Sea Base Sunrise over Key West

Last week, my son’s Boy Scout Troop went on another High Adventure, this time to Florida Sea Base for a week-long Sailing Adventure. This post is aimed at all the parents who welcomed home their Scouts yesterday, and to anyone who is planning a Sea Base High Adventure in the future.

For those who prefer TL;DR, here are all my photos and videos from the trip on Google.

For the Parents of our Sea Base Crew Scouts

It was a great trip! As the (first time) organizer, I am very pleased to say there were exactly zero logistical hiccups. All 16 Scouts and 3 adult leaders got on the flight to Miami. Our ride from Miami to Islamorada was waiting at baggage claim. The lunch on Key Largo was fantastic, and we arrived at Florida Sea Base exactly at 1pm. Check-in took less than 10 minutes, and we completed our swim tests, gear assignment, snorkeling instruction, and base orientation before “flags” at 5:45PM.

“Flags” is short for “Flag Ceremony”, which takes place every morning at 0745 and every evening at 1745 hours. We say the Pledge of Allegiance, pray the Sea Base Grace, and go over the rules of the FSB camp:

  • Always wear shoes
  • Stay on the paths
  • Bring your own drink or cup
  • Trash & Recycling
  • Hang wet clothes on the lines not on the railings
  • The bells for food, more food, and ‘sacrifice’ (aka, KP duty)

That made for a long and busy and ridiculously hot and sweaty Monday, but we were rewarded with some of the best air conditioning I’ve ever experienced as we settled into our dorm for the night. Tuesday morning, we were up for Flags and breakfast, and then loaded our gear and drove to Key West to load and board The Spirit of Independence, our 85′ schooner for the week.

Our Sea Base Schooner: The Spirit of Independence

Upon arrival to Key West’s famous Schooner Wharf, we met the Independence and her owner & Captain, Ricky Sand. Captain Ricky has been sailing since he bought his first schooner when he was 17 years old. At 63, he has just recently survived stage 4 throat cancer, and is simply one of the nicest and most knowledgeable people you will ever meet. And, you won’t meet anyone who lives in Key West who doesn’t know Captain Ricky personally. He literally knows everybody.

Our Sea Base Captain Ricky SandThe Captain greeted us and laid down the ground rules for our week on his ship, and we immediately headed out to sea to experience the majesty of the tall ship. Unfortunately, we were in for some really bad weather all week, so we had to almost completely abandon the original plan for our Sea Base Adventure. But we made the best of the trip, docking at Captain Ricky’s boat slip all but one night due to some pretty heavy storms.

The night we did spend out on the water gave us a great time with another Scout Crew aboard the Jolly Rover II, an incredible sunset, a full moon, an even more beautiful sunrise, and another full day on the water.

Sea Base sunset over the Jolly Rover II

Each day, despite the knowledge that we would most likely end up heading back to port at or before dark, we sailed out to various reefs, islands, and even a shipwreck. We snorkeled, swam, explored, and slept. The Scouts made every meal – some more creative than others – and cleaned up every mess.

After our adventure was over, and we were on our way home, one of our ship’s mades sent the following message, which summed up how well the Scouts did their job:

Sea Base from Captain Ricky

Not that we didn’t have our share of “stuff” to deal with during the trip. What else would you expect from 16 teenage boys crammed on a boat for 6 days?!? You can use your imagination – and ask your scout – for the details, but in the end, we left The Independence better than we found her, and we enjoyed six days and nights on the water that very few people will ever experience.

Sea Base: "after"

The picture above captures the whole crew from Florida Sea Base. The guy on the far left in the faded stars and stripes is Jesse, who has his Captain’s license at age 21, before his Senior year at Penn State. The young lady to Mr. Rosenberg’s right is Rachel, a rising college Senior who survived 7 days with our crew! We’re (mostly) all in Hawaiian garb because we were about to enjoy our final night Luau and volleyball game. In other words, this is our “after” picture.

