RAHWAY, NJ — Members of the Sea Scouts chapter in Rahway have taken “Sea Horse,” a 65-foot, twin-engine boat originally purposed to be a gunboat in Vietnam, on various day trips and missions over the past two decades: Teenage recruits plot courses, navigate bodies of water and keep the boat in tip-top shape throughout their voyages, as adult supervisors watch on and offer guidance.
“We have our manual, which we gear our training off of. Various levels of knot-tying, they learn how to plot courses, figure out how we’re going to get there and when we’re going to get there,” said Robert Meseck, a leader in the scouts, highlighting the group’s educational mission. “They learn how to manage the boat, the cooking, and to use various electronics that we have on-board. How to navigate. And our goal is just to supervise. We get the boat away from the dock, and the kids take over.”
The kids can take great pride in operating “Sea Horse,” said Meseck, whether they’re learning how to maneuver
the boat without using its steering wheel — by taking advantage of its twin engines — cooking and performing other chores, or docking it for the first time after a rewarding day of work.
What the teenage members can’t do is cover the extensive repairs needed for “Sea Horse,” said Meseck. The bottom of the boat needs to be power washed, the hull may need various repairs once checked, and other parts, such as the propellers and zincs, need to be inspected and potentially replaced.
That’s why Sea Scouts leaders recently set up a $7,500 fundraiser on Indiegogo.com, titled “Help us Haul out the Horse,” for the group’s longtime boat, which has a long and colorful history dating back to the 1970s.
“She was built in 1973. She was supposed to go over to Vietnam, and be used as a gunboat for the Navy, but at that point the war was winding down and she never went over. Then she was used out in San Francisco for some training with special forces. At some point, after that, the CIA got a hold of her, and they were using her as a test platform for radar-absorbing tiles,” said Meseck. “In the late 90s, our unit got it, and we’ve been using that boat since.”
Today, recreational use of “Sea Horse” is a far cry from Navy or CIA operations, although some Sea Scouts members have translated their maritime experiences with the Sea Scouts into skills with the Navy. The scouts regularly take day trips together on “Sea Horse,” as well as another boat the Rahway chapter uses, learning along the way — sometimes the hard way.
“It’s one thing to learn how something works, but it’s another thing to learn why it doesn’t work,” said Meseck, who added that the Rahway chapter draws from all over the state, and even into Staten Island, New York. “There’s no set time limit the kids have to put into it, it is what they make of it.
“Sea Horse” has been previously refurbished by members, including when they first obtained it in the 1990’s, said Meseck. But the boat, which spends much of the year sitting along the Rahway River in Linden, needs this newest series of repairs for continued use by Sea Scouts members, who are keeping alive a Rahway tradition that’s persisted through the generations.
“It’s tough, everyone wants to be behind a computer or a video game,” said Meseck. “They don’t want to do the work. This is a 65-foot boat, it’s going to take a little bit of work. But you can take pride in that. We want them to have pride in what they do.”
The Sea Scouts meet weekly at the Elks Club of Rahway. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org, visit their Facebook page “Sea Scout Ship 243 Rahway NJ,” or see the “Sea Horse” fundraiser on Indiegogo.com, titled “Help us Haul out the Horse.”