For the Love of Canoes— and Kayaks
When there comes a choice between the teamminded rowing in a long canoe and the individual motions of a small kayak, Bonita Springs Boy Scout Alex Cecil, 11, holds a definite preference. “I’ve been in a kayak about 11 times,” he says. “You don’t have to turn the paddle so much. I also like that when you are moving through the water it’s not so hard to go through the waves.”
These sentiments surely fuel the growing role of kayaking in scouting today. Boy Scouts of America introduced a kayaking merit badge in 2012. And as interest in the watercraft grows, the Boy Scouts’ Southwest Florida Council has adjusted its facilities to welcome the vessels. It’s still only canoes at Camp Flaming Arrow in Bradenton, but Punta Gorda-based Camp Miles now boasts launch points for kayaks as well, according to Bruce Hassy, council director of camp and activities.
For Troop 109 of Bonita Springs, where Alex’s father, Mark Cecil, serves as scoutmaster, canoeing remained a camping priority for years. However, kayaking grows in significance each day. “I’ve always gone around with a kayak while the boys were in canoes, basically so I could serve as a tugboat for the canoes. But because I am the leader, everyone wants to be in a kayak,” Mark explains. The troop has its own set of canoes and is embarking on the construction of kayaks. The elder Cecil flips through pictures on his computer of trips the troop has taken to waterways from South Florida to Canada. The troop went to Canada last year to conquer rivers there as part of its High Adventure Northern Tier Expedition. Such a trip enriches the scouting experience for troop members. Stefan Hustrilid, now senior patrol leader for the troop, says going to Canada was memorable. “The routine of waking up and heading out every day into the water—it was a fun adventure.” And while that trip was special, the water routinely calls to this group of Scouts. Troop 109 makes an annual sojourn into the Ten Thousands Islands to canoe or kayak the South Florida site. And the next time members go, they may be riding inside
homemade kayaks that they built themselves.
Up in the second story of a Bonita Springs office complex, Max Seixas, a 17-year-old Life Scout, works on a prototype kayak. He uses specifications that he researched. He’s also received assistance from Scoutmaster Cecil and an Australian Scout leader, Don Nicholson, who built such vessels Down Under for years.
Seixas, who served as senior patrol leader for his troop for two years, would like to hone the craft so that even Scouts just finishing elementary school will be able to build their own boats. It’s exciting to take younger cohorts into the waterways where he fell in love with the paddle. “I’ve grown up in scouting,” he says. “I’ve progressed in navigating, which feels nice and makes you think you can do anything you want on the open seas.”
Seixas, for his part, still considers himself primarily a canoe enthusiast. And talking with troop members, it’s clear both activities offer differing flavors of appeal. Canoeing depends on each person working in consort, lest they lag behind the rest of the group. In a kayak, you can more quickly spin and propel the vessel across the water and feel like you are part of the waves.
However, troop member Colton Kataras, 14, notes that riding solo makes for a more tiring trip. “Kayaking is more fun,” he says, “but it’s also more challenging than canoeing.”
To Mark Cecil, the great benefit of hitting the water isn’t based on the choice of boat but on the development of leadership. Now that the boys will start building their own kayaks, that just improves the level of ownership over the journeys they will enjoy. “To be able to build something with your own hands and then to take it on an expedition, that’s just exciting.”
And even when the boys graduate from scouting, many say the water will remain a part of their life. Both Seixas and Hustrilid plan this year to participate in the 300-mile Everglades Challenge. “It’s gruesome, but I’ll be prepared for the race,” Seixas says. “The trip we made to Canada was tough, but the memories we made there were beyond anything I could have hoped for.
“Plus, there’s just the bragging rights.”
The troop has its own set of canoes and is embarking on the construction of kayaks.
Two members of Bonita Springs Troop 109 head out in a kayak. In 2012, the Boy Scouts of America introduced a kayaking merit badge.
Area waters (top) routinely call to these Scouts. Life Scout Max Seixas, 17, works on a kayak with assistance from Scoutmaster Mark Cecil.