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Palo Alto Weekly

News - April 12, 2013

Palo Alto Sea Scouts get surplus Navy boat

Decommissioned 95-foot ship will set sail for adventures around the bay and sea

by Sue Dremann

The Palo Alto Sea Scouts' days of rebuilding decks and maintaining four ship engines is about to walk the gangplank.

A newer ship supplied by the U.S. Navy will make way for adventures that could include trips to the Sacramento Delta and even on the high seas.

The Sea Scouts group, which is part of the Boy Scouts of America, will take possession of the 95-foot Olympic Venture on Sunday, April 14, when it arrives from Seattle. Experienced volunteer adults set sail from the Pacific Northwest city on Wednesday, said Joshua Gilliland, an executive board member of the Boy Scouts' Pacific Skyline Council.

The Olympic Venture began its long, complicated journey to Palo Alto last July, when volunteer Gregor Harden saw the boat was being delisted by the Navy. He and another volunteer, attorney Chris Moropoulos, navigated through red tape and paperwork to understand federal rules on obtaining surplus, Gilliland said. The paperwork took six months to complete, and in January the boat arrived in Seattle.

The ship dates to the 1950s. It had a lighter service life than the Scouts' current boat, the Intrepid.

The Intrepid, which is also 95 feet long, "already had a lot of miles on it," Gilliland said. It had a rough service life in Alaska, and it might have been used by the U.S. Coast Guard and Navy to retrieve torpedoes, he said.

In contrast, the Olympic Venture served the Coast Guard doing vessel inspections in the Bay Area. The boat was transferred to the Navy in the 1970s, and it was used for personnel transfers from nuclear submarines to ports, Gilliland said.

The Olympic Venture will also be easier to maintain. The older Intrepid had four engines, one of which is irreparable, but the Olympic Venture has two engines, both in good shape, he said.

The new boat will enhance the Sea Scouting experience in ways that weren't possible on the Intrepid, he said.

"Our program is supposed to teach skills. If you only replace deck planks, there is no sense of adventure," Gilliland said.

The Sea Scouts can now focus on learning all kinds of seafaring skills, including mechanics, rowing, navigation, knot-tying. And the Olympic Venture is big enough to travel the Sacramento and San Joaquin deltas and could even make a trip to Catalina Island, he said.

But before the Scouts set off on their overnight adventures, they'll be making the boat their own. The youths will ready the Olympic Venture with sleeping space for 30 teens, he said.

The ship might also take the name of its predecessor and be rechristened as the Intrepid. A name change will require a series of old mariners' rituals, however, he said.

"It's bad luck to change a boat's name unless you do a number of things first," Gilliland said.

According to legend, vessels are recorded by name in the Ledger of the Deep and are known to Poseidon or Neptune, the god of the sea. The boat's old name must be purged by removal of every trace.

As part of the ceremonies, the captain and other officers pour glasses of champagne into the sea, and another champagne libation is given to the gods of the winds, according to the website

The Sea Scouts will hold an open house on the Olympic Venture on a date to be determined.

Staff Writer Sue Dremann can be emailed at