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Outward Bound - an Inward Journey

March 1, 2007
"Our mission at Outward Bound is to inspire people to discover and develop their potential to care for themselves, others and the world around them through challenging experiences in unfamiliar settings."

Jeff made his way across the Barron River to welcome us to the neighborhood.

Everglades Base Camp on Sunset Island "Don't believe any fishermen who tell you you can't stay here at the dock. It's not a problem," he assured us and our fellow cruisers. "And if you need showers or water or Internet, just come across the river to our place" - he pointed to a cluster of white clapboard buildings (right) - "any time."

"Our place" turned out to be the Everglades Base Camp of North Carolina Outward Bound School. "Jeff" is Jeff Lovett, Sea Programs Director.

It's Not Just a Job. It's An Adventure

Jeff said he didn't actually find Outward Bound: it found him. Jeff was an Education major at North Carolina State University when on a pack trip gone awry he and a buddy were snowed in at Linville Gorge wilderness. The two remembered an Outward Bound base nearby. Although they didn't know much about the organization they made their way through the ice storm to the camp. Once their parents' anxiety for their safety was assuaged, Jeff looked around. He liked what he saw.

"I liked the setting and I got to know some of the instructors. The next year I joined a group of staff for a week of rock climbing in West Virginia, and within a few years I joined the organization as a full time instructor."

Jeff Lovett Jeff began his work as a climbing instructor, then gradually grew into the nautical programs, then into its directorship. He came to the Everglades Base Camp in 1996 and here he met Anne, who also worked for Outward Bound. The two were married and are still working together.

Jeff has great respect for all of his co-workers. "The caliber of staff and people who are drawn to Outward Bound is tremendous. It is a pleasure to support them in their work."

As Sea Programs Director, Jeff is responsible for coordinating the educational and adventure visits of participants. Left, Jeff uses a wall-sized aerial photograph to explain the Sea Programs curriculum.

This week's students - 60 ninth graders from Ft. Myers - would return on Friday. Then "I'm shoving off in a sea kayak, instructing a week long sea kayak staff training."

Wilderness Gear

Having spent my formative backpacking years completely winging it, I was curious about the supplies and equipment that a professional outdoor school deems crucial.

Paddles Jeff began by showing me the food storage building. Shelves lined the walls, and sealed bins contained measured quantities of staples such as beans and dried noodles. Ingredients for soups and other quick nutritious meals were pre-packed and carefully labeled. There were files on a desk for inventory and planning. Jeff's wife, Anne, has it all under control.

Canoes As Food Manager, Anne is responsible for planning the backcountry menus and packaging food supplies for up to 90 students plus the 18 accompanying staff. She also provides the "homefolk" - basecamp support staff made up of Site Manager, Course Directors, Logistics Staff, and others - with exceptional home cooked meals. Considering the possible food allergies and special dietary needs of that many people, Jeff noted, her task is an enormous one.

(To put her accomplishments into perspective, I recall hiking out of Death Hollow after four days with four people, our remaining supplies consisting of one squished hard roll to be shared among us. It didn't occur to me that something might go wrong and prolong our trip. That's why Anne - and not someone like me - is Food Manager.)

10-person canoe For transport, large groups - such as the ninth graders out this week - divide into smaller subgroups of ten to twelve, and they use two-person aluminum Grumman canoes. For simplicity, smaller groups of twenty or so may use large fiberglass canoes that accommodate up to ten people each. We saw one of the fiberglass canoes on the river - sure enough, ten students were paddling and singing "Stayin' Alive". Instructors pontooned discretely alongside.

Supply storage Jeff showed me the supply house, where carefully itemized storage lockers (right) contain PFDs, tents, screen hammocks (they are akin to a bivvy-sack), mats, cook stoves, pots and pans and utensils, all organized by expedition and meticulously documented. Laminated maps of various routes through the Ten Thousand Islands were stacked nearby, as were summer-weight sleeping bags.

"For warm nights, the students bring an old sheet from home," Jeff explained, "and just sleep atop the sleeping bags."

In remote watery sites, canoeists may be unable to camp on land. The school supplies varnished plywood boards that fit in the bottom of the Grummans; the canoes raft together, place a couple of anchors, and use the plywoods to create a small floating island. Called "the boards" this temporary island becomes home sweet home and is used as a classroom, kitchen, and sleeping area.

Porta-johns What about sanitation? The school teaches "Pack it in/ pack it out." They tote boxy porta-johns (left) which are emptied into the septic system back at base camp.

Shoe stash Finally, what's with the shoes? Jeff laughed. "We ask them to bring sneakers so they don't cut their feet on oysters - surf mocs aren't tough enough. Some kids don't want to lug them home so they leave them here." He showed me some of the newer-looking pairs, right. "This stash is here for kids who forgot or can't afford their own."

With no exception, the school appeared to be extremely well-organized and efficient. These folks run a tight ship.

