When, at the age of 12, my son Thomas asked to join 1st Muizenberg Sea Scouts, my answer was an emphatic “no”. I’m not quite sure where my vigorous opposition came from, but it could be that I harbour a deep-seated resentment towards the Scouts. Let me explain.
As a child, I dutifully attended Brownies and later Guides, each week trudging up the hill to the Guide Hall from my home in an ordinary Highveld suburb. While we Guides learnt to sew on buttons and sing songs, marvellous things would take place at the Scout Hall barely fifty metres away. Huge, elaborate towers made of poles and ropes seemed to spring out of the earth before my very eyes. Scouts with deep voices and khaki shorts built them and climbed all over them, but they never invited us girls to join them. In those days the Scouting movement was strictly divided into Guides for girls and Scouts for boys but it seemed to me that we Guides experienced only a tiny portion of the excitement and adventure that those boys took for granted. Very possibly, I have never forgiven them for it!
Of course, Thomas didn’t take my “no” very seriously and he soon embarked on a strategy that both my children have since perfected − he wore me down. He nagged me until I got so tired of hearing about the reasons why he wanted to go to Scouts that I gave in. A few weeks later, I found myself at the Sea Scout Base late on a Friday afternoon buying a scarf, hat, belt and a woggle.
The first thing that Scouts gave Thomas was a nickname. Although I still love his moniker and am not sorry I chose it for him, I do recognise that it is rather common. After about his third Scout meeting, where apparently there were two other Thomases in attendance, Thomas turned into Woody. And Woody he has remained. In fact, I often get puzzled looks when I mention him by his real name to anyone involved in Scouting, or to any of his school friends.
But Scouts gave Thomas a lot more too. To begin with, it gave him something to do. Suddenly, from spending weekends (or as much of the weekend as I would allow) on his bed with an electronic device, Woody was really busy. Either he was sailing or pulling (I quickly learnt that pulling is actually rowing) on Sandvlei, or he was taking part in a course or a competition. Fridays would come and he would either be at a Scout meeting or packing his bags for one or other activity at the Sea Scout Base or Hawequas outside Wellington. And, when he returned on Sunday he would invariably fall fast asleep on the back seat of the car, whether we were driving home from Hawequas or just a few kilometres from the Sea Scout Base.
Early in his Scouting career, Woody developed a fascination with knots. He practiced obsessively, trying to tie them faster and better, often to the intense frustration of his teachers. He began to make bracelets and floor mats out of string, ropes and beads and suddenly I found myself stopping at Rope World on the way home from school so that Woody could spend his pocket money on a cool piece of nylon.
But it was the sailing that really grabbed Woody. He loved the sailing courses he attended at the Sea Scout Base; the regattas and Mac24 competitions gave him great opportunities to learn and improve his sailing, and later to teach other Scouts to sail. A highlight of his Scouting career was the Seamanship Competition of 2014 which Woody, Mikey, Dylan, Robin and Tarquin won for 1st Muizenberg in Saldanha number 22. Today, Woody is sailing regularly at Royal Cape Yacht Club in the summer months and he spends most of every Sunday teaching sailing at the Royal Cape Sailing Academy. Last year he participated in Maserati Race Week and he will soon be sailing in Durban in preparation for the Lipton Cup, a very prestigious sailing race, especially for young sailors. All of these opportunities, which I have little doubt will lead to international sailing adventures, grew out of the early experiences he had sailing number 22 on Sandvlei.
Woody made good friends on the Scout courses, meeting Scouts from all over Cape Town, some of whom have remained friends and will frequently make an effort to visit him from as far away as Durbanville, or invite him to a party where he meets up with other Scouts. When he participated in the Cederberg Senior Scout Adventure, he made friends from even further afield. I have been so pleased to see the number of girls taking part in Scouting activities on a completely equal footing with the boys, making the most of all the opportunities that Scouting offers, regardless of their gender. (In view of the egalitarian nature of modern Scouting, I think I might finally be able to forgive those khaki-clad Scouts of my youth.)
Scouting has given Woody confidence and independence. It has given him opportunities to follow, learn and eventually lead. He has achieved many badges and won several awards, but one of the best memories I have of his Scouting years was watching him teach knots to a group of Cubs. They chattered and wriggled as small boys and girls do when they’re asked to sit still and concentrate, but Woody patiently and good naturedly showed them over and over again how to tie their knots. It was an exercise in patience and it was a classic Scouting moment − young people learning and growing with the help and guidance of other young people. It made me proud. But it also made me grateful that Woody had talked me into buying him that scarf, hat, belt and woggle all those years ago.
* Thomas Attwood and Caitlyn October celebrated their final campfire as Scouts at 1st Muizenberg on Friday 2 June.