By Mike Lauterborn
(for Westport News)
Westport, CT – They slipped into bulky dive vests, popped regulators in their mouths, strapped masks to their faces and dropped into the clear water. Call it a trial run for what promises to be an adventure of a lifetime.
Friday evening March 11, the Westport Weston YMCA hosted Westport Boy Scout Troops 36 and 39 at the facility’s pool to help them prepare for an August dive trip in Florida and teach scuba skills to other scouts. Rex Dive Center, a full-service PADI instructor development venue in Norwalk, provided four instructors to assist with the orientation.
With regard to the evening’s agenda, Rex instructor Steve Wallace said at the beginning of the session, “In the water, scouts will put on dive equipment, learn how to be neutrally buoyant and understand how to breathe through a regulator. They will be getting familiar with the feel of 30 to 40 pounds of scuba equipment on their backs in the water. Some of the kids in the troop have already undergone open water certification and will help out with training.”
Wallace provided additional background, explaining, “What we’re providing is a ‘Discover Scuba’ program. There are no pre-requisites other than some paperwork and indicating that you are in good health. The group will dive in water depths of up to 12 feet here in the pool,” he said.
Jacquie Tumminia, the Y’s Sr. Director of Aquatics and Competitive Swimming, said that the Boy Scouts are just one of many groups that use the pool facilities. “We let the fire department, police, Red Cross and Girl Scouts use the pool for special activities, training and programs. We’re happy to help fellow non-profits serving the community.”
Tumminia’s colleague, Communications Director Scott Smith, said that the Boy Scouts and YMCA share a similar mission, which is youth development, healthy living and social responsibility.
As groups of three and four scouts took turns dropping into the pool with Rex instructors, Scout leader Brandon Gualdoni provided details on the upcoming trip. “Six scouts and two adults, including me, will travel down to Florida Sea Base in Islamorta, in the Florida Keys. We’ll be there eight days, from August 6 – 14. We’ll go on 11 dives, including one night dive, in all, exploring living coral reefs mostly. A divemaster down there will guide us. We’ll also spend one day in Key West, sightseeing.”
Gualdoni said the overall purpose of the trip is three-fold: bonding, experiencing high adventure and developing life skills. Gualdoni added, “The scouts not going on the trip will experience in the pool what we’ll be doing down in Florida.”
Assisting with training was scout Kyle Degener, 17, a certified diver earning merit credits for his teaching support. “All the scouts going on the trip are certified,” he said. “I’m the oldest scout going. Technically, I’ll be 18 when the trip happens, so I’ll be helping out as an adult leader. I’m really looking forward to it. I plan to join the Navy and scuba is one of the activities I’d be pursuing. This is the first time our troop has done something like this.”
Gualdoni’s scouting co-leader, Mark Wisniewski, will join Degener on the trip, along with his son, John, 14. “This takes scouting to a different level,” said Wisniewski. “It’s something different than camping and hiking and keeps the older boys interested in scouting. John and I are both certified and have dived before. The Keys, however, will be our first open water dive.”
Added son John, “This is going to be pretty fun. It’s definitely different than going out in the woods and sitting around for two days.”