the regatta. "We like to give the kids opportunities to interact with each other and learn from one another."

Rikkers says he definitely has learned new sailing techniques from U.S. sailors.

"For example a rolling tack, the techniques are different in America than in Australia. We take it much further when we do it," says Rikkers. "We have the boat at an almost 180 degree angle all the way over so the sails are almost in the water and then tack. These guys [U.S.] ... they'll tack at a 45 degree angle."

Jonathan Hall from England says it is one of the few opportunities he has been able to find that offers him the real experience of being out on the water and what to do to stay safe. "As long as I can remember Sea Scouting was the really exciting one [to join]," says Hall, 19. "You get real opportunities in to actually really have some good fun out on the water."

Hall won the Sportsmanship Trophy with his British teammate Jonathan Martin. The trophy is voted on by the youth in attendance at the end of the week for the team that showed the most sportsmanlike behavior on and off the water.

"I've met quality people [in Sea Scouts], met my crewmate Jon and we've done quite a lot of sailing together and we wound up at this event, "says Martin, 18. "It has been absolutely awesome fun...the best thing about scouting is you can get together anywhere in the world with like-minded people and have a good time."

Tom Hartmann, race chairman for the Koch Cup, says the safety seminar as well as the racing gives the scouts an opportunity to develop leadership and test themselves.

"A lot of these kids can acquire enough knowledge over four or five years that, when they are out of this program, many go on and take the test for the [U.S.] Coast Guard captain's license," says Hartmann, who won the Koch Cup in 2002 and has been involved with the Sea Scouts for 15 years. "As an adult, I'm just helping these kids grow up to lead."

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This article originally appeared in the November 2010 issue.