Summer of 2000:
Three scouts of Ship I, Ashely Charbonnet, Chelsea Core, and Thomas “Rocky” Thompson graduated from Sea Scout Advanced Leadership Training (SEAL). Ashley’s class was featured in “Scouting Magazine” in the article below.
Sea Scout Daniel Gordon cranks in the jib sheet as the 46-foot ketch der PeLiKan prepares to come about. Writer Greg Tasker tells how Dan and three other Sea Scouts spent a week learning advanced leadership and management skills while sailing on the Chesapeake Bay. Photograph by Walter Calahan.
Building Leaders on the Chesapeake
By Greg Tasker
Sea Scouting’s SEAL program teaches teenagers the leadership skills needed to sail a ship—and navigate through life.
As the 46-foot morgan sailboat, der PeLiKan, makes its way out of St. Michaels harbor into the choppy waters of the Miles River, Ashley Charbonnet and her crew of fellow Sea Scouts grapple to hoist the mainsail and let the boat ride the wind.
Ashley is “boatswain of the day,” meaning she is in charge of the other three crew members: Daniel Gordon, Anne Simiele, and Jake Greiner, who take turns as the lookout, helmsman, and navigator. The foursome is hard at work in an intensive weeklong course called Sea Scout Advanced Leadership Training, or SEAL.
Already, the Sea Scouts have sailed their floating classroom—under the watchful eyes of “Skipper” Jerry Crabtree and “Commodore” Doug Yeckley—across the expansive Chesapeake Bay to St. Michaels, a popular sailing port on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Their days have been a mix of work on the boat and other chores, sailing, and classes on communicating, delegating, motivating, and training—skills effective leaders need to navigate not only the course of a ship but also, some would say… life.
A test of leadership
This morning, Ashley, a high school senior and member of Ship 1 in Slidell, La., has ordered her crew to make several tacks, crisscrossing turns in the murky river, to steer clear of other sailboats and buoys marking shallow water.
It is time for yet another tack, and Ashley shouts: “Ready about!”
The crew prepares to turn der PeLiKan through the wind. A lone voice grumbles from the cockpit: “Again?”
It’s a question laced with mutiny. Seventeen-year-old Daniel is tired of tacking, tired of loosening and pulling ropes to adjust the jib sheet, tired of shifting himself in the cockpit. Daniel, it seems, wants to kick back and cruise for a while.
Something besides a sailing maneuver is at stake. Ashley’s leadership is being tested. But that is exactly why Ashley, Daniel, and the others are here—to learn how to be good leaders.
“Do you wanna run into the shore?” Ashley yells, pointing to the clearly visible and not-so-distant landscape.
Ashley and Daniel would butt heads again that warm, overcast June morning. Ashley’s leadership had been as choppy as the river—one minute she was in command—and the next she was chatting, distracted from her duties, then barking changes in navigation at the last moment. And Daniel, who struggled to assert himself in a hypothetical survival exercise the night before, was now all too eager to speak up.
“Ashley needs to pay a little more attention to what she’s doing,” said Douglas E. Yeckley, the boat’s “officer of the deck” and Skipper of Ship 548 in southern Maryland. “Daniel needs to learn to take orders better. Anne was the first boatswain [a couple of days earlier], and she handled him much better. She communicated much more directly.”
Despite the tensions, the Sea Scouts worked fairly well as a team. After the morning cruise, Yeckley and Nikki Lanzaron, a former Sea Scout and one of the instructors aboard ship, exchanged observations about what had transpired between Ashley and Daniel. Throughout the training program, the Sea Scouts are evaluated on everything they do, and they evaluate each other as well.
Bringing SEAL home
“This type of leadership training is a terrific opportunity. It’s the kind of thing that you’ll understand its value later in life,” said Jeff Murray, a former Sea Scout and another instructor aboard der PeLiKan. “You’re learning lots of leadership skills, which will certainly put you further ahead of the game. To be exposed to this kind of program as a teenager is an incredible opportunity.”
One of SEAL’s goals is to help local ships. Graduates return to their ships to practice and implement the leadership skills they’ve learned, improving the quality of the local program. It is something Daniel, Ashley, Jake, and Anne are intent on doing.
“I want to help bring more people to my ship and get more involved,” said Daniel, a high school senior from Bowie, Md. “I can see how much it would help to take a leadership role.”
A floating leadership lab
Days are fairly structured during the week-long training course. The Sea Scouts rise early, make and serve breakfast.