Sailing the Seas


Camp Sea Gull (boys' camp)/Camp Seafarer (girls' camp)

Arapahoe, N.C.

Four-week term (ages 7-16): $2,775

One-week starter camp (ages 6-9): $600

(Sea Gull/Seafarer also offers international traveling programs and specialty camps at various price levels)

Running a successful camp is about mixing the right ingredients, in the right order, in the right way. Or, for sailors, it's about blending a skilled skipper and crew with a sturdy ship.

Cille Griffith found that each ingredient in camp has to work and fit together just so to ensure continued success. Griffith became Camp Seafarer's director about 10 years ago (Seafarer is the girls' component of the Sea Gull/Seafarer duo), and learned one of the most valuable lessons a director can learn… how to maximize teamwork toward a common goal.


Griffith had been a camper and counselor at Seafarer years ago, and in between the time she was asked to take the director's position, she married, had children, went to graduate school and taught. Cille's husband, Lloyd, directed a Y camp in the Berkshires while Cille was teaching. Lloyd became the director at Sea Gull 12 years ago.

"I'm just glad I didn't know before I went into it how difficult it was going to be and how many times I was going to feel insecure about what I was doing and how I was going to figure things out," Cille says. "My history had been away from camp for so long, so they didn't know me. I didn't have the relationships with the staff -- I didn't know their skills and they didn't know mine."

Faced with that situation, some people may try to assert their leadership by making wholesale changes to the camp, but Cille took a different path. She describes herself as a "collaborative leader" and this style helped ease the transition.

"They were very attached, and rightly so, to the previous director, Judy Bright. We had to build a relationship of trust, and that was the bottom line. You should start out trying to learn everything you can learn. I was very open and honest about needing their help and understanding and, more than anything, needing their support. I think they respected the fact that I was vulnerable and wanted their input," Cille says.

There's a fine line between allowing collaboration to make the director into a puppet of sorts, and being a dictator. Cille says she's found that balance.

"Young people really like collaborative leadership. They liked that I respected their feelings and opinions, and that I had a vision," Cille says. "I was going to get their input, but they could also count on me to make decisions for the camp. Right from the beginning we had an agreement. They might not agree with my final decision, but the expectation was that when they signed that contract as the administrative staff member that they would support that."


A lot of what the Griffiths have learned about running the camp come from its founder, Wyatt Taylor. One of Taylor's favorite mantras was, "When you stop getting better, you stop being good."

Camp Sea Gull/Seafarer has taken the words to heart. It has kept what was a rock-solid foundation for camp programming, while improving and expanding on the formula. The camp has maintained its core mission since its inception in 1948 (the girls' camp was founded in 1961).

Early on, the camp decided on a different method of guiding children through activities. Rather than work out pre-determined schedules, the children were (and are) given day-to-day free choice.

"Some parents will call with a concern about what's keeping their children from wandering for four weeks and not doing anything, and it's a good question because it's a big camp (about 800 boys and 300 staff at Sea Gull, 600 girls and about 250 staff at Seafarer)," says associate director Paul Frantz, "We put a lot of emphasis on children growing in their independence and self confidence to go and try new things."

The camp takes what Frantz calls a "liberal arts approach." Campers are encouraged to try everything, then to narrow the field to what interests them most.

The system is filled with checks and balances. First, there's a low camper-to-counselor ratio, about three-to-one. The ratio allows more individual attention. Help, guidance and influence is ever-present.

Second, the camp utilizes a unique system of pocket books, called rank manuals. The manuals are color-coded blue and green -- green for land activities and blue for seamanship (sailing and motor boating).

Campers carry them around and have each successfully completed activity check-marked by staff that leads the activity. As they progress through a certain activity they attain higher ranks.

It's a neat dual system that plays off the emphasis on independence while giving the staff a benchmark for where the campers are in their camp experience.

"The formula has not changed. I was a camper back in the '70s, and I stepped back in and it felt very familiar," says Frantz. "The ranks are constantly updated and revised, just as we are looking at best practices of teaching and skill development."

