After their appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court failed, several Berkeley Sea Scouts (BSS) have tried to make the public understand the service they offer. The BSS have been under pressure because the City of Berkeley has accused them of operating under the discriminatory policy against gays and atheists of the Boy Scouts of America. For this reason the city took away their previously free use of the dock at the Berkeley Marina, sparking the court case.
“It’s unfair, because I don’t think we’re doing anything wrong,” said 16-year old Boatswains’ Mate Keenan Nelson-Barer. “We are part of the Sea Scouts organization, but we are different from them.”
Eugene Evans, BSS Skipper, explained that Sea Scouts of America has different umbrellas for the various scouts, such as Police Scouts, Sea Scouts, Boy Scouts, and that the BSS has attempted to change umbrellas.
“A committee of adults asked the Scout executive at the Pleasant Hill office if we could move from the Venturing Structure to the Scouting for Life Structure, which doesn’t include the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Policy’,” said Evans.
“The Police Scouts, which the city supports, are under the Scouting for Life structure.”
For many, Sea Scouts represents a place to make new friends, relax, and learn new skills.
“I’ve been going down to the boat, since my freshman year,” said Boatswain James Nolting, a Berkeley High School senior. “My friends were going and I figured I would try it. I’ll admit that at first I didn’t like it, but once I got to know people, it was really fun. You get a community away from everything else.”
Nelson-Barer recounts, “The reason why I started to go to Sea Scouts was because I wanted to meet new people. After I went, I met older kids my age and it became really fun. I’ve also learned how to operate the boat, build things, and use many types of machinery. Most importantly, I learned a lot of things from my peers.”
Berkeley Sea Scouts has been providing activities for youth in Berkeley since the 1930s. Kids go down to the boat, Farallon 44, at the Berkeley marina on weekends and work on it. Additionally, every Monday, there is an opportunity to go rowing in Alameda, accompanied by pizza and drinks.
“The membership is at around forty kids,” said Evans. “The way we do our membership is a ‘bring-a-buddy’ system. One of the issues we try to deal with is being good citizens.”
Nolting explains that Sea Scouts is not only a place for kids to learn essential skills, but also a place to have fun.
“On the boat, we teach carpentry and plumbing,” said Nolting.
“We teach people how to row. We do a lot of water-skiing activities and surfing activities. We do service projects at Angel Island. We go on overnighters to Jack London Square and see movies. We go on surf trips down to Santa Barbara. One of the best things is the big 10-day summer cruise to Sacramento, where we go water-skiing. We go anywhere that kids want to go. You stay in Sea Scouts because of people you meet
Lucas Buckman, former Sea Scout, says that his time at Sea Scouts was life-changing.
“I learned skills,” said Buckman, a BHS junior,” which I can channel into my everyday life. Sea Scouts helped me become more responsible. It’s like a brotherhood that I will never forget.”
Evans explains that the Berkeley Sea Scouts are not attempting to advance a political agenda, but rather they are just trying to survive.
“In August 1932, there were eight or nine Sea Scout boats at the marina,” said Evans. “We were the first boat, and we are the last. None of us are really political savvy to deal with these problems ... we really don’t have control over the policy [of the Boy Scouts].
“We are serving two masters: the city government and the management structure of the Boy Scouts. Serving two masters is an impossible situation. Our interest in this issue has been simply to stay alive. We just want to stay alive to be a Sea Scout unit to serve boys. There’s no political agenda on the Sea Scout boat.”
Evans credits young people in Berkeley with the survival of Farallon 44.
“The only way this organization survives is that we provide what the boys in Berkeley want,” remarked Evans. “We can’t do anything that it out-of-step with the young men of Berkeley who participate. Otherwise, we wouldn’t exist anymore.”
People who are interested in helping the Berkeley Sea Scouts continue to serve the youth of Berkeley may send donations or queries to: Sea Scouts Ship Farallon Inc., PO Box 184, El Cerrito, CA 94530.
Rio Bauce is a member of the Berkeley Sea Scouts.