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Replacing Their Old Dock With New Tricks : The Boy Scout Sea Base program is saved by volunteers who will design and build the Newport Beach facility.


Every year, about 20,000 kids trample up and down the concrete docks in front of the Boy Scout Sea Base in Newport Beach. Without the docks, there would be no sailing, no windsurfing, no rowing, no canoeing, no fishing.

In short, there would be no Boy Scout program.

That's why when Mickey Harnage, director of the base, discovered that the 15-year-old docks are cracking and developing foot-size potholes that could send a young Scout stumbling into the drink, she got worried.

"In an extreme case, it could mean closing the program," she says. "Docks are the major cost in any waterfront facility, and one Sea Scout program in Marina del Rey did have to close for the summer because of dock problems."

But with a price tag of about $75,000, new docks were out of the question. "We didn't know what we were going to do," Harnage says.

So, when Lisa Miller, a Newport Beach contractor, came up with a plan to build the docks for free, Harnage was elated.

As president of Shellmaker, Inc., a company that specializes in marine construction, Miller, 28, volunteered to head a community campaign called "We're Scouting for a Dock." The first thing she did was sign up some engineering students at UC Irvine who are designing the docks free as a community project.

Miller, who is also donating her own time to the project, says: "In a recession like this, everyone is tired and they want to hear about something nice and positive. This is a feel-good project. People who can't give money can give time. My crew is all going to donate their time."

With free dock designs and free labor, all that remains, according to Harnage, is to solicit donations for lumber and other building materials. "It is a real community effort," he says. "It would be nice if someone gave us a million dollars and said, 'Build new docks,' but I like this better because it is a community project."

Gary L. Guymon, professor of civil engineering at UCI, says the project is not only good for the community, but also is good for the students who are designing the docks. "The community gets a service, and this is a very worthwhile activity. It gives our students a chance to participate in a real project. It is not an exam, but a real, live engineering problem."

The actual design work is being done by members of the UCI student chapter of the Associated General Contractors of California. "Our objective is to provide the Scout Base with engineering services for which they would otherwise have to pay," says Guymon, who serves as adviser to the student chapter.

Because the dock project is being done on a completely voluntary basis, Harnage says she does not know when the work will be completed, but Lisa Miller and her crew hope to start tearing out the old docks in September, after the summer Sea Scout program is over.

"With volunteer professional labor, we'll be able to tear out the old docks in about a day and a half," she says. "Then it will take about three or four weeks after that to finish the job."

In the meantime, Miller is busy signing up additional volunteers and soliciting donations of materials and money. If you would like to help with the dock-building project, you can call Miller at (714) 548-5359.

The new docks will be made of wood, instead of concrete so that minor repairs can be made by Sea Scout maintenance workers, according to Miller.

"My big vision for this project is that you can see what you are giving," Miller says. "What we are going to do is have different sections of the dock that people can buy so that the people who do give money can see what their money is going toward.

"There'll be donation plaques showing who bought that section," Miller says. "Everybody thinks it is a really neat thing, and it is not hard to sell the idea because a lot of success stories have come out of here."

The Sea Base is open to all Orange County young people and has a boating fleet that includes 30 Sabots, 35 canoes, 11 small sailboats and six keel boats ranging up to 50 feet in length. The organization's best-known boat is the 96-foot Argus, a topsail ketch built in 1905 in Denmark and among the oldest boats in Newport Harbor. The Argus serves as a floating Scout camp and training ship.

Over the years, thousands of children have participated in the many nautical programs offered at the Sea Scout Base, which has always depended heavily on volunteer workers and donated equipment. "We couldn't survive without volunteers," says Harnage, who points out that members of the Friends of Argus do most of the maintenance work on the vessel.

Nautical activities offered at the base include sailing, cruising, racing, fishing, scuba diving, swimming, canoeing, rowing and motorboating. The base also serves as a regional boating safety center as part of a program funded by the California Department of Boating and Waterways.

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