Chester Martin Remembers Paul Fancher's Sea Scouts Story

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

This is a vintage Chattanooga story (dated 1947) from my long-time friend, Paul Fancher, of Atlanta:

The Sea Scouts met on the second floor of the building diagonally across the intersection from the Times Ochs Building and was in the loft part of the building. It probably was donated space by the owner of the premises. The space was not spacious nor elegant, but very usable by a group of teenagers who didn’t care about any of the esthetics.

The meeting room had the outline of a Navy ship painted on the floor and masts mounted at the proper position for a Navy vessel. Halyards and lines (ropes to you landlubbers) were attached for raising and lowering the flag.

To board or leave (step over the ship’s out line) the ship, a person had to salute the Officer of the Deck and the American Flag at the bow of the ship. It was a solemn time at meetings. These long ago treasured events left us with patriotic feelings that can never be diminished over the years or by thoughtless-minded acts against the flag.

We had lots of fun, but did learn about some serious things. We advanced up the ranks and passed the requirements of scouting. Hand-me-down Navy uniforms were the dress and mine had come from my uncle, a World War II Navy man.

Ship 103 owned an old Navy surplus cutter, about 24 feet long and heavy, and the Sea Scouts had scraped and refinished it. The cutter had come with seven oars, each about15 feet long. It had positions for six oarsmen, three on a side, and a coxswain in the rear. We never could muster enough scouts to man all positions, so most of the time, there were three oarsmen rowing and coxswain steering and calling the tempo, "Stroke! Stroke! Stroke!"

The cutter was stored in space at Lake Chickamauga Boat Harbor in some donated space.

Weekends, Sea Scouts would head for the lake for boating, swimming, and water activities...It would take all of us to drag the cutter to the water to launch it. Many people sat on their yachts in the harbor for recreation, there were so such thing as water skiing...The scouts always went to a deserted cove on the lake to play and have fun. As we were Stroke, Stroke, Stroking out the harbor, the people on their yachts had a big smile on their face. Also, we would row over and dock at the marina concession stand.

We had a diving helmet made from a five-gallon paint bucket just like those buckets in use today. A small window had been inserted, and a water hose connection had been rigged in the helmet. A ring of lead had been attached around the opening of the bucket. An old water hose would be attached to the helmet at one end and a hand pump at the other.

To use the diving helmet, a fellow scout had to continually man the pump. Either on the dock or in the cutter, a person could be seen with his foot on the foot rest and going up and down. The diver, with a weighted World War II web belt, simply placed the helmet upside down over his head. The diver had to be careful about bending over under water lest he lose his helmet or water rise up inside the helmet.

Since, we were never in water more than 10 feet deep, there was not much danger. In an emergency, the diver simply jettisoned the belt and helmet and swam to the surface. The diver always heard Sisssh, Sisssh, Sissh as the pumper pumped air into the garden hose. Almost always as a joke, the pumper would stop and there would be complete silence. The diver would think and calculate, "Is it going to startup?" Then, "Should I drop the helmet and belt and swim to the surface?"

We took turns with the helmet and dived with no real objectives in mind. Sometimes, we would find something. Especially, when diving from a dock. Wonder whatever happened to that helmet?

The yacht club had sailing races every Sunday at Lake Chickamauga and every boat had to have a crew of two. Many times the captains would invite us to crew for them in the races. About race time, we would hang around near the registration place hoping to be asked.

Later as an adult around a campfire, the young scouts would marvel at some of these tales.

(Chester Martin is a native Chattanoogan who is a talented painter as well as local historian. He and his wife, Pat, live in Brainerd. Mr. Martin can be reached at cymppm@comcast.net )


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