And, a day later, I’m happy to say that the voyage home was almost as successful. No hitches, but one of our adult leaders got bumped from the flight back to Atlanta. No worries, though, because other Scout families stepped up and everyone got home.

For those planning a Sea Base Adventure

This trek was my first time as the organizer of High Adventure trips for our Troop, so I was very nervous. Therefore, I dug as deep as I could to get all the details to make sure everything was covered. As it turns out, we covered some things that were really not necessary. Below are some “DO” and some “DON’T” items for your Florida Sea Base adventure. Keep in mind that ours was a Sailing adventure, and yours may differ just because you might do a scuba or snorkeling or other adventure.

Do these things:

  • Get your Sea Base reservation a year in advance, or whenever the lottery takes place
  • Confirm your Crew size – the number of attendees will determine what kind of adventure you have. We had 19 total, so we did a tall ship. We could have split into 2 crews and done 2 smaller boats.
  • Get your Adult leaders trained and certified early.
  • Budget, and start collecting early, regularly. We budgeted $1400 per Scout, and went over budget by about $150. We were collecting payments up to the day we left. That amount included Sea Base fees, Delta Airlines flights both ways, Emerald Transportation (HIGHLY recommended) to/from Miami International Airport, two restaurant meals for all attendees, tips for our crew, crew t-shirts, and one checked bag (see “Don’t do this” below).
  • Get as much info on trip as possible from Sea Base and those who have gone before; however, take all this information with a grain of salt. They are remembering what they did, and that might be different than what you’ll do.
  • Remember that the weather is 100% unpredictable and totally determines what you can and cannot do on your trip. Your captain’s first and number one priority is SAFETY of his passengers. Captain Ricky told us tale after tale of disappointed parents who nagged him to sail in stormy weather or dive a reef in 10 foot waves. Safety first.
  • 90 days out, get your air & ground transportation. This piece was the easiest part of the trip. Both Delta and Emerald were fantastic. Note: minors accompanied by adults do not need ID to fly. You are required to have a certain number of Adult Scout Leaders. They have to have ID, but your scouts do not.
  • Give your Scouts a simple lesson on air travel: what to expect when checking in and going through TSA check points in an airport. A short lesson will save you much time and frustration going through the airport.
  • 60 days out begin regular detailed communications with crew, parents about what to expect, what to bring (see below), what not to bring, and any other questions parents and scouts may have. Some of the most important points covered here came up only because parents or scouts asked the questions.
  • Remember: Semper Gumby – always flexible. You’re there to learn and have fun. Everything else is gravy. Chill. One of the highlights of this trip was seeing our Scouts enjoy unstructured time together. They played dominoes for hours and hours.
  • Send everything to Sea Base via email early: roster, medical forms, swim tests, adult training certificates, even when they say you can’t upload anything to the website. Call and ask where to email all your forms as PDFs. This one task took 5 minutes and saved hours of headache at checkin, check out, and for basic record keeping.
  • Remember: the Captain runs the ship – ask for his rules up front and obey at all times!
  • Learn to sail if possible: that’s the main goal of Sailing Adventure. Captain and mates teach, you do what they teach you. Our adventure had terrible weather most of the time, except the last couple of days, so our actual crew had to do the real work, but when the weather turned, the captain and crew taught our scouts how to do everything.
  • At Sea Base, have your Nalgene and/or coffee cup handy for all meals. They do not use, supply, or provide cups at all at Sea Base.
  • Have fun and relax on your day(s) in Key West! Lots of fun, safe, and easy for scouts to shop and eat, and very touristy. We docked every night in Key West except for one, and we had no trouble at all. Our Scouts loved it.
  • Ask for really detailed info on food from your Sea Base Staff. Here’s why. Sea Base provides TONS of food (I gained 4lbs last week), but it’s not organized at all into daily meals, menus, etc. On our previous High Adventure to Northern Tier, each meal was planned, so the Scouts followed the menu, followed the recipe, and we ate like Kings! Sea Base didn’t do that, so you can imagine what occurred when the Scouts in charge of a meal saw burgers, steaks, chicken, tuna, peanut butter, jelly, mayo, mustard, sandwich meats, cookies, chips, salsa…too many choices, not enough structure. If Sea Base won’t give suggested meals/menus, put a very responsible Scout in charge of meals and assign an adult to offer supervision and help planning (but not preparing!).
  • Tip your Captain and crew. $100 is customary for the captain; $50-$75 for the mates.
  • BRING YOUR PHONE! Bring a GoPro! You may have already seen all the pictures I took, and I didn’t even keep my phone with me at all times. At Northern Tier last year, I got exactly 26 lousy pictures from a very expensive disposable “digital” camera. Horse Hockey! Take your phone just for the pictures. Insure your phone. Get a waterproof case for your phone, but take your phone. You’ll be glad you did.

