Posts Tagged ‘key west’

Sunday was a morning long “drizzle” event at the Florida Sea Base.  It was a morning where you have a choice: (1) don’t wear rain gear and get damp, or (2) wear rain gear and get even wetter from sweating inside.  I took option one; you don’t stink as bad at the end of the day and neither does the rain gear.  The drizzle did not have a significant impact on program; the divers still went diving and the sailors still went sailing.  The afternoon was sweltering from the humidity.

I continue the battle to get the three to four year old outdated information regarding scuba crews visiting Key West removed from the official Florida Sea Base website.  I am embarrassed and disappointed that the entire organization does not have whatever is necessary to remove a few sentences from the website.  In the meantime, REGARDLESS of what you read on the FSB website ( please know that Coral Reef Sailing, Eco Adventure, Out Island, Scuba Adventure, Scuba Certification and Scuba Liveaboard crews DO NOT go to Key West as part of their Florida Sea Base adventure.

Another piece of advice.  Please don’t come to the Florida Sea Base with hopes of being a participant if you can’t complete the BSA Swimmer’s Test in a strong manner.  This requirement is found in the BSA Guide to Safe Scouting and is required  for boating activities at all BSA events, not just the Florida Sea Base.  In addition to the BSA Guide to Safe Scouting, the requirement is mentioned multiple times in the FSB Participant’s Guide.  It was a tense Sunday morning when I had an adult in my office with plans of participating in one of the scuba programs even though he was not able to complete the swim test the day before.  He was very disappointed and I felt like a heel.  The adult had emailed me asking what would happen if he did not complete the swim test so he was very aware of the consequences prior to his arrival.

The good news for Sunday was that two of the scuba instructors that we were concerned about were able to receive arriving crews.  That really got us over the hump for now.  The sailing staff was on the ball yesterday and did an exceptional job of keeping the participants who were on base for shore leave entertained during the morning drizzle.  Ranger Jeff Johnson was a big help when I received a very confusing telephone call.  First I was told the water had been turned off to the participant showers.  Then I received a call that it wasn’t the showers but 5 toilets were backed up.  Jeff met me at the dorm.  We couldn’t find any backed up toilets (thank goodness) but we did find the water running VERY slowly in the male showers.  Jeff located a valve that had been turned off by accident.  Thanks Jeff.

I have an appointment with General Manager Captain Paul Beal at 0800 to discuss a complaint filed with the National Office by a well intentioned MD.  She seems to have been given some misinformation and is not happy.  I’m not sure that I can make her happy, but I can explain the official policies of the BSA and that the Florida Sea Base is bound by those policies.

Have a great day.

Capt. Steve Willis
Aboard S/V Escape

Thursday was Mr. Rob Kolb’s day to address the combined staffs from the Florida Sea Base and the Brinton Environmental Center.  The meeting was hosted at our facility again this year.  Almost every year we discuss having this part of training at the Brinton Center, but it never happens.  I’m sure that a part of the reason is because most of the guest speakers are from the Upper Keys and the 50 mile drive to Brinton may be asking too much of them.  A representative from Bank of America made a pitch about why the staff members should open an account with them.  Former FSB staff member and now Deputy Director of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, Mary Tagliarini, and former FSB staff member and now Florida Wildlife Commission Lieutenant Liz Reisz made presentations plus the local blood bank was on site taking donations.  For the third year in a row we set a new record for the number of blood and platelet donations made by the Florida Sea Base / Brinton Environment Center staff members.  Most of the full time FSB staff members were also assigned topics for the day’s meeting.  Training concluded early and Mr. Kolb took the staff to see the newest Pirates of the Caribbean movie followed by dinner back at base.

This coming weekend is Memorial Day and the big opening weekend for this summer’s participants.  The chance of rain has been increased to 30% for today through Monday.  The Colorado State University releases an update to their 2011 hurricane forecast on 01 June.  I hope to put together a post on 02 June addressing that topic – stay tuned.

Jim Aspell sent in the following comment:


I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoy your blog. Our Troop 146 from West Hartford, CT does the coral reef trip every two years and we always have a great time. I personally was on base in 2010 and did a week with Harman on Dutch Love. Our second crew that year did the week with Ed on Siesta and had an equaly great time (although a little more on island time than we were with Harman., lol) I enjoyed myself so much I came back here and bought an O’Day Mariner and have begun to dream of the cruising life :)

We will be back in April 2012 for another week of sailing on the reefs. What a great program! I understand the reasons the program changed (fuel endurance/morality) but our only wish is that the Coral Reef program still did the Key West run.

You should post a bicture of Escape on your blog!



Thanks for the kind words Jim.  I understand your sentiments about Key West.  The “Key West Day” has been removed from all programs except Sea Exploring (which may happen in 2012 or 2013), Open Oceans Adventure (which starts and ends in Key West), Order of the Arrow Oceans Adventure (OA members only), Keys Adventure and maybe the Florida Fishing Adventure (I stay confused about whether they go or not).  As you can see, there are some programs still visiting Key West.  To be clear, here are the programs that DO NOT visit Key West as part of the itinerary: Coral Reef Sailing (Jim’s favorite), Eco Adventure, Scuba Adventure, Scuba Certification, Scuba Liveaboard, Out Island Adventure, and (as noted above) maybe the Florida Fishing Adventure.

Fuel and concerns over the lack of proper adult supervision of the kids while in Key West were considerations in removing Key West from these programs.  However, what drove the changes were two other factors. First was YEARS of Coral Reef Sailing participant critiques complaining that they did not get to sail enough due to the “forced march” to Key West.  The boats were forced to average around 5 knots to make the trip.  Sometimes the wind doesn’t cooperate with a set schedule so a lot of motoring was required to insure timely arrival at Key West and to return to the Florida Sea Base.  So we decided to model the program after our very successful Bahamas Sailing program and remove the destination.  Now, wind is the only determining factor.  The crew can literally go where the wind carries them from day to day and we are seeing a LOT more sailing and (as pointed out by Jim) a reduction in fuel purchases.

The second reason was also based on participant critiques; the scuba crews wanted more dives.  So we removed Key West from the itinerary and replaced that day with another day of diving.  Accomplishing this required the purchase of another $300,000 dive boat (so there went the savings from the Coral Reef Sailing fuel reduction).

Finally, the Risk Management folks in Dallas felt that transporting kids on US 1 was the most dangerous thing we did.  Obviously that didn’t affect Coral Reef Sailing going to Key West, but the other crews were taken by school bus or vans.  We had a perfect safety record, but it was likely a matter of time until we had a catastrophe.

Again, thanks for the comment Jim.  What we are suggesting for those who really want a day in Key West is to come a day early or stay a day late and add the Key West day to your Tour Plan.  Key West is a GREAT place to visit.  But the trip needs to be planned and supervised.  Key West can be a positive experience for Scouts when state parks, museums and Scout appropriate sites are scheduled.  But without adult supervision there are inappropriate opportunities for the kids (and adults).  And speaking of adults, while very rare, it was very infuriating to be called in the middle of the night to drive an hour and a half to Key West to liberate adult Scouters from the local police because the leaders were holed up at Sloppy Joe’s (or one of the other 650 bars in Key West) while the kids roamed Duval Street without supervision.  As we know, all it takes is one numb-skull to ruin an otherwise great opportunity.

Ok, off the soap-box.  Here’s a photo of S/V Escape at Morgans Bluff, Andros Island, Bahamas.

Click to enlarge.

Yesterday was my dad’s 79th birthday.  I love you, Dad.  As with many Eagle Scouts, my award should have gone to my dad; he worked harder guiding me along than I did.  I remember him hiking with serious blisters and the torturous bike ride from Fort Worth to Burkburnett, Texas in the grueling heat of the Texas summer on single speed bikes with camping gear and rations for the weekend.  There were many other sacrifices on his part, but those were the two most painful that I recall.

Have a great day.

Capt. Steve
Aboard S/V Escape

IF the forecast holds, the Florida Sea Base will not be effected by what was Tropical Storm Colin.  At 20:05 EDT Tuesday the storm was downgraded by the National Hurricane Center to “a trough of low pressure”.   The system is still forecasted to track east of the Bahamas and will be monitored for potential redevelopment.  As of 02:05 EDT there were three tropical waves in the Atlantic and Caribbean.  One of these bears watching but will pose no threat for at least several days.  Our local weather remains to be very good.  We do have a few spotty showers creeping into the area, but nothing of significance.  We had a 10 minute shower yesterday morning during breakfast.

The “static kill” operation at the Deepwater Horizon site started at 16:00 Tuesday.  From what I am reading, there does not appear to be a “Plan B” if this fails.  The site is blessed with decent weather.  Let us pray that this maneuver is successful.

Simply because it continues to be an issue with arriving crews, I want to remind everyone that Coral Reef Sailing, Scuba Adventure, Scuba Certification, Scuba Liveaboard, Out Island, and Keys Fishing Adventure do NOT spend a day in Key West as part of their Florida Sea Base adventure.  If you are registered for one of those programs and want to go to Key West, you will need to come a day early or stay a day late and make your own arrangements for visiting Key West.

I was permitted to drive BSA Explorer yesterday with three crews on board for their final dive at the Florida Sea Base.  I want to thank Mike Patten for being my First Mate for the trip.  The divemasters on the boat included Christy Clemenson, Brittany Haury, Paul Lipsky and Kevin Wilson.  Kevin just arrived last night to fill in for Meghann Michalski who is bailing out on us early this summer.  We went to a spur and groove reef formation named Three Peaks.  The divers attained a maximum depth of 50 – 55 feet and stayed down for about 40 minutes.  The water temperature was 86º and the visibility was 70+ feet.

Also in scuba related news, I would like to congratulate Meghann Michalski and Christy Clemenson for recently receiving the Master Scuba Diver Trainer certification from PADI.  MSDT is the second level within the PADI instructor hierarchy.  If Christy’s parents are reading this, I think it is my duty to let you know she is considering legally changing her name from Clemenson to Awesome.  James Bond introduces himself as “Bond, James Bond”.  Christy wants to be able to say, “I’m Awesome, Christy Awesome”.  She explained to me that she feels it is only fair to warn others of her “awesomeness”.

Today is another scuba arrival day (only three more after today).  We are hoping for an uneventful check-in, but little glitches do tend to present themselves.  Ellen will be prepared.  She is our official “first impression” of the Florida Sea Base.  She greets all of the arriving crews with enthusiasm and she is very good at resolving most of their check-in issues.  I usually get the call when their is a major issue.  (I’m the bad guy.)

I will miss the early part of the check-ins.  The full time staff is meeting this afternoon to set our assumption for attendance for the 2011 programs.  This in turn controls our budget assumptions and limitations.  The Florida Sea Base is essentially self sustaining.  We do get donations from time to time.  But almost all of our income is from campers’ fees.  There is no “subsidy” from the National Council or elsewhere.

Here we go again.  It’s opening day at the Florida Sea Base for about 100 newly arriving participants.

Capt. Steve
Aboard S/V Escape

I was gone for a couple of days and essentially had no news about the Florida Sea Base to report.  But I am back now so here’s the tiny bit we missed.

I would like to AGAIN remind the adult leaders that the Coral Reef Sailing, Scuba Certification, Scuba Adventure, Scuba Liveaboard, Out Island and Florida Fishing Adventure participants DO NOT go to Key West as part of their Florida Sea Base or Brinton Environmental Center program.  You are welcome to arrive in the Keys a day early or to stay a day after your program, but you cannot leave the FSB or BEC program to enjoy a day in Key West.  I am aware that there is outdated information in the Florida Sea Base Participant Guide and on the FSB website.  These are being corrected.  Regardless, it is important that you understand that Key West is NOT a part of the above listed adventures.

Other than that, there is little to report.  T/S Bonnie is long gone.  The wind is down and the temperature is up a little.  There is nothing in the tropics that is likely to develop over the next several days.  T/S Bonnie has also passed the Deepwater Horizon blowout location and the workers are returning to their posts.  Their is speculation that the well MAY be permanently shut down some time next week.  Let us pray.

That’s all I have for now (except a lot of catching up).

