ISLAMORADA, Fla. — They cooked and slept aboard a Caribbean sailing yacht on the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. They snorkeled. They fished and caught snappers, groupers, puffer fish and even a couple of sharks. And for nearly a week in August, the four Boy Scouts and two of their dads soaked in the kind of adventure they never could experience back home in Grand Forks.
Never mind the fact they were awakened at 7 a.m. daily to Celtic band the Young Dubliners’ version of “Fisherman’s Blues” blasting over the speakers:
I wish I was a fisherman.
Tumblin’ on the seas.
Far away from dry land …
It was all part of the adventure and a fitting way to start the day.
The scouts–Travis Gustafson, 15; Tyler Hoffarth, 15; Parker Melland, 15; and Dominic Otto, 15–spent the better part of a week in mid-August aboard the Gypsy Wind sailboat in the Florida Keys on a “Sea Base High Adventure,” one of several High Adventure wilderness programs offered through the Boy Scouts of America.
Hoffarth and Melland are sophomores at Red River, and Otto and Gustafson are sophomores at Central. All are members of Holy Family Troop No. 13 in Grand Forks; Gustafson, Hoffarth and Melland have been in scouts together since first grade.
Melland said they chose Florida over other High Adventure programs–such as hiking in the mountains or canoeing in remote reaches of northern Minnesota or northwest Ontario–because the destination seemed more appealing.
“It was in Florida,” he said. “There was a lot of walking and hiking for the other (adventures), and this one you got to be out on the ocean sailing.
“You can go hiking around here, but you can’t really go big boat sailing anywhere around here.”
Joining the teens and Capt. Harry Fink aboard the Gypsy Wind were Parker’s dad, Cory Melland, and Tyler’s dad, Jerry Hoffarth. The older Hoffarth said the boys had wanted to go on a High Adventure, but demand for the adventures exceeds capacity so they first had to apply and go through a lottery.
They found out they’d been selected for the Florida Keys adventure in January 2014. That set the stage for more than a year and a half of waiting and anticipation.
“It seemed so far away right when we first found out, and then it was here,” Parker Melland said.
Off to adventure
The crew flew out of Grand Forks on Aug. 13, and after a layover in the Twin Cities, they landed in Miami, where they spent the first night.
They rented a car and the next morning drove down the Florida Keys to Islamorada, where they met their captain at the Sea Base. An accomplished sailor and fisherman, Fink actually owns and lives aboard the 44-foot sailboat, leasing his services to the Sea Base as mentor for the trip.
“He was very good with the boys and expected quite a bit out of them,” Cory Melland said. “He had a lot of fish stories because that’s what he did for 25 years. It was a good adventure for them.”
Stormy weather kept the Gypsy Wind at the dock the first day, Aug. 14, but conditions had improved enough by the next day for them to set sail. They spent the next two days and nights on the sailboat, returning to the dock the morning of Aug. 17 for a midweek break and some sailing and paddleboarding before heading out the next morning for another day and a half on the water.
“Cory and I didn’t know, going there, how they set it up, but they had the spots, the routine where they were each night,” Jerry Hoffarth said.
They ventured about 12 miles along the Keys exploring the area’s numerous reefs but never were more than a couple of miles from shore. Wind conditions weren’t ideal for sailing, and they occasionally had to rely on the outboard motor to keep moving. But the boys learned how to navigate, how to raise and trim the sails to make the most efficient use of the winds and shared cooking and clean-up duties for every meal.
The captain, of course, ate first.
“Jerry and I were just kind of along for the ride,” Cory Melland said. “These guys did everything.”
Time for fun
There was plenty of time for fishing and snorkeling, as well, and the crew spent several hours under anchor fishing for a variety of species near shallow reefs. The younger Hoffarth and Otto each caught small sharks–a black tip lemon shark and a nurse shark–and Gustafson swam with barracudas during a snorkel dive while wearing a GoPro video camera.
“I recorded every single snorkel I went on and didn’t hit stop,” Gustafson said. “I saw like three barracuda and should have footage on the GoPro. I haven’t looked, but I was pretty close to them. I was chasing them.”
Better that than the other way around.
Seasickness wasn’t much of an issue except for the first night, when Tyler Hoffarth said he suffered the effects while trying to sleep down below in the hold of the boat where it was hot and stuffy.
“I probably got four hours of sleep that night,” Hoffarth said.
After that, though, the trip was smooth sailing.
Their time aboard the Gypsy Wind ended Aug. 19, when the boat returned to the dock. The crew spent the night in a dorm at the Sea Base, making a trip down to Key West, Fla., the next day before returning to Miami for the Aug. 21 flight back to Grand Forks.
“The boys traveled very well,” Jerry Hoffarth said. “I’d travel anywhere with them. They acted like young adults the whole way so it was good.”
All of the boys said fishing, snorkeling and learning to sail ranked among the highlights of the trip.
“It’s kind of one thing you never really get to do,” Otto said of sailing.
Their fish tally at trip’s end was 183–of several different species.
“I thought it was fantastic,” Parker Melland said of the adventure. “It was a great experience. You got to have all the experiences on the ocean you’d think to have.”
His dad agreed.
“I’d do it again in a heartbeat with these guys,” Cory Melland said. “It was fun.”
The captain thought so, too, and each of the scouts received a Captain’s Award, signed by Fink with a sketch of a shark at the bottom.
“Great crew,” Fink wrote.
And great fun.