Do NOT do these things:

  • Do not bring copious amounts of sunscreen (by which I mean the recommended “two 16oz bottles per person) to the point that you have to have a single checked bag to hold all the 16oz bottles of “reef safe” and “biodegradable” sunscreen. When you get to Florida Sea Base, buy two 32oz bottles at the store. We had 19 people (including one scout with Albinism!) and we still did not empty those two 32oz bottles.
  • Do not waste your money on bug spray. Do not buy it, bring it, or even think about it. There are no mosquitos on the ocean! One of our Scouts brought this up at our gear shake down. He was right, but Sea Base says clearly to bring Skin So Soft 16oz bug spray. Don’t do it.
  • Do not bring Eno (or other brand) hammocks. There is nowhere to hang a hammock on a sailboat, period. OK, there may be one exception: our 1st Mate hung his from the ship’s main beam and the anchor hook. In other words, he was basically under the boat, about two feet off the water, swinging like a sack of potatoes all night. Forget your Eno. You won’t use it.
  • Do not assume you’re going to get sick of eating fish all day every day. We didn’t catch one single fish. Not one. We ate PB&Js several times for lunch, burgers for dinner (yes, our ship had a gas grill and it was good), and cereal for breakfast.
  • Do not expect a wonderful hot shower at Sea Base to get all that salty funk off of you. The Sea Base facility is fantastic for food, air conditioning, and sleep, but the showers are really, really not good. Trust me on this one. Food is great. Showers not so much.

What they say to bring that you really do not need to bring:

  • Sunscreen – buy it there
  • Bug spray – no bugs!
  • Headlamp – never came out of the bag; not sure why this one is on the list
  • Fishing license – our ship’s license covered us. Check with yours. Chances are you won’t need it.

What you really should bring:

  • long sleeve dry fit shirt – you’ll wear this every day all day unless you are immune to the sun, which you’re not. Don’t get sunburned! A long sleeved shirt is the really easy way to go.
  • 1 pair of water shoes / sandals – you’ll wear these all the time
  • phone for pics
  • sleeping bag liner, pad, and pillow – you’ll use these at Sea Base and when/if you dock at sea (we only did once!) because you’ll be sleeping on deck. Below decks, we had mattresses, sheets, and pillows. Your boat may or may not be so equipped.
  • Wide brimmed hat – you’ll wear it all the time all day every day
  • Sunglasses – get cheap ones at the dollar store because you will lose them, even with a strap.
  • Towel – bring one you don’t care about. It’ll be nasty by the end of the trip with sunscreen, sweat, and salt water.
  • Shorts – two pair – swim trunks and fast dry shorts only
  • clothes for ride home – Class A scout shirt, shorts/pants, etc.

I hope this information is helpful to our Scouts, their parents, and to anyone planning a Sea Base adventure in the near future. It was a really fun and adventurous week. I asked my son which one he’d rather do again, Sea Base or Northern Tier. He said Sea Base. I asked him to rate Sea Base 1 – 10, with 10 being “better than Ricky Bobby winning his first NASCAR race” and he said “10”.

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