Maritime life was far from over for Stan Severson when he retired from his 20-year Navy career and became a Hoquiam High School teacher.
While teaching classes for alternative students, he began a weekly ritual of teaching them to row.
“Every Thursday, rain or shine, we’d go out on the river and row,” he recalled. “It really drove home the idea you have to work together or we don’t get home.”
That’s the kind of attitude he hopes to teach with the Grays Harbor Sea Scouts, a Boy Scout group formed in 2009: leadership, confidence, teamwork.
“It builds confidence, it builds character. It builds leaders, is what it does,” Severson said.
Severson wasted no time starting his seafaring life, joining the Navy right after he graduated from high school in Ferndale in 1978.
“My dad was in it and I wanted to see the world,” he recalled.
He spent most of his career as a sonarman on submarines, mostly fast attack and ballistic missile submarines, also known as boomers.
“It was the end of the Cold War, the fast attacks had a pretty big role in that. I always felt we were doing something important,” Severson said.
Not everyone can serve on a submarine, with the uniquely close quarters and long periods spent underwater. On most submarines, Severson said, his shoulders would touch the bulkheads if he didn’t turn to the side when he walked.
“It’s a very close environment,” he explained. “There’s no place on this ship I can do a jumping jack.”
On many subs, sleeping arrangements rely on hot racking — When one person gets off shift, he wakes another person and takes his rack.
“The step up from that is a rack in the torpedo room, which is bigger but it’s full of torpedoes,” Severson said. “Torpedoes don’t make much noise. It’s just 660 pounds of explosives.”
He did get to see the world, although it wasn’t always in the way he’d imagined.
“I’ve been to the North Pole — it was in a metal tube underwater,” he said with a laugh.
Severson met his wife, Connie, while the USS Ohio was being worked on in a shipyard near Poulsbo where she lived at the time.
He decided to leave the Navy when they married. Life as a submariner is tough on families.
“There was one year we spent 290 days underwater,” Severson said. Especially at that time, there was little opportunity for any communication off the submarine.
During his last tour, he spent time in Rhode Island working on his teaching credentials, where he and his wife lived aboard his sailboat.
“Living on a boat in Rhode Island … I never understood what humidity was until then,” he said with a laugh.
The Seversons lived on the boat the first three years of their marriage, but by that point they had two young sons.
“The boat was getting pretty small,” he recalled with a smile.
The family moved to Hoquiam for his teaching job, and they’ve been Harborites ever since. They now have five children: sons Stephan, 22, Alex, 18, Zach, 13, Jacob, 10, and daughter Taylor, just about to turn 7.
Around 2009, Severson was approached about skippering for the fledgling Sea Scouts. He agreed — if the group could obtain a ship that has come to be known as the SSS Retriever.
“If we’re going to be Sea Scouts in Grays Harbor, we should have a ship that can get across the bar,” he said.
The boat had been a project of Jimmy Smith, from the History Channel’s “Ax Men.” He was going to use it for aqua logging up the Hoquiam River, but the vessel proved much too large for that. Instead, it sat for years at the Westport Marina.
“There was a sign on it — free boat,” Severson said. “My son said, ‘I dare you to call him.’”
Smith agreed to donate the ship to the scouts, and they’ve worked hard to restore it and get it close to seaworthy.
A major blow came when James Rutz, a former Hoquiam City Council member, was convicted in 2012 of second-degree theft for stealing nearly $1,000 from the scouts.
“We made Rutz our treasurer and that didn’t work out so well,” Severson said.
The damage was more than monetary. Rutz had been the group’s expert on the Boy Scout organization — the other volunteers, like Severson, had the maritime expertise.
“He was our guy, when he left we were foundering,” volunteer Maria Deditius said.
“We never got a replacement,” Severson added.
Beyond that, Severson believes it damaged the scouts by association with Rutz. Since then, they’ve struggled to attract both adult volunteers and, to some degree, teens interested in the unique brand of scouting.
“It’s very similar to being in the Boy Scouts,” he explained. “They earn badges and ranks. They have active roles in the ship — so one of the kids is the boatswain mate.”
The teens learn a variety of nautical skills, from how to handle lines to how to fight shipboard fires.
“The goal is we can put them in a boat and row it around,” Severson said. “It’s been a whole lot of fun.”
“He’s really good with the kids,” Deditius said of Severson. “He’s very knowledgeable and patient.”
The scouts aren’t just for those interested in a maritime career, Severson said. It’s just a fun scouting group that gets teens out on the water and teaches valuable skills. Deditius noted that her nephew has been using his maritime skills to travel the world during the summers on various vessels.
“One summer pays for a year of college, if not more,” she said.
The Scouts meet at the Grays Harbor Historical Seaport site in Aberdeen, participating in a few activities per month. Sometimes they take the Seaport’s 28-foot longboats out on the river and go for a row or sail — Severson’s personal favorite activity — other times they do land-based activities like archery or work on the Retriever.
If the scouts don’t attract more volunteers, they may have to get rid of the boat, possibly as soon as September. “It’s a good boat. I sure don’t want to see it wind up as a derelict, which is sad. We’ve got a lot of blood and sweat in it,” he said.
To find out more about the Sea Scouts, visit their Facebook group at on.fb.me/1kpeZRO.