When he returned from WWII, Irwin Beal (Newton, MA) also returned to a program in which he believed: Sea Scouts. Beal had been a Sea Scout in the early 1930’s at a time when the program was little more than a decade old and that was better known in England where it began. Like all Scouting groups, adult commitment and expertise were required to make the programs strong and viable for the children who depended on them. Beal was that kind of leader. He remained actively involved in the program for many years and brought his own son through it. This son, Alan Beal (Falmouth, MA), later became a respected officer in the United States Coast Guard and carried on his father’s mantle as a Scoutmaster with the Sea Scouts and Boy Scouts.
Sea Scouting enjoys a rich history that is not well known locally, which is surprising given our location on the coast. With the many distractions children have today, Scouting programs struggle to remain significant. All Scouting programs have diversified to incorporate technical activities geared to the needs of young people, and this diversification also includes many co-ed programs. Sea Scouts is a co-ed Venturing program.
Founded in England along the Thames River in the early 1900’s by Sir Baden-Powell, the original organizer of the Boy Scouts, Sea Scouting grew strong under the leadership of his brother. During both world wars, the English Scouts worked tirelessly scanning the coastlines and skies for enemies and reporting suspicious activities to military authorities. Scouts were also instrumental during the evacuation at Dunkirk. After WWII, Sea Scouts expanded more rapidly and today there are hundreds of units around the globe.
One of the guiding principles of Scouting is “Be Prepared” and for Sea Scouts that means on the land and on the water. For one local girl, the opportunity to participate in this unique activity was natural. Emily Newell of Mattapoisett (my granddaughter) is also Alan Beal’s granddaughter. Yet this story is not so much about her as it is about a program that warrants greater exposure.
The closest unit, or ‘ship’ as it is called in Sea Scouting, is out of Falmouth. The Falmouth ship is led by Chief Warrant Officer Beal, USCG, Retired. The shipmates learn a variety of basic seamanship skills, along with mastering the art of teamwork critical to the success of the ship.
On the Boy Scout website, I found the following information: “Sea Scouting is a specialized segment of the Venturing program, which was organized to address members’ boating skills and promote knowledge of our maritime heritage. Sea Scout units, called “ships,” focus on sailing and cruising either sailboats or power vessels. During the boating seasons, Sea Scouts learn to maintain and operate their vessel, with a focus on learning the safe and proper methods of handling boats. Sea Scouts also learn the meaning of buoys and lights, how to take advantage of wind and tide, and how to drop anchor or approach a dock. Most ships hold formal meetings conducted in either full dress or work uniforms. Swimming, lifesaving, first aid, Coast Guard Auxiliary Sailing and Seamanship, and cardiopulmonary resuscitation courses are taught by our own officers. The state safe boating course is also offered by many ships.”
Scouting has been around for many generations and has proven time and again that the values and skills learned from either the male or female organizations stand the test of time. How many of our country’s leaders have been Boy Scouts or Girls Scouts? From learning how to tie knots, to identifying the difference between poisonous and harmless plants, to learning that your word carries with it a responsibility others depend upon, Scouting can be an integral part of one’s life experience.
My own Scouting experience, way back in the day, was as a Brownie and later as a Girl Scout. Mine was a thoroughly undistinguished time in grade. I did, however, earn several badges and have one humorous aside to share. My group was camping out for the night and preparing the evening meal. The leader instructed me to collect pine needles. I thought she told me to put them in the beans that were slowly warming over a very weak campfire. To her horror and mine, her instructions hadn’t been clearly imparted. The pine needles had been intended for the fire, not as a flavoring for the beans. Suffice it to say that my popularity with the other troop members waned at bit at that moment. But true to our Scout teachings, I was not bullied or ostracized, although I was no longer part of the cooking team.
My son, Emily’s father, Jason Newell, enjoyed many years in the Boy Scout program, advancing to Life Scout and Order of the Arrow status before finding other interests that divided his time and attention. But to this day, he remains involved as a part-time adult leader and chaperon during Sea Scout events. The men who ran the Boy Scout program during his childhood stand out for him as people of integrity, warmth, and knowledge, with a willingness to help a boy appreciate that being a man also includes having compassion.
Every summer, he would go to Boy Scout camp for a week of outdoor living and adventure traditional to the organization. One summer, he fell very ill about a month before the scheduled departure. It seemed as if he would not be able to join his pals, and missing out on this highly anticipated trip exacerbated his sense of detachment at that moment. To his credit, the Scoutmaster, William Joyce, arranged for him to go to camp and participate in those events his health allowed, administered his medications, and returned him home restored to near perfect health. It goes without saying that with his spirits high, my son’s health stood a better chance of improving. Though he went to summer camp several more years, that summer is crystalized in his memory – from a hospital bed to a sleeping bag under the stars.
Beyond her father’s and grandfather’s involvement in Scouting, Newell’s mother (Diane (Beal) Newell) was a Girl Scout and a Sea Scout. Her maternal grandmother (Donna Beal/active Sea Scout leader and ship treasurer), uncle (Chris Beal/Eagle Scout), aunt (Sara Beal/Sea Scout) and several cousins were all Scouts. One can say Scouting is in her blood. In the two years she has been a Sea Scout, Newell has learned life-saving techniques both on and off the water, tying knots (of course), plotting and navigating in Buzzards Bay, reading navigational maps, boat docking, and working as part of a team. The shipmates also camp out during the warmer seasons, cruise in and around the coastal waterways, participate in group activities with other ships in surrounding states, attend regional events, and provide community service. Their regular ship meetings are every Tuesday evening in Falmouth.
When I recently spoke to Scout leader Beal about the Sea Scouting program he heads up, I asked him what was one of the most important aspects of the Venturing philosophy. Without hesitation he said, “Preparing our young adults to make ethical decisions.”
From the BSA website: “Venturing is a youth development program of the Boy Scouts of America for young men and women who are 13 and have completed the eighth grade, or age 14 through 20 years of age. Venturing’s purpose is to provide positive experiences to help young people mature and to prepare them to become responsible and caring adults. Venturing is based on a unique and dynamic relationship between youth, adult leaders, and organizations in their communities. Local community organizations establish a Venturing crew by matching their people and program resources to the interests of young people in the community. The result is a program of exciting and meaningful activities that helps youth pursue their special interests, grow, develop leadership skills, and become good citizens.”
The goals of the Venturing programs include: “…learning to make ethical choices by instilling values; experiencing a program that is fun and challenging; acquiring skills in areas of high adventure, sports, arts, religious life; or Sea Scouting; experience positive leadership from adults and be given the opportunity of leadership roles; involvement in a supportive, caring and fun environment.”
A critical element of Venturing is this point of ‘ethics in action’. It is the goal of this advanced Scouting program to impart wisdom to the children that will stand the test of time and give them depths of appreciation and understanding through active problem-solving, empathy, invention, and selection to think something through and work as a team towards a solution.
In a world that increasingly isolates us from one another through solo electronic activities, I applaud the efforts being made through such inclusive programs. Clearly for me, Scouting stands out as a program that teaches hundreds of skills, some highly technical while others very basic. It teaches a team approach to problem solving, it teaches personal responsibility, and it teaches kindness.
Steeped in history and tradition but evolving to meet the needs of today’s youth, Scouting is as vital now as it was in the beginning. If you are interested in learning more about the local Sea Scouting program, call Alan Beal at 508-540-9181. You can also visit www.scouting.org for Boy Scouts of America or www.girlscouts.org for Girls Scouts of America.
By Marilou Newell