Island Campus

Main house The Everglades Base Camp is located on Sunset Island, a private oasis along the northern shore of the Barron River just downstream of Everglades City, in the midst of Florida's Ten Thousand Islands.

This island is habitable because the building site is elevated atop ancient "shell mounds". The mounds are the accumulated leavings and precise grading accomplished by generations of Native Americans. The high and dry area was their home, and it became home to the European settlers and farmers who came after.

In this century the Brown Family farmed Sunset Island, shipping their produce down the river and thence to Key West. The main house, above right, was built entirely of cyprus, between 1928 and 1932. It now houses offices, a comfortable common room, large dining room and commercial kitchen. The kitchen and its storage rooms are the only air-conditioned spaces in the house.

Hook Line & Sinker In the 30s a small bar named the "Hook Line & Sinker" was built on the end of the dock. Many a fisherman returning home to Everglades City stopped here to slake his thirst. When the building was later remodeled to accommodate employee housing it was seen that the plumbing emptied - discretely but directly - into the river. Needless to say, modern and environmentally sound plumbing practices are now employed in all of the school's structures.

Now Jeff and Anne and their dog Carlie live in the former bar at the end of the dock, conveniently close to their second home: a 1966 34' Charlie Morgan sailboat named C'est la Vie.

They sail C'est la Vie up to the North Carolina campus in the spring (Carlie reluctantly uses a litterbox during long passages) and back to Florida in the fall. They are continually making improvements to the boat. Next up: new windows to replace the original plexiglass, now opaque with age. She is a beautiful boat.

Teacher / Student

"There is more to us than we know. If we can be made to see it, perhaps, for the rest of our lives, we will be unwilling to settle for less." - Kurt Hahn, Outward Bound founder

While coordinating courses with schools, Jeff often reconnects with the program's alumni. He recalls a Ft. Myers High School teacher describing two young girls who specifically learned to "find their voices" after a course with the program. Those concrete results inspire him in his work.

"We plant seeds here. Maybe we don't see all the fruits at the time, but we watch as kids gain a sense of pride and accomplishment."

Common room Jeff remains true to his roots as an educator, working with students and staff - and the occasional cruising tourist, seen gathered in the common room, right - to convey the philosophical and environmental basis of Outward Bound.

His enthusiasm for the program and its principles is contagious.

"I'm never bored," he said. "There is always a new avenue to pursue. I started as a climbing instructor and backpacker, now I'm in the marine program."

When - IF - he becomes too laissez faire about that aspect he is certain that he can find a new challenge or a new activity within the school. Of his work, he says "I am always engaged."

Nautical Program

Outward Bound's nautical origins can be seen in its name, the nautical term that describes the moment a ship leaves the safety of the harbor for the unknown challenges and adventures of the open sea.

The North Carolina Outward Bound School offers kayak and canoe courses in Florida's Ten Thousand Islands, in North Carolina's whitewater rivers and Outer Banks, and the Exumas Cays of the Bahamas - as well as mountaineering courses in the Appalachians and Patagonia.

Outbuildings Students only spend a day or two at the beautiful campus (more outbuildings, left and below right) before heading out. Courses for youths (ages 14-16) and teens (ages 16-18) may last five to seven days; college courses and courses for adults (18+, 23+ and 30+) may last up to 14 days and provide college credits; semester courses may last up to 70 days. Group Education Programs are partnerships with schools, colleges and community groups.

Instructors are present with groups the whole time, especially during the water-base courses. The itinerary progresses from a training mission to the "Main Expedition", then students rally to discuss their situation and prepare for the "Final Expedition". Some trips include "Solo" ventures of varying duration.

As an example of the creative teaching the school employs, many courses are designed to follow the pattern established by the natural hydraulic systems crucial to the Everglades' survival: first night campsites are in the uplands north-east of the coast, progressive campsites follow the water along creeks toward the Bay. Students literally learn as they go.

Outward Bound's core values - Physical Fitness, Craftsmanship, Self-Reliance and Compassion - are life skills in a nutshell. Students are actively encouraged to continue expanding their horizons after graduating. As Jeff said, the seed is planted. Students are taught that it's their responsibility and privilege to nurture its growth.

Outward Bound's History

During World War II, a British merchant mariner noticed that older, more seasoned sailors were better able to survive a sinking by a German U-boat than their younger, presumably more fit, shipmates.

Outbuildings The problem was recognized as a lack of confidence rather than a shortage of skill or equipment: the younger sailors had not yet developed an understanding of their own physical, emotional and psychological resources, nor were they as accustomed to working as a team with their crewmates.

The first Outward Bound school was founded in Wales, United Kingdom, in 1941. Students were provided with progressively challenging opportunities for success and they immediately demonstrated an innate yearning to master challenges and uncover latent physical, spiritual and moral strengths.

Today, there are over 40 Outward Bound schools worldwide. All are non-profit entities. Learn more at OutwardBound.org, or NCOutwardBound.org.

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Ship's Manifest