I was the over 21 adult on our crew for Sea base and these are some of the things I learned.
This is a draft, but has some good information. I encourage others to share what they learned on this trip too.
Sea Base is a well run high adventure camp. The boys and I had a great time this past week. It’s not without its hardships though. While this adventure is probably not as physically demanding as Philmont (known as the F-word at Sea Base, Northern Tier is known as the N-word) it does take it’s toll on the body. You’ll want some stamina to row 5.5 miles to and from the island. You’ll also need the strength to pull yourself out of the water. We were required to get ourselves up into war canoes, floating docks, and regular docks many times a day. One important requirement you should know is the experience is the same for everyone. When it’s time to go out for an activity no one gets to stay behind at camp (even adults).
Also remove any notions of what a tropical island in the Keys is. You will not find sandy beaches and palm trees on Big Munson Island. You will however, be surprised with the natural beauty and rich history of the island. There are a lot of neat things to learn about.
Results may vary, our trip rained a lot. It was great to not be in direct sunlight most of the week, and it only canceled one activity for us–the night time snorkeling. Overall I feel it was a decent trade. I mention it because this may make our experience on the island atypical.
There is a small breakdown in communication between the people who run the program and the people who make the gear list. As a result we all over packed. To clarify, there is the bag you take to Sea Base and then there is a subset of gear you take to the island. Expect everything you take to the island to get wet. What you don’t take is left behind in a locker, which is why you need a lock. This locker is a huge plywood box big enough for everyone’s gear. I opted to take a keyed lock so I wouldn’t run the chance of forgetting a combination. I took the key with me to the island, and I gave the spare to one of the other adults just in case.
There is a lack of information about exactly what happens on the island. This is intentional and does enhance the experience. There are plenty of things I can share that will not ruin it, but ease apprehension.
As soon as you arrive to Sea Base, a mate will greet you. He or she will be with your crew until the moment you leave. