Scouting magazine

Sailing to success aboard the SSS Dominion

It’s official: The SSS Dominion, aka Ship 100 of the National Capital Area Council, has won the 2017 National Flagship Award, presented by the Boat Owners Association of America and Sea Scouts BSA. Skipper Todd Skiles — who has earned the Honor Medal, BSA’s lifesaving award — says Ship 100’s feat is a story of hard work, perseverance and learning from early mistakes.

In 2013, after a year and a half of sailing, Skiles and his young crew were discouraged.

“We had actually taken a preliminary vote to fold the ship,” Skiles says. “We didn’t have the adult leadership in place, and we were trying to do too many things at once for a new unit.”

After “a lot of changes,” the crew made progress, but Skiles still wasn’t oozing confidence when Ship 100, which is chartered by the Freedom Museum in Manassas, Va., filed its lengthy application for the Flagship Award.

“I thought of it as really more of a diagnostic to see how we were doing,” he says. “I thought we’d use their comments as a way of getting better.”

Others were cautiously optimistic after listing all the activities they had managed to do during the year.

“When we were done with all we did and we looked back, we thought it was pretty amazing stuff. Maybe we should apply,” Sea Scout Will Hunter says.

Keith Christopher, Sea Scouts national director, presented the award to the crew of Ship 100.

“The selection committee was impressed with your ship’s accomplishments in such a short time,” he told them. “Your enthusiasm, willingness to learn from others, and your commitment to get on the water regularly helped you to focus on the program.”

Skiles shared a few tips that can help any Sea Scouts chart a course to excellence:

Pick the right adults. “It’s easier to teach good Scouters how to sail than teach good sailors how to Scout,” Skiles says. “They’ve got to be good with kids. The equipment will do pretty much what you tell it to, but teenagers? Not so much.”

Get out on the water as much as possible. Don’t fall into the “knots trap,” sitting there weekend after weekend learning knots. And don’t get hung up on uniforms. Unless there’s a ceremony, his crew wears tie-dyed T-shirts they make in his driveway. “If you’re out on the boat and you’re covered in transmission fluid, a T-shirt is fine,” Skiles says.

Smile. If you mess up in front of the kids, they know it. Own your mistakes. Kids tease, but that’s part of the charm.

Above all, get the Scouts out on a long cruise by the second year, and don’t be too picky about the float plan. “Follow the wind,” says Skiles. “They want to feel that boat keel over.”