Capt. Steve
Aboard S/V Escape

Good morning from the Florida Sea Base.  Yesterday got off to an okay but less than perfect start.  We had a lack of communication and scheduling when four boats needed to be on the fuel dock simultaneously – including BSA Explorer which I was driving.  (It will only accomodate one boat at a time.)  Then, as S/V Tradewind was pulling away from the dock something happened and the collapsable bladder (like a giant heavy duty balloon) that serves as the holding tank leaked and raw sewage drained into the bilge.  Capt. Martin got the mess cleaned up in surprising short order so I am assuming that it was a very small leak.

The triple scuba crew from Missouri was fired up again today and took our delayed departure in high spirits.  As we approached our first dive site there was rain and lightening so we decided to move a little further west.  This put us a little more behind schedule and the first dive was not concluded until noon.  While the divers were down we had another storm cell form and we got a good “fresh water rinse”.  We had better luck at the second dive  site and the weather broke.  Then we went to the wreck site of the San Pedro for lunch and snorkeling.  We returned to base a little after 15:00 so the crew could prepare for the night dive.

To assure that no diver is left behind, we call role by name before we leave the dock and before we leave each dive site.  There is no emergency that will cause us to skip calling role.  it is a must do.  Yesterday, Capt. Rich was driving BSA Adventure back from the last dive of the day.  About three quarters of the way back one of the adult leaders went to the bridge and told Capt. Rich that the adult leader’s son was not on the boat.  As you can imagine, Capt. Rich was seriously concerned.  He stopped the boat and had the divemasters repeat the roll call.  The one kid did not answer.  Capt. Rich was turning the boat around and about to notify the US Coast Guard of a lost diver when the youth was found on board, wedged under the seat with gear bags covering him up.  He was taking a nap.  Whew!!!  There was relief and thoughts of homicide simultaneously.  Roll call works.  Hiding in crawl spaces and taking a nap without telling anyone doesn’t work.

Please remember that Coral Reef Sailing, Scuba Adventure, Scuba Certification and Scuba Liveaboard crews do not go to Key West.  Yes, the packing guide says to bring walking shoes for Key West.  That was our mistake.  We failed to edit it of the Participant Guide prior to the last printing.  Regardless of what the packing list says, these adventures DO NOT include a day in Key West.

Speaking of the Participant Guide and packing lists, it also recommends boat shoes for sailing crews (Coral Reef Sailing and Sea Exploring).  Those are not necessary.  You will go barefoot on the boats.  Save your money to spend in the Ships Store.

Two days ago I had an adult leader threatening to cancel their adventure because she heard oil from the Deepwater Horizon blowout was heading to the Keys.  There is no oil from the Deepwater Horizon site in the Florida Keys.  There is no such oil within several hundred miles of the Florida Keys.  We do not expect any of this oil to impact our area for the next several months – if ever.  I’m not sure what hype has resurfaced in the news, but we are okay and have NO expectation that oil from the Deepwater Horizon well will impact us this summer.

Thank you for making time to read today’s blog.  I do this as a service for the participants, staff and charter captains of the Florida Sea Base.  Please feel free to submit comments or information you would like posted.  I reserve the right to pick and choose and to edit or comment on your comments.  But I will still share accurate, Scout appropriate information even if I don’t totally agree with it.

Capt. Steve
Aboard S/V Escape


Wow.  We can usually advertise “Come to the Sunny Florida Keys”.  For the folks from the northeastern US, this week we can advertise “Come to the Mild Florida Keys”.  Jerry Reed (of “Smokey and the Bandit” fame) wrote a song, “When You’re Hot You’re Hot”.  I bet they’re playing that on the radio up north.

Invest 95 is dead and Invest 96 is focused on the Texas border so the Florida Sea Base is in good shape for now.  There were no other areas of likely concern posted on the National Hurricane Center website this morning.

