Mystery Voyage to Yesterday
By Tom Dwyer
Photographs by David Binder
After months of pondering clues, Scouts discover their troop's annual secret adventure trip is a cruise on a century-old schooner to visit a history-rich island.
- Clues Keep Interest High and Web Browsers Busy
- A Century Old And Still Sailing
- Annual Mystery Trip Is A Troop Program Highlight
Aboard the schooner Ernestina, the new deckhands35 Scouts and 11 adult leaders from Troop 182, Wellesley, Mass.strained at the halyard and watched as the the main gaff inched up against the gray May morning sky.
The mainsail's 3,600 pounds of canvas filled with wind, the halyard was made-off, and the novice crew members hustled aft to hoist the foresail. The Ernestina lurched toward the Atlantic Ocean, and Boston's skyline faded into the western horizon.
Sailing on a 106-year-old historic vessel was no longer an unknown but a thrilling reality of Troop 182's annual Mystery Adventure Trip. Where they were going was still a puzzle, however, as much as it was when assistant Scoutmaster Joe Levens gave out the first weekly clue nine months earlier.
Gaining their sea legs
An official vessel of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the Ernestina is a 156-foot, black-hulled schooner. Coast Guard-approved for youth sail training, the vessel provides educational programs and cruises that allow passengers of all ages to experience crew life on a 19th-century sailing ship. [See box on page 25.]
Before setting sail, the Scouts met the Ernestina's regular crew of 12 and were assigned to patrol-size "watches," each led by a crew member and with important chores to tend. Their gear was stowed below in the hold and fo'c'sl (forecastle). Education director Andrea Parrish answered their typical questions, like that asked by Tenderfoot Scout Justin Stasiowski: "What and where's the head?"
Scouts then moved forward and aft to their assigned watches. They would soon discover that more than just a good wind is needed to sail a Gloucester fishing schooner.
First Class Scout Scott Crawford and Second Class
Scout Brian Mongeau took lookout positions in the bow with ship's engineer Steve Swift. "What you'll be doing up here can't be taken lightly," Swift announced sternly. "It's so important that it's required by international maritime law."
Under the jib, the lookouts waved their arms violently to arouse the helmsman's attention, before signaling that another vessel was approaching starboard. Shipmates bent to their duties at the helm and in the galley. On boat-check, Star Scout Neil Katuna kept a critical eye on all the ship's lines and mechanical systems.
Meanwhile, Scouts on board elsewhere also were gaining their sea legs. (And it was now obvious to everyone why the troop had worked on the Oceanography merit badge during the previous months. Onboard activities would allow them to complete many requirements.)
Time for the midday meal arrived, and Ernestina's bell signaled a hot shepherd's pie lunch being passed up from the galley by Life Scout Ben Levin. By 1330 hours (1:30 p.m.) the meal was over, and A-watch was on duty.
The other Scouts busied themselves with activities they now realized had been clearly forecast by their weekly clues. [See box on page 24.] For example, the "watches" had been the subject of Clue 7"Neither analog or digital, this watch will change our concept of time."
A small bucket of water was hoisted over the gunwales by Life Scout Bobby Kahn. Close examination under crew member Shannon Willard's microscope revealed another tiny world that lived in the sea. The boys were amused when crew member Meagan Shaw demonstrated how to make the common clove hitch "slippery," so that a quick yank on the tailpiece would cause the otherwise tight knot to unravel. And just forward of the helm, crew member Inette Rex put map and compass skills to work unraveling some of the mystery of navigating an ocean.
At the helm, Scout Sam Wilson tested his own compass skills. When Captain Willi Bank barked, "Set a course of 1,6,0," Sam leaned into the ship's wheel until the indicator on the ship's eight-inch bubble-top compass matched the south-southeast bearing.
The 'mysterious' island
But setting a course to where? The Scouts didn't realize the answer was visible on the horizon for much of the day.
Finally, Ernestina angled toward the mystery's final answer: Gallops Island. So that was it!
Some Scouts would sleep in the 12 bunks available on the ship. Others would disembark and set up camp for the night; now they knew why they would sleep in "two places," as one of the clues had foretold.
Patrol leaders assumed their traditional roles as Scouts pitched tents on the historic island. They were camped just downhill from the former site of the World War II-era U.S. Maritime Service Radio Training School and a short walk from the cemetery where 237 victims of a smallpox epidemic were buried in the late 1800sand perhaps on the very spot where Union soldiers bivouacked during the Civil War.