The camp's name gives away its emphasis -- boating. However, it has a diverse "land" program, including soccer, basketball, baseball, golf, tennis, archery, riflery, canoeing, swimming, diving and environmental education. Though seamanship is emphasized, land-based programming does not play second fiddle.

After all, there are a number of campers who opt to specialize in a land activity. The camp even has a specialty golf program -- taught by a pro who comes from Raleigh, N.C. -- and a scuba program.

Still, the camp is famous for its boating, and for good reason. It's located on North Carolina's Neuse River, just inland from the Outer Banks. It's a perfect sailing ground for all types of vessels, and especially conducive to teaching. It's protected, yet close to the wide, wild waters of the Atlantic.

There are 84 sailboats and 43 motor boats in Sea Gull's program and 73 sailboats and 32 motor boats in Seafarer's, which range from small and simple sailboats to large and complex vessels. The camps share Joy Boy II -- a big power boat/head boat accommodating 125 passengers -- and a Morgan 41' named Integrity.

There is the potential to have all the boats on the river at one time, says Frantz, so safeguarding the campers while the fleet is out is the camp's number-one priority.

"We have three tenders, a sailing patrol boat and two or three motor-boating patrol boats out on the water, and a visible flag system that tells campers if they need to stay close, come in, or if a storm's approaching," says Frantz. "On the sea we have a thousand foot pier with a main tower on the pier. The sailing master and motor boating captain are up there with binoculars and radio contact with patrol boats on the river. They have an emergency telephone and an up-to-date, real-time radar system.

With the use of a laptop on the tower, we're able to track storms. The system even tells us when storms are going to arrive."

Frantz says the camp is constantly evaluating and tweaking its emergency response procedures and has a legal/medical committee with the Raleigh YMCA to help (the camp is part of an association of YMCAs, called the YMCA of the Triangle Inc.).

Frantz credits the ACA's accreditation process with helping the camp take an objective view of its risk management, leading to better practices.


Another important emphasis is the appreciation of nature and the outdoors. The camp is situated on an ideal piece of real estate, fronted by the Neuse and backed by forest.

Plans are in the works for a year-round office, an adventure center and a creative and performing arts center for the girls' camp. Cabin renovation is being completed and the waste-water treatment plant and underground wiring has been renovated.

When the camp decided to renovate the girls' dining hall it made a conscious decision not to air-condition it. Instead, it's screened in and very open. Cille says air conditioning tends to block your connection to nature.

"Part of the gift we received from Becket (the camp in the Berkshires that Lloyd directed) is being able to help children realize the value of the natural environment. That's driven our long-range site plan," Cille says. She adds that long-range planning can't happen without collaboration between the camp, volunteers associated with the camp through all of its eras and its plan architect, Schmidt, Copeland, Parker, Stevens.

Again, listening is the key.

As the camp moves into its long-range plans, it's also creating a slightly different feel for the girls' camp. The two camps are, by both necessity and tradition, very similar. But subtle differences exist that require different approaches and programming strategies.

"One of the things that has been interesting is that, having been spun off from a boys' camp, Seafarer initially was somewhat a replica of Sea Gull," Cille says. "As girls have come into this environment, former directors and I have seen interests unique to girls. At Sea Gull they think activities and at Seafarer they think relationships. And from that has come a horseback riding program and a stronger creative drama and performing arts program. Performing arts gives girls such a voice and such an interest in developing their imaginations and creativity."

It really goes back to Wyatt Taylor's philosophy about always improving. The camp has kept its foundation, building upon it while not losing sight of its mission.

Other programming that's been added includes an international leadership program for older teens, called S.E.A. (Sea Gull & Seafarer Experience Abroad) Venture. They travel to various spots around the world -- including France, South Africa, Costa Rica and Australia -- and do a variety of activities, from glacier hiking to sailing off the coast.

"All programs begin at camp -- the mission, the expectations and values are the same. We feel strongly that our off-site programming is an expansion of what we're doing at camp," Cille says. "We talk about how they are going to become a part of that culture and the openness to understand, appreciate and value a different culture. We also talk about the service projects we're going to do in those countries. When we go to a place we want to leave it better than we found it, just like we do at Sea Gull and Seafarer."

Bryan BuchkoComment