The scouts stand with the skipper and first officers upon crew south’s weather-delayed return to South Haven from Mackinac City. 
Enjoying a calm moment are (from left) skipper Jeff Vail, Matthew Willa and Sam Apol on the way to Mackinac City.

Boy Scouts find great adventure on Great Lakes

Kayla Deneau, Staff Writer

“It smells like the Lions locker room in here,” joked skipper Jeff Vail.

The smell was to be expected after 10 boy scouts, two first officers, one skipper and one boat sailed from South Haven to Mackinac City and back in 13 days as part of Hopkins Troop 96’s high adventure program.

Vail said this was the group’s first time taking the trip.

He said the troop had not previously had the high adventure program so he decided to take it on and offered the group three choices of trips: backpacking through the Porcupine Mountains, canoeing through Minnesota or the sailing trip.

“They were all equal costs and they chose sailing,” he said. “Only one of them had had previous sailing experience.”

Beginning in January the troop began a 10-week training during which they learned about sailing theories, boat systems and more.

After completing the course, they began practical drills off shore in South Haven.

“We did a lot of man overboard drills,” Vail said. “It’s a skill you need to know but hope you never have to use.”

Two separate crews manned the boat, “crew north” on the way to Mackinac and “crew south” on the way back. The group spent two days in Mackinac together. Each crew consisted of five boy scouts, a first officer and the skipper.

The five-day trip to Mackinac became a six-day trip back due to weather.

Crew south’s first officer Ryan Powers said the safety of Scouts was the main priority in deciding to delay the trip.

“We got to port and knew the weather report,” he said, “We went ahead and booked two nights right away.”

“They learned a valuable lesson,” Vail said. “Don’t measure waves in feet”

“Measure it in increments of fear,” finished Life Scout and Allegan High School senior John Barber.

Barber was the only Scout with previous sailing experience.

“The trip was great; I loved it,” he said. “All my experience before was small boat sailing. I really enjoyed the longer trip with larger boats and larger bodies of water.”

Each crew did one 24-hour run between South Haven and Ludington from noon to noon. The crew split into two teams and took three-hour shifts.

Vail said, “All the boys switched roles and did everything. We (Vail and the first officer) were basically a redundant piece of equipment. The boys ran the boat.”

Life Scout and Allegan senior Matt Harris said it was an amazing experience.

“I didn’t really get sailing by touch at first,” he said. “By the end I could just feel it and it was really cool.”

Jacob Hansen, Allegan High School senior and Life Scout, said the coolest experience of the trip was sailing across the 45th parallel.

Allegan High School sophomore and Life Scout Hosley Werner explained the parallel is halfway between the North Pole and the equator. When they crossed it they all completed a ceremony where they stood with one foot in a bucket of ice and one foot in a bucket of warm water and a passage is recited.

“You read a lot faster when your foot is in ice water,” he said.

Powers said the buckets of water symbolize the Arctic Ocean and tropics.

Sam Corteau, Life Scout and Allegan sophomore, said it was a great experience.

“I think everyone should experience sailing at least once,” he said.

Vail said next year he will offer the troop three high adventure choices that do not include sailing, but eventually he plans to get the trips on rotation so each Scout will experience each one.


Crew North
Jeff Vail, Skipper
Jason Apol, First Officer
John Barber, Life Scout
Garrit Einig, Eagle Scout
Sam Corteau, Life Scout
Matthew Wila, Life Scout
Sam Apol, Life Scout

Crew South
Jeff Vail, Skipper
Ryan Powers, First Officer
Will Conley, Life Scout
Matt Harris, Life Scout
Jacob Hansen, Life Scout
Hosley Werner, Life Scout
Benjamin Andrews, Eagle Scout


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