B-P Was A Sea Scout First!

Updated 04/08/2003 21:45

Lord Robert Baden-Powell Was a Sea Scout First!

FOREWORD:  We Sea Scouts love to tease land Scouts about how Lord Robert Baden-Powell, the Founder of the Scouting Movement, was a Sea Scout before he was a land Scout. Yet this is actually true.  Here, from three different works, are the Founder's own words:



The best time I had as a boy was when I went about as a sea scout with my four brothers on the sea round the coasts of England. Not that we were real Sea Scouts, because Sea Scouts weren’t invented in those days. But we had a sailing boat of our own on which we lived and cruised about, at all seasons and in all weathers, and we had a jolly good time-taking the rough with the smooth.

Then in my spare time as a schoolboy I did a good lot of scouting in the woods in the way of catching rabbits and cooking them, observing birds and tracking animals, and so on. Later on, when I got into the army, I had endless fun big-game hunting in the jungles in India and Africa and living among the backwoodsman in Canada. Then I got real scouting in South African campaigns.

Well, I enjoyed all this kind of life so much that I thought, “Why should not boys at home get some taste of it too?” I knew that every true red-blooded boy is keen for adventure and open-air life, and so I wrote this book to show you how it could be done.

And you fellows have taken it up so readily that now there are not only hundreds of thousands of Boy Scouts but millions about the world!

Of course, a chap can’t expect to become a through backwoodsman all at once without learning some of the difficult arts and practices that the backwoodsman uses. If you study this book you will find tips in it showing you how to do them – and in this way you can learn for yourself instead of having a teacher to show you how.

Then you will find that the object of becoming an able and efficient Boy Scout is not merely to give you fun and adventure but that, like the backwoodsman, explorers, and frontiersmen whom you are following, you will be fitting yourself to help your country and to be of service to other people who may be in need of help. That is what the best men are out to do.

A true Scout is looked up to by other boys and by grown-ups as a fellow who can be trusted, a fellow who will not fail to do his duty however risky and dangerous it may be, a fellow who is jolly and cheery no matter how great the difficulty before him.

I’ve put into this book all that is needed to make you a good Scout of that kind. So, go ahead, read the book, practice all that it teaches you, and I hope you will have half as good a time as I have had as a Scout.

/s/ Baden-Powell of Gilwell


Although I had missed the guidance of a father, I, as seventh son, got a good training at the hands of my brothers during my holidays. These all had the sporting instinct strongly developed and were good comrades together, first-rate swimmers, footballers, oarsmen, etc. All were good at devising things that they could not afford—to buy, even to building a boat.

We built our own huts, made our fishing, rabbit and 'bird-trapping nets, and thus caught and cooked our own food to our hearts' and stomachs' content.

In all of this I, as junior, had to take my share of the work especially that part of it which would naturally be delegated to a junior, such as gutting the fish and rabbits (a really filthy job!), some of the cooking, and very much of the washing up.

But it was all very good for me.

As money came in we were able to buy a collapsible boat, in which three of us, among other expeditions, made the journey from London up the Thames to practically its source, then with a portage over the hills we went down the Avon via Bristol, across the Severn, and up the Wye to our then small home in Wales. A fairly adventurous journey, especially when crossing seven miles of Severn in our canvas cockle-shell, but at the same time a very educative one for me.

Eventually, when our money ran to it, we brothers became owners of a ten-ton cutter, built to my brother Warington's design, and in her we had the time of our lives cruising round the coasts of Scotland and England at all seasons of the year. Many a scrape—in both senses of the word—we got into and got out of and thereby gained a lot of useful experiences.

Some of these I will deal with later, but from the educational point of view the discipline, the endurance of hardships and the facing of danger involved in this cruising, were points of lasting value in one's training for life.



 Save the Boat-hook!

Sketch by Robert Baden-Powell

In the first chapter I have said how much I have owed to my early training in boatmanship. One of the great merits of boatmanship is that it gives a lad the chance of facing danger and getting accustomed to it, so that when a crisis of occurs, or he is nearly "for it," the proximity of death leaves him unpanicked.

One found this in Canada, where so much of your traveling and sport in the backwoods has to be done by canoe.

In the larger vessel, too, at home, of which we brothers formed the crew, we faced more risks than are usually involved in yachting, partly because our eldest[4], a sailor and our skipper, had the wild notion that if we could one day manage to find a ship in distress and help to save her we should not only be doing a good deed but incidentally might win a fortune in salvage money. A great idea!

We younger brothers prayed that there might be no poor ship in distress, though we were not thinking entirely of the ship.

One day the call came, when we were lying at anchor in Harwich Harbour. Harwich is a charming place except in an easterly gale, when it is beastly.

On this occasion a pretty bad easterly gale was blowing. The lifeboat went out in response to signals of distress and we, getting under storm canvas as quickly as possible, hustled out to sea too by a different channel through the sands into a very hideous, yellow tumbling sea. Once outside the scud was flying so thick and the sea was so big that we soon lost sight of the lifeboat, and had a perfectly vile time of it.

Still we went on—indeed we had to—threshing through it tooth and nail, hour after hour, without seeing anything.

Our skipper was in his glory all the time and only remarked as night came on: "Ah, that's good! With darkness we shall be able all the better to locate her by the flares."

But in this we were unsuccessful and when we eventually got in we found that the lifeboat also had failed to locate the distressed vessel which had, meantime, been picked up by a tug and was already safely in harbour.

So although we had lost the salvage we had gained the experience. And we had much more of a like kind in the several years we were at it. Though we gained practice in roughing it and risking it we never got our salvage!

A bad time we had on another occasion when beating down Channel against a rising gale from the south west We tried to make Dartmouth, but tide and sea were too much for us, bursting our bob-stay, springing our bow sprit, and smashing in our skylight.

We had to wear ship and run before it; a ticklish moment that, when turning round in a heavy sea, with every chance of the whole ship rolling over with you! Ugh!

Then an awful run all night, a real nightmare with big black seas towering behind and trying to overtake and poop us. Hour after hour lashed to our posts like monkeys with sufficient length of line to enable each to get to the work required of him in his immediate neighbourhood with steel-hard wet ropes to haul upon with blistered, saltwatered, half-frozen hands.

We were not far off being done for more than once before we eventually succeeded in rounding up under the lee of Portland Bill.

But it was a healthy lesson after all.

It taught us ready discipline and handiness, keeping one's head in danger, and team work, each using his wits and best endeavour towards ensuring the safety of the whole.

[1] Written by B-P in 1932 as a forward to his book “Scouting for Boys”

[2] From B-P, Lessons from the Varsity of Life, Chapter 1, My Education, at http://www.pinetreeweb.com/bp-varsity01.htm.

[3] From B-P, Lessons from the Varsity of Life, Chapter III, Sport – Boatmanship and Fishing, at http://www.pinetreeweb.com/bp-varsity3-1.htm

[4] B-P’s eldest brother was Warington Baden-Powell.

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