The morning chill at a Bethel Island dry dock could not dampen the Sea Scout's spirits as they prepared to paint the Brigand, a 65-foot yacht donated by businessman Ray Collins to the Martinez-based Sea Scout Ship Albatross crew in late December.
"It is the most complete Sea Scout vessel I have ever seen in my life," said adult volunteer ship officer Mike Hammack. "It has the advantages of additional space for advanced navigational training. We could even take out another unit."
Built in the Netherlands in 1961, the steel-hulled boat with a diesel engine is up to date electronically with depth finders and is valued at $300,000, according to marine surveyor Lorne Gould.
"It is an oceangoing vessel right now. It can go 1,800 miles at full throttle (estimated 12 knots) on a tank of gas," Albatross Skipper Adam Mollwitz said.
Although the coed crew has bonded with, and improved the SSS Albatross, they are definitely dazzled by the size and creature comforts of a classic yacht, which includes an eight-man emergency raft, teak wood interior paneling, heaters, multiple restrooms, clothes washer and dryer and a galley with a refrigerator, freezer, stove, dishwasher, microwave and compactor.
"It really means a lot to me, that someone would give this to us," crew member Julia Castro exclaimed. The Alhambra High School student remarked on the ease of control, thanks to hydraulic steering. "It runs smoother," she said.
"I worked on car stereos with my father before. This is not much different," he said.
His father, also Mike Greco, is a volunteer engineer's mate for the crew.
The younger Greco said, "Honestly, a lot of the kids do like the luxury; I appreciate the size and functionality of it. I am really looking forward to our annual weeklong summer cruise."
As the hardworking teens go about their assignments, there is enthusiastic conversation about the Brigand's dependability, quiet running sound, interior heating systems and extra restrooms.
Four-year crew member and Campolindo High School senior Samantha Lovelace helps train new recruits.
"I'm definitely excited about the Brigand. There is room for my new crewmates to grow."
The Albatross and its crew have experienced a renaissance since Mollwitz assumed the helm several years ago. The SSS Albatross crew was chosen National Flagship by the Boy Scouts of America at the 100-year anniversary celebration of the Sea Scout program, which drew more than 7,000 U.S. Sea Scouts in 2012.
"We have built up from so little. Our skipper is a big, driving force because he puts so much into it, along with work and a family. It really pushes the kids to give their all," said crew member Mike Greco.
Mollwitz said he plans to renovate the spacious master cabin suite to accommodate as many crew bunks as possible. He expects to transform the large galley to accommodate more bunks by adding a built-in convertible table.
The ship's officer and crew are still discussing the paint color scheme and eventually could consider a name change. However, adult volunteer Linda Meza said, "The naming of a vessel is clothed in tradition and the renaming in superstition ... it is a commonly held belief that renaming brings bad luck."
Meanwhile, the teenage crew meets at Highway 4 and Willow Pass Road early Saturday mornings. Dressed in winter gear, they head to Bethel Island, where they crank up the music and learn how to care for a classic yacht.
"We vacuum after every Saturday work party," said Lovelace.
Marine Emporium store manager Diana Waldie said, "They are the most respectful kids I have ever seen."
The Albatross crew hopes to launch the training vessel Brigand from dry dock in about six weeks, according to Mollwitz.
Contact Dana Guzzetti at firstname.lastname@example.org.