BOOTHBAY HARBOR – The Sea Scouts raised their red, white and blue flag on the 21-foot-tall mast of the Bowdoin. “Be prepared,” it read. “Ship 243 Kennebec Rovers.”

“All hands muster midships,” yelled Maine Maritime Academy Capt. Eric Jergenson.

“All hands muster midships,” chimed the crew in unison.

Crew members grabbed the lines and hoisted the mainsail to join nine other schooners in the 49th annual Windjammer Days antique boat parade.

Sea Scouts is a program of Boy Scouts of America, but unlike a Boy Scout troop, the “ship” is coed and the group does its camping at sea.

Eight of the 14 Bath-based “rovers” spent four nights manning the 90-year-old Bowdoin — cleaning, raising the sails, and going on night watch aboard the official sailing vessel of Maine.

“They learn how to work together. Sea Scouts really levels the playing field for kids with different levels of sailing experience and different financial situations,” said Betty Chesley, a Sea Scouts chaperone. “You can see the hard work, the character growth.”

Some of the rovers dressed in the formal Sea Scout attire — black pants, a black shirt with two embroidered stars on the back of the collar and an anchor patch on the shoulder. Others wore their informal Sea Scout polos.

Each one had a knife clipped to his or her belt for cutting line. Many had anchors drawn on their forearms with ink.

“This is what we look forward to for months,” said one rover, Franzy Chesley, 16.

For Jesse Cogar, 15, this was his second year staying overnight on the Bowdoin. “We’re sharper. We’re getting a hang of it,” he said.

The Bath Sea Scouts are the most active in Maine, said their skipper, Jim Nelson, a Maine native who has written 16 books of maritime fiction and used to sail professionally.

“This Sea Scout ship is something I’ve wanted to start for a long time,” he said.

Nelson’s daughter, Elli, 16, is one of the “original plank owners,” an inaugural rover.

The ship’s crew meets every week, sails in the warm months and learns to navigate when it’s cold.

As the Bowdoin’s sails caught wind, the rovers brought out a small guitar and a whistle and started to sing Celtic songs and sea chanties.

At 88 feet long and 60 tons, the Bowdoin is one of the smallest vessels designed expressly for Arctic voyages.

From 1921 to 1954, the schooner made 26 voyages to the Arctic Circle. In May 1941, it was sold to the Navy for the duration of World War II. Its original captain, Donald MacMillan, bought it back in 1945, eventually to sell it to Maine Maritime Academy in Castine.

As the Bowdoin led Wednesday’s parade of antique boats into the harbor to meet cheering crowds, a crew member yelled “Fire in the hole!” and set off a small cannon. 

Staff Writer Colleen Stewart can be contacted at 791-6355 or at:

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