Q&A with Mariner Sea Scout founder Jim “Skip” Wehan

By Steve Breazeale

When Jim Wehan was 12 years old, his dad and uncle decided that all three Wehan boys were going to work together and build a 28-foot wooden ship. The model, known as an H28, took a lot of hard work and discipline to put together, but they finally accomplished their shared goal.

That initial foray into woodworking, engineering and the art of learning how to sail turned out to be the spark that ignited what would be a lifelong passion for Wehan.

“We sailed that vessel all the way up until the time I got married,” Wehan, now 80, said. “That’s where it all started.”

As a mathematics teacher at Mission Viejo High School, Wehan parlayed his two passions, education and the sea, to create the Mariner 936 Sea Scout unit 42 years ago. The group, which calls the Dana Point Harbor home, is a year-round co-ed youth organization.

Wehan, known better as “Skip” in the harbor, has volunteered over 10,000 hours of his time to help educate the youth of South Orange County in the ways of sailing. For his years of service, the Dana Point City Council honored Wehan as its most recent volunteer of the quarter.

The Dana Point Times caught up with Wehan one day before he was set to embark on a nine-day journey with the Sea Scouts that would take them through the Channel Islands to talk about his life, legacy and, of course, the sea.

Dana Point Times:  Why did you feel the need to start a Sea Scout unit in Dana Point?

Jim Wehan: When I was teaching at Mission Viejo High School, we had sailing classes. But at the end of the class, the kids wanted to continue sailing and keep the club going. That’s how I found out about the Sea Scouts. I found I could solve the liability issues the school district had by founding the unit. It started out with just a few boats but has grown into this huge fleet that we have now.

What is it you enjoy most about being the Skipper of the Mariner Sea Scouts?

I have totally enjoyed my career working with teenagers. I have been in love with the sea and all the maritime aspects of it ever since I was nine years old. It’s been wonderful to put those two things together. We have just an incredible program.

Jim “Skip” Wehan foudned the Mariner Sea Scout unit 936 in Dana Point 42 years ago. Photo: Steve Breazeale

Why does everyone call you Skip? I’m assuming it’s because of your title?

Well people use Skipper as a kind of more familiar way to say Captain. I found if you just go by Skipper, kids will eventually start calling you Skippy, which I don’t like (laughs). So I said, OK, let’s just call it Skip. I can handle that.

What are the duties of a Sea Scout Skipper?

Overseeing is a major duty at this point. One of the things we do on a long cruise, for instance, is work with the Ocean Institute to make sure the Spirit of Dana Point is safe and everybody onboard is safe. And I make sure we have a program that’s really fun and instructive for the kids.

What do you want a young person to take away from the Sea Scouting experience?

I want them to have a really good time. That social aspect of it is really the glue that holds the whole thing together. What we’d like them to learn is they could have as a recreational sport for the rest of their lives. We would hope they would continue to sail and go exploring.

There is also the vocation end to it as well. We’ve got kids that have graduated from the Coast Guard Academy and are actively serving. We’ve got kids now on major ships working their way up the line. We have kids who have become fishing captains as well.

When you look back at all the time you’ve spent volunteering, is there something you’re most proud of?

I think the most satisfaction comes from the graduates who have come back to tell me what an extremely worthwhile experience it was. How it was so important to their high school years.

After all these years, do you still get excited about going on a long trip like the one you will go on tomorrow?

Oh yeah. It’s fun. And the kids are all really excited about going. It’s been a wonderful career, but I’m still doing a lot of work as the captain for the Ocean Institute and I’m now going down south to work with the San Diego Maritime Museum.

For more information on the Mariner 936, visit www.mariners936.com.

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