Later, with the lights of Boston twinkling across the bay, hot lasagna was served and Life Scout Leo Pike led the traditional Saturday night troop campfire. Then the notes of "Taps" from troop bugler Nick Bell ended the day.
The next day, as the morning sun reflected on the shoreline, Troop 182 reboarded Ernestina for a final Sunday sail and the return to Boston's inner harbor.
The Ernestina and Gallops Island were now part of the troop's 87-year history.
Freelance writer Tom Dwyer lives in Camillus, N.Y.
Clues Keep Interest High and Web Browsers Busy
In the previous two years, Mystery Trip clues told Scouts they would be hiking and ocean-kayaking off the coast of Maine and on a journey by rail and ferry to Civil War Fort Warren on Georges Island in Boston Harbor. As it did with those previous trips, interest mounted this year as the clues increased.
Following Clue 43 ("The femalefeminineversion of one of your father's names is one of the destinations....") several Scouts came up with a correct answer because they knew Second Class Scout Nick Bell's father was named Ernest. But they didn't understand the name's significance.
It wasn't until two weeks before departure, when First Class Scout Christian Milde saw a television program about the Ernestina and its educational sailing programs, that a Scout finally solved the first part of the mystery.
For most, though, the search went on. Clues and guesses were poured into Web search engines as attempts to solve the mystery stretched from fall, through winter, and into spring.
Parents were kept in the dark until two weeks before the tripat which point they were sworn to secrecy. They then did their best to add to the confusion. On the night before departure, they encouraged Scouts to write their solutions on 3-by-5-inch cards.
But as the Scouts rolled out of bed before sunup on an unusually cold Saturday in May, none knew for sure if his guess was right. Anticipation and excitement peaked as the troop gathered at the Amtrak station in Canton, south of Boston.
Would the train carry them to New York City? One "guess" card suggested Acadia National Park in Maine. Another, Niagara Falls. Still another admitted, "NO IDEA." (The train station was, in fact, part of the organizers' planned confusionthe Scouts could have departed just as easily from Wellesley or been driven to the dock.)
Boarding the Ernestina solved that part of the mystery. But where she would take them would keep the Scouts guessing even after setting sail.
A Century Old And Still Sailing
The schooner Ernestina set sail in February 1894 as the Effie M. Morrissey. The ship is one of only six of 4,000 schooners built in Essex, Mass., to survive into the 21st century.
The Ernestina has served as a fishing boat in the waters of the Grand Banks that lie south of Newfoundland, Canada; an Arctic exploration ship; and a World War II survey vessel. As recently as 1965, the schooner crossed the Atlantic Ocean carrying immigrants from the Cape Verde Islands off the west coast of Africa.
Today, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts owns the ship, and the Department of Environmental Management operates it. More information is available at http://www.ernestina.org or from Schooner Ernestina, P.O. Box 2010, New Bedford, MA 02741-2010, phone (508) 992-4900, FAX (508) 984-7719.
Annual Mystery Trip Is A Troop Program Highlight
Introduced three years ago, the end-of-the-school-year Mystery Adventure Trip quickly became a highlight of Troop 182's annual program and a valuable recruiting and retention tool. But when assistant Scoutmaster Mike Kahn first came up with the idea, it was part of an effort to pump life into a troop that was struggling to stay afloat.
As recently as December 1997, the community-chartered troop, a part of Wellesley, Mass., since 1913, was sinking with only two Scouts actively involved.
"This set off an alarm that rang loudly for each of us," assistant Scoutmaster Joe Levens said, referring to himself, Mike Kahn, and Scoutmaster Paul Hurney. "We weren't about to let a community tradition as good as Troop 182 go by the wayside."
The idea of a mystery trip turned out to be a secure lifelinethe troop currently has more than 40 registered Scouts and 13 active adultsand today each leader takes his turn at planning the trip.
"The mystery," said Levens, "is always the trip itself. Where will we go? What will we do? Will the Scouts be prepared?"
For a complete list of clues and more photos of the 2000 mystery trip, visit the troop Web site, http://www.troop182.org.
January-February 2001 Table of Contents
Copyright © 2001 by the Boy Scouts of America. All rights thereunder reserved; anything appearing in Scouting magazine or on its Web site may not be reprinted either wholly or in part without written permission. Because of freedom given authors, opinions may not reflect official concurrence.
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