This summer I had the amazing opportunity to travel to Florida with Harry and his fellow Boy Scouts to participate in Sea Base Out Island Adventure.
If you’re here because you have googled “Sea Base Out Island Adventure” and are tying to prepare for your trip; you’re in the right spot. I’ll break down our trip for you and will even create an unofficial Sea Base packing list according to my experience. If you’re here because you heard I went to a deserted island and are wondering what in the heck I was thinking; you’re in the right place. I’ll let you know exactly what I was thinking.
Almost two years ago Harry came home from a Boy Scout meeting and said they were planning a trip to Florida Sea Base for a High Adventure and he wanted to go. Scouts have to be 13 to attend this particular High Adventure and he would be old enough when it was time for the trip. Never wanting to stifle his excitement for an enriching activity, we said “yes” even though he was 11 at the time. In my head I knew he would be 13 in two years and able to go without a parent but in my heart he was just an 11-year-old asking to fly to Florida and do ocean activities on his own.
Because I was unable to imagine what he would be capable of at 13, I signed up to go with him.
Flash forward to this summer!
We had 16 people attend Sea Base from our Boy Scout troop. 5 adults and 11 boys ranging in ages 13 to 16. We were split into two crews of 8 and each crew had a “crew mate.” Crew Mates are Sea Base employees who are trained and skilled in island adventure and sea fairing ways. Think of them as a cross between a camp counselor, a sea boat captain, and a jolly pirate that only participate in the fun parts of piracy; not the nasty, illegal bits. Their role is to ensure the safety of the crews, keep the Scouts engaged in island activities and set the mood.
Leading up to Sea Base I became CPR certified, attended Wilderness First Aid Training, went to the gym sort of regularly, and passed a 100 yard swim test.
Before we get into the nitty-gritty of the trip, I must disclose that this turned out to be a unicorn of an adventure.
Looking back, there is no way I would be able to go back to Sea Base and have the same experience again. If anything could go right…it did. It started with a tropical storm, that promised to dump rain on us all week, that took a turn out to sea and the weather was perfect. The air was hot and humid but the ocean breeze offered relief. Every single person on the trip was a pleasure to be with. The adults were a blast and hilarious and the boys were encouraging, thoughtful, funny, and kind. Everyone struggled at some point on the trip but they each found ways to cope with their hardship be it physical or emotional. The icing on the cake was the two Sea Base Crew Mates that were assigned to our group. Nick and Caleb are 20-something brothers who’s playful banter and comradery set the tone for our trip. Their energy was infectious. They loved being on the island so much that suddenly we thought that maybe we were island people too when just days prior we might have been dreading it.
Nick and Caleb introduced us to my new favorite motto:
The difference between and adventure and an ordeal is your attitude.
While I would encourage every Scout to attend Sea Base if they have the chance, I truly feel that our experience could never be duplicated.
Travel to Sea Base Out Island Adventure
We flew direct from Dallas to Key West. From Key West we took public transportation from the airport to Looe Key Resort (let the record show that they are playing fast and loose with the term “resort”). We had to take a shuttle bus and then transfer to a city bus to get to Looe Key. Thank goodness we allowed a day of travel so as to not feel crunched for time because the pubic buses used the bus time table as more of a guideline as opposed to a schedule. On the bright side, the long bus ride gave the boys a perspective of travel that they probably hadn’t experienced.
We stayed at Looe Key Resort because the Hampton Inn was upwards of $500/night. Looe Key Resort was more of a motel but the rooms were clean and the beds comfortable and it has a tiki bar/restaurant on property. There weren’t any other places to eat within walking distance (other than the Texaco where we found everything we needed for breakfast) so perhaps it does earn the moniker of “resort” after all.
The next day we decided to take Uber to Sea Base. It cost just a little bit more than the public bus but was much more reliable and timely.
Once at Sea Base we met our Crew Mates, got a tour of the facilities, put our stuff in our dormitories and immediately donned our swim suits to do a swim text and check our snorkel gear. After dinner we encouraged everyone to check in with their families as all the cell phones would be locked away while were were on the island. We told parents that “no news was good news” and that they wouldn’t hear from us again until we returned from our adventure 5 days later.
Day One on Munson Island
Munson island is a primitive island (no electricity, running water, or buildings) owned by BSA. It is about 1 mile long by 1/2 mile wide and was gifted to the Boy Scouts many years ago as a place to allow Scouts the chance for island adventure and teach conservation.
Each of our personal items had to fit into a 50 liter water proof bag and we were responsible for carrying all of our own stuff. After a hearty lunch we boarded our vessels and headed out to Munson island. Each vessel was a 8-person canoe that held us, our bags, and a Crew Mate at the rudder. We paddled 6 miles to the island in about 2 hours. Two years ago when I heard that we had to canoe 6 miles to a deserted island, I imagined myself battling waves in the open ocean, struggling to make it. When in reality it was a group effort. The biggest wave was a small wake from a passing boat and we were never out of sight of land.
Once we made it to Munson Island we waded ashore with our one bag of belongings, a bag of snorkel gear, and apprehensive excitement. Sargassum seaweed lined the shore. It’s not an unusual occurrence despite what the news tells you. However, it is smelly and uncomfortable to walk through. Unfortunately, we had to trudge through 5 to 20 feet (depending on the tide) of stinky sargassum to get to and from our canoes (which happens multiple times a day). It didn’t take long for most of the boys to get over the smell and gross feeling of walking through sludge. I, on the other hand, never got used to it. It was a mental exercise in overcoming an obstacle that I knew could limit my ability to enjoy myself.
While we brought all of our personal belongings in the canoe, all of our water and food for the week was brought in a boat from Sea Base. Each crew was provided 110 gallons of water and a large tub of canned and fresh food to ration throughout the week. It was up to the boys to get everything from the boat to the campsites. They formed a fire line through the sargassum from the boat to the beach, handing off 5 gallon jugs of water to each other and worked together to get the food ashore. The adults weren’t allowed to help. In fact, we were told to take a back seat for everything. We were to let the boys figure it out; breakfast, lunch, and dinner, division of duties, time management, etc. The only time we were supposed to step in was if for safety reasons. The Crew Mates were in charge!
I will admit; the first day on the island was very tough. It was a challenge mentally and physically. I was on sensory overload from the heat, the smell of sargassum, physical exhaustion, and being wet all day. I wondered what I had gotten myself into and it took a while for me to process everything I was seeing and feeling. Thankfully the other adults were amazing and had great attitudes. I’m especially thankful for the other woman on the trip. Having another woman to confide in and depend on during a challenge such as this was a huge comfort. Jill and I quickly became bonded by our circumstance and a support system for each other. Jill’s coping mechanism to deal with the hard parts of the trip was to look for the beauty around us and proclaim all the things we had to be grateful for. Looking for the silver lining and gratitude makes for a much better tent mate than a complainer.
Our adventure was so grand and there is so much to cover that I will divide the recap up into multiple posts. Everyone would admit that the first day on Munson island was really hard. But the one thing that surprised me were the toilets. The composting toilets were the only structures on the island. I expected them to be like typical campsite toilets or port-a-potties: disgusting. That was not the case! They didn’t smell at all, they were clean and breezy. In fact, this is where I changed every day. Getting in and out of a wet swim suit is better done standing up than laying down in a hot tent.
Next up…day two on our Sea Base Out Island Adventure.