Every year for the past 40 years, the San Fernando Valley Yacht Club and the Western Los Angeles County Council Boy Scouts have gathered to spend a day on the water learning the basics of sailing at the annual Venturing Sailing Symposium.
This year 53 kids met at the Pardee Scout Sea Base in Marina del Rey to get instruction and later venture into the Santa Monica Bay for a light-hearted regatta to test their knowledge.
It all started back in 1968 when a member of the San Fernando Valley Yacht Club and professional scouter, Gilbert Buffery, was hungry to enroll Boy Scouts into a competition called the National Explorer Sailing Championship.
Buffery was an avid sailor and he thought the Scouts needed a program to teach kids the merits of the sport and, with others, he developed the program to prepare them for the competition.
“We started a series of events to introduce kids to sailing, particularly yacht racing, and of all those events, the Sailing Symposium remained,” said Art Langton, longtime chairman of the program.
The symposium location has changed through the years, but for the last 17 it has thrived in Marina del Rey and flexed with the changes of the organizations that participate.
These days, young people come from all over the Los Angeles County area and from a variety of different divisions that reside under the Boy Scout umbrella including Sea Scouts, Venture crews, Varsity Scouting teams and Boy Scout troops.
Participants have a range of sailing experience, but many don’t have very much boating experience.
“Most of the scouts have never sailed before,” says Langton. “And for others it’s something brand new and different.”
For many of these new sailors it might have been the first and last day they hit the open ocean in a sailboat.
The weather Saturday, October 11th, was a handful for even the most experienced mariner. There were six-to-seven-foot swells and 20-knot winds. For the uninitiated, it would be an adult sampling of the ocean’s character and a golden opportunity to experience the agony of seasickness.
“Some of the kids that got seasick might never go out again, ” said Langton, smiling sympathetically. “This year’s event was a little different. It was quite windy out there. We thought we were going to get a break in the wind when we started, but it didn’t happen that way.”
The race committee called it a day early when their anchor wouldn’t hold, which for the seasick kids might have been the best thing that could have happened.
“We had a great sail and I taught the kids as much as possible in the short time we had,” said volunteer skipper Jim Doherty. “They ran one race and had to cancel the second race due to the extreme conditions.”
But even with the turbulent weather, by the end of the afternoon, the symposium had accomplished what it was meant to do and what is has been doing for four decades — to introduce, teach and inspire young people to experience what they are not familiar with.
“Back through the 40 years, some of those who have taken part have won the National Explorer Sailing Championship and participated in the U.S. Olympic trials,” said Langton, reminiscing. “And many others became just good recreational sailors.”