It was good to have a post from Capt. Rich yesterday.  We have written on the topic of Key West before, but here’s a quick reminder.  SEA EXPLORING crews, KEYS ADVENTURE crews, and OPEN OCEANS ADVENTURE crews visit Key West as part of their Florida Sea Base itinerary.  NONE of the other programs include Key West in the Florida Sea Base itinerary.  If you want to take your crew to Key West, you will have to arrange that on you own and it will have to be before you arrive at the Florida Sea Base or after you leave the Florida Sea Base.  You CANNOT take a day off in the middle of your Florida Sea Base adventure to go to Key West.  I’m not sure how to make it any clearer.  SEA EXPLORING, KEYS ADVENTURE, and OPEN OCEANS ADVENTURE crews go to Key West.  ALL OTHER PROGRAMS DO NOT INCLUDE TIME IN KEY WEST.  Coral Reef Sailing does NOT go to Key West.  Eco Adventure does NOT go to Key West.  Scuba Certification does NOT go to Key West.  Scuba Adventure does NOT go to Key West.  Scuba Liveaboard does NOT go to Key West.  It doesn’t matter if you have your own transportation.  It doesn’t matter if it’s on your National Tour Permit.  You cannot interrupt your Florida Sea Base program to take a side trip to Key West.  If visiting Key West is the focus of your trip to the Florida Sea Base, please register for Sea Exploring, Keys Adventure or the Open Oceans programs.

Ok.  I’ve got to run.

Sorry for the abrupt ending this morning but I was running later than I realized.  So far this morning everything is running smooth.  I had another adult leader stop in an comment (positively) on the blog.  That’s always nice.  There were no super-issues this morning.  Capt. Rich and I spent some time together working on the 2011 budget.  OUCH!  There is going to be some serious justifications going on for me to sell our current proposal to the General Manager.  There is nothing unreasonable in the first draft of the budget – except the bottom line.  One of my jobs is to provide safe programming.  Another is to provide fun with high adventure elements.  And yet another is to do so at the most reasonable cost possible.  “Reasonable” is sometimes hard to define.  But I am prepared to defend every line item of the program budget.  There are some things you simply have to have.

I hope your day goes well.

Capt. Steve
Aboard S/V Escape

It was a great day at the Florida Sea Base.  I started out the day in sweatpants and a jacket.  By 1000 I was in shorts and a long sleeved shirt.  By lunch the sleeves were rolled up.

We did not have any new crews arrive at Florida Sea Base today, but we did have 5 Coral Reef Sailing crews return to base for their “fun day”.  This kept the Coral Reef staff and galley staff pretty busy.  All of the Divemasters were out diving with their crews.  Milly has a crew of 6.  Half are certified and half are completing their Open Water Diver certification with her.  They were on a boat to themselves with Capt. Dennis Wyatt and knocked out 3 dives today.  The other Scuba Adventure crews went out on BSA Adventure with Capt. Carol Chapman and First Mate Rick Kuras.  They did 2 dives and then went back out for a night dive with Capt. Rich Beliveau relieving Capt. Carol.

I know I have mentioned this several times this spring, but we have a GREAT staff.  I continue to be impressed with their cohesion and scouting spirit.

Capt. Alex Bergstedt helped me put the motor on my (relatively) new dinghy and get it launched today.  I have a little 2 stroke Mercury 15 horsepower motor.  It hasn’t been run in over 10 years.  So I put it in the shop a few weeks ago and had them install a carburetor kit and change the lower unit oil.  Capt. Alex pulled the starter cord once and she fired up.  We drove her around for 15 or 20 minutes and she ran fine.  15 horsepower is just barely enough to get my rigid inflatable dinghy on plane.  But plane she did and all is well.

I believe Capt. Rich has finished hiring all of the summer sailing staff.  I have one scuba opening left and several applications.  I will fill that position in the next day or two.

Tomorrow Capt. Rich, Rob Kolb (our immediate supervisor) and I are going to the Naval Air Station in Key West.  Years ago, the Sea Exploring crews used to dock on Navy property where the old submarine basin used to be.  That dock was given to the City of Key West and turned in to a cruise ship pier.  So we were booted out.  We are now trying to get approval to dock at a different part of the Naval Air Station.  Rob Kolb has been working with one of the Florida Sea Base Committee members, Dan McCarty, Admiral, US Navy, Retired, for the past few months.  I think the mission tomorrow is to visit the site where we would be allowed to dock and work out security issues.

