Ahoy! The Martinez Sea Scouts Weigh Anchor and Cast Off For Adventure
Special to the Martinez News-Gazette
By Harriett Burt
Visitors to the Martinez Marina will see the usual privately owned sail and motor pleasure craft and think nothing of it but if they explore a bit they will also see a retired U. S. Navy Torpedo Retriever, named the S.S. S. Albatross, owned by the Martinez Sea Scouts since 1973 and site of an active group of young men and women ages 13-21 who belong to the Venturing division of Boy Scouts of America.
The Sea Scouts were established in 1912 as a branch of the then two-year-old Boy Scouts of America in order to add the dimension of seamanship to the other skill and character building values of the youth organization. America’s entry into World War I encouraged the growth and development of Sea Scouting using the US Navy as a model both for the names of the ranks and the sailor’s dress uniform the Scouts wear on formal occasions. Instead of a Scoutmaster and Assistant Scoutmasters, each “Ship” (not troop) has a Skipper and Ship’s Officers. Sea Scout merit badge ranks start at Apprentice and move up the ladder: Ordinary Seaman, Able-bodied Seaman, Bosun’s Mate, Bosun and so on to the highest rank of all, Quartermaster, which is equivalent to Eagle Scout.
In 1932 the program was introduced to Martinez and over the years became strongly established culminating in the acquisition in 1972 of the Albatross through a U. S. Navy grant. As with the other youth organizations featured in the Martinez Museum exhibit, S.S.S. Albatross #72 continues to provide leadership and skill experiences to youth from Martinez and surrounding communities because of the financial and volunteer contributions of community members, businesses and service organizations, parents and former Sea Scouts.
Martinez businessman Jim Busby fits in most of those categories. A 1948 graduate of Alhambra High School, Busby belonged to the local Sea Scouts during his high school years. “I enjoyed it a lot,” he says noting that the Skipper, whose name he cannot recall was “an Irishman – an older gentleman about 70 or thereabouts who had a lot of mariner experience.”
As an adult, Busby formed Security Owners, Inc. and became one of the community’s leading developers. In the early 1970s a group of Sea Scout parents and adult leaders asked him to help the Ship which was about to acquire a Torpedo Retrieval vessel from the Navy and needed a great deal of help and financial support to restore and maintain it.
Busby didn’t hesitate. His company and skilled craftsmen from the Building and Trades Union built the SSS Albatross #72 “base” -- a building down on the Martinez Waterfront with a meeting room, workshop and storage area. They fenced in the area so the ship was secure.
He continues to serve as primary sponsor and is proud of the fact that the Albatross has sent a number of its members on to the California Maritime Academy and into careers in merchant shipping. Noting that Sea Scouts is now open to both young men and women ages 14 to 21, he feels that the leadership experiences and the actual mechanical and sailing skills the youngsters learn are matched by the ability they develop to instruct the younger members in the variety of skills needed to maintain a ship and to sail it safely all within the context of personal responsibility promoted by Boy Scouts of America.
For Linda Meza, a single mother of three children living in Pleasant Hill in the early 1990s, Sea Scouts became an important adjunct to raising her two boys and a girl, all of whom became members of S.S.S. Albatross and two of whom joined the Navy as a result of their experience.
In 1994, her then 12 year old son, Noel, attended an informational meeting at the Round Table Pizza restaurant in Pleasant Hill. He was so enthused that he and his older brother Keith joined the Ship. When asked what the attraction was to her sons, she smiles and replies “the promise of high seas adventure!”
They may have come for that but they stayed for all the activities and skills and were soon joined by their sister, Krystal, who started with the Sea Otters, a girls ship based in Benicia. Now, the ships are all open to both sexes, Meza observes.
Attracting youngsters Meza describes as “outdoorsy” in orientation, she notes that a typical Ship has all sorts of personalities and interests that contribute to the team. For her as a single mother, Sea Scouts gave her sons opportunities to learn skills and values from adult male role models such as Skipper Chick Russell and others. It also inspired her daughter to comfortably seek non-traditional assignments as an active duty sailor in the Navy. She is currently a master-at-arms and an expert in small boat handling.
“Teenagers don’t have as many opportunities (today) to experience the right push mentally and physically with the right environment,” Meza says. Now the Ship’s public relations chair, she sees Sea Scouts as providing young people with a positive environment to grow and develop into successful adults.
Scouts learn to ‘wrench’ a motor meaning to do all but the most major annual maintenance, clean the bilges, do all the grunge work such as cleaning the head, polish the brass as well as a host of sailing skills including navigation and boating safety. They learn all the knots and ground tackle, all the shipboard traditions, and the meaning of Greenwich Mean Time. Much of this instruction takes place on the 65’ Albatross either in port or on day and overnight trips around San Francisco Bay and the Northern California coast.
The Sea Scout experience has marked not only Busby but also the current Skipper, Adam Mollwitz and at least one of the Ship’s Leaders, Mike Hammack. A former Coast Guard sailor he works for a major aerospace adhesive manufacturer, the Henkel Corporation. His company has responded to Hammack’s enthusiasm by joining Busby and Security Owners as a major financial sponsor of the Ship.
Hammack is both an Eagle Scout and a Quartermaster, achieving that rank on the SSS Albatross #72. A resident of Antioch, he describes why so much of the time in his busy life is devoted to the Ship
“I have a passion for giving back what I received,” he says. Echoing Meza’s belief that the environment is so positive for teenagers in a variety of ways, he adds that there is “a payoff for the mentors” as the adults watch the youngsters stretch and develop in healthy ways. “There’s a lot of fun and fellowship. If it wasn’t fun we wouldn’t do it.”
Right now Hammack and the Ship’s Committee he chairs which guides the program are busy planning for the 31st annual Seafarers Regatta the Ship will host next April. Similar to the Martinez Relays, the Regatta brings all the area Ships together for a friendly competition in a variety of skills and games from knot tying to dinghy tossing.
Hammack describes Sea Scouts as a worthwhile program for young people provided here because Martinez has something other communities don’t have – a waterfront. It also has something else: a community tradition of stepping up to support young people. The Martinez Bass Club, now the Sportsman’s Club, originally sponsored the Ship 75 years ago and has contributed to it over the years since. The Martinez Kiwanis Club member Mike Fahy, himself a former Sea Scout from a Ship in Richmond, spearheaded an effort by the club and downtown businesses raising $2500 replace equipment stolen or vandalized in a 1991 incident. And parents both of current and former Scouts rally around to provide the support for a program both traditional and future-focused.
Martinez Historical Society
1005 Escobar Street - Martinez, CA 94553 (925) 228-8160