Navigating Towards a Mariner’s Prize

Liz Fletcher, on board the tall ship Spirit, will achieve Sea Scouts' highest rank as quartermaster.

By Benjamin Bodart,

Special to the Independent

 Laguna Beach’s Liz Fletcher, 17, will soon achieve the prestigious rank of quartermaster in the Mariners Sea Scouts program. The quartermaster rank is comparable to the Eagle Scout rank in Boy Scouts and requires a depth of knowledge about maritime activities as well as completion of a community service project.


Because of her experience on the water, Liz is capable of commanding some impressive boats. “I have skippered 24-foot boats in small regattas in Dana Point. I also race on a 38-foot boat out of Newport Harbor. I mainly sail 420s, a two-man racing boat out of Dana Point.” She relies on boats provided by the Sea Scouts program, Mariners 936, based in Dana Point.


Achieving quartermaster ranking offers an automatic pay grade increase of two levels for scouts who enter the Navy or Coast Guard after high school.


As a junior at Laguna Beach High School, Liz seems intent on pursuing her passion for the ocean and may yet take advantage of her quartermaster ranking. “I am interested in studying engineering and I am particularly interested in hydrodynamics. I will most likely seek out and participate in a school team or sailing club in college. I will apply to the Navy or Coast Guard, but haven’t yet decided whether that is the want I want to do,” she said.


Now, she wants to focus on school, though she may pursue more maritime classes to attain professional status in the future. A quartermaster and captain possess similar knowledge, she said. “To be a captain, one must get their pilot’s license, which involves classes and a rigorous test on navigation. They are two separate things but with many of the same skills,” Liz said.


To finalize the four-year quartermaster program, Liz had to work on two big projects. The first is a weekend cruise with four other Sea Scout members. “We have to teach younger members and command them during 48 hours. We have supplies and we live together on a boat during two days” she explained.


The second is a service project. Liz planned a memorial regatta in honor of her friend and fellow sailor Jeff Adam, who died unexpectedly last June from meningitis. The memorial sailboat races will take place in Dana Point Harbor Sunday on March 4. “We would like to have as many people as possible to enjoy the sea as Jeff did,” she says.


In addition, Sea Scouts plans a meeting for prospective members, youths ages 14-18, Wednesday, Feb. 22, at 6:30 p.m., describing the weekly sailing program, Catalina cruises, racing opportunities, and crewing aboard the 118′ tall ship Spirit of Dana Point.


Liz envisions next year’s regatta as a benefit. In the meantime, registration fees are expected to cover costs alone, she said.


To achieve quartermaster ranking, Liz had to learn how to lead. She already loved the sea, beginning to sail at age 10 and moving to junior Sea Scouts by age 13.


Two other members of the South Orange County Sea Scout ship (the equivalent of a troop) join Liz in achieving the top ranking, Sarah Wyman of San Clemente and Jackie Wetzel of Laguna Niguel.


“A quartermaster is not only a very qualified sailor, but is also a leader amongst her peers. Very few attain this rank and having three local young women achieve this designation in one year is quite remarkable, said Jim “Skip” Wehan, who with a team of adult and youth advisors leads the co-ed Mariners group of high school-aged youth.


Only about 10 to 15 Sea Scouts nationwide earn this badge each year, according to the Sea Scouts’ website. The first was recorded in May 1929. In 1966, the last year statistics were collected, 82 achieved the rank of quartermaster.

 Ben Bodart is an Indy intern from Belgium.  

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