That’s all for today.  I’ll let you know what happens in Key West tomorrow.

I was wrong.  The blue creatures floating around the harbor at the Florida Sea Base (and elsewhere) yesterday were NOT juvenile Portuguese Man-of-Wars; they are Sail Jellyfish.  I apologize for the misinformation.  According to Milly McCoy and other sources, the Sail Jellyfish do not sting.  This photo is from

The Scuba Adventure crews went to Key West today.  It was – of course – a very nice afternoon.  Hopefully the weather will hold for the next few days.  Two of the Coral Reef Sailing crews returned to the base today for their mid-week “fun day” of small boat sailing, kayaking, volleyball, tubing and movie watching.

Rafael Arrom and his ranger staff (Capt. Martin Ivy and Divemaster Joe Schreiner) repaired our gasoline pump today.  It has been wounded for a couple of weeks but we are in the gas pumping business again.  The Florida Sea Base has its own gasoline and diesel tanks for fueling the boats and Sea Base vehicles.

That’s about all for today.  It’s been a relatively quiet, successful day.  I am looking forward to getting some serious sleep tonight.

The chief complaint from the Florida Sea Base Scuba Adventure and Scuba Certification participants has been that they wanted to do more dives and did not want to spend a non-diving day wandering around Key West.  While this complaint was not unanimous, it was frequent and strong.  Crews were sent to sightsee in Key West for one day of their program simply because the Florida Sea Base did not own enough vessels to be able to have every crew on the water every day.  [When I started working at the Florida Sea Base as a Scuba Instructor in 2000, the crews actually spent two days per week off base; one day in Key West and one day at a third party dive shop.  After I became the Program Director for scuba we were able to add enough boats to only require one day off base which translated into a savings of $50,000 per year.]  Now that has changed.  I mentioned in the 07 December 2009 post that program changes might be made in 2010 for the Scuba Adventure and Scuba Certification programs.  The changes are being made to allow more diving.  This will be accomplished by phasing out the non-diving day that was formerly spent in Key West.

The change will be implemented for the Scuba Certification crews starting in February 2010. In the past, the Scuba Certification crews spent the first three days in the classroom and pool.  Day four was spent on the ocean completing Open Water Training Dives 1 and 2.  Day five was spent on the ocean completing Open Water Training Dives 3 and 4 (which completed the certification requirements).  Day six was spent sight seeing in Key West.  The morning of day seven allowed one “fun dive” (non-training dive)  and the afternoon was dedicated to completing paperwork, cleaning and checking in scuba gear and preparing for the luau.  Day eight was the departure day.  The schedule will remain the same EXCEPT instead of going to Key West on day six, the crew will be on the ocean getting in two more “fun dives”.  So the Scuba Certification crews will now complete their classroom sessions, pool training dives, 4 Open Water Training Dives and three “fun dives”.  This increases the total number of dives from five to seven.

Beginning in May 2010, the Scuba Adventure crews will also have two more dives replacing the former trip to Key West. The Scuba Adventure program currently strives for 9 dives (weather permitting) including one night dive plus one non-diving day sight seeing in Key West.  Effective May 2010 Scuba Adventure crews will not have to miss a day of diving.  They will now complete 11 dives (weather permitting) including a night dive.

These changes were made possible by the addition of a third Newton 46 Dive Special boat to our fleet.  This is a $300,000 custom built dive boat and will be delivered to the Florida Sea Base in April 2010.  The purchase was made possible by donations from several of the Florida Sea Base Advisory Committee members.

This is our original Newton 46 Dive Special. I will post a picture of the new boat when she is received.

We are very excited to be able to add two dives (weather permitting) to the schedule for all of our Scuba Adventure and Scuba Certification crews.  Obviously this is a very expensive improvement in program.  Not only does it require the expense of another vessel, but more Divemasters, Captains and Dive Boats Mates have to be hired.  This change keeps the program on base instead of driving the participants 74 miles each way to visit Key West.

Some crews enjoyed visiting Key West and that is still a possibility BEFORE or AFTER your Florida Sea Base adventure.  The adult leader will need to make arrangements for the crew’s travel and housing in Key West and include this side trip in their National Tour Permit application.