The Sea Scouts are praised by many for teaching the young vital seamanship lessons, but leave it to someone young at heart to elaborate on the enduring value this international arm of the Boy Scouts still holds for a salt like himself.
At 90, Edward B. Stein is one of the Sea Scouts’ longest running members. “I was 15 years old when I joined,” Stein recalled, “and I’ve been a scout ever since.”
I caught up with this proud scout during the Chicago Strictly Sail Boat Show in February 2008. The well attended annual event is held indoors at the waterfront Navy Pier downtown, and a tour of all the booths that line the perimeter of the exhibition hall can take awhile, even longer if you stop at the booth of the Sea Scouts, where volunteers direct visitors immediately to Stein.
When I found him, he looked official enough. He sat on a narrow bench with back erect, wearing the pressed black formal uniform of the commodore’s station, ready to inspire those wet behind the ears with triumphant tales of unforgettable lessons learned aboard.
The uniform hinted at many leadership roles: Not only has Stein served for 50 years as the commodore of The Chicago Area Council of Sea Scouts, he also was commodore of Chicago’s Columbia Yacht Club for five years. And he is a former commodore of the Chicago Yachting Association, a group representing all the city’s yacht clubs.
Then there was his two-year stint with the U.S. Navy. Obviously, he’d already had a sailing background before he reported to the Sampson Naval Base at Seneca Lake, New York. He was living above the boathouse at Seneca, and the head of his department, also a sailor, knew Stein was one too, and so put him in charge of the base’s fleet of six 30-foot ketch-rigged sailboats. After his military service ended, he returned to Chicago to tend to his young family and embark on a manufacturing career in luggage and attache cases.
He has two daughters, he mentioned, and that was the perfect opener for his next comment: Since 1972, the Sea Scouts have been co-ed. (Scouts, who join “ships,” akin to the Boys Scouts’ troops, are from 14-20 years old.) “We have competition with the nautical skills,” Stein said. “One of the girls units beat out the boys units.”
In Chicago alone, Sea Scouts number 120, and are spread out in ships across five yacht clubs, which sponsor them.
Stein works tirelessly to promote local, regional, and national sea scout events, such as the summertime Thomas Smith Regatta in Chicago, as well as the upcoming Fourth Annual William I. Koch International Sea Scout Cup, July 13-19, 2008, at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. Sea Scouts will also crew in the upcoming centenary Chicago Mackinac Race aboard the Tripp 44 Nautilus, sponsored by, of course, the Columbia Yacht Club. For more information about the Chicago sea scouts and about Sea Scouts in general, consult the websites (www.chicagobsa.org, www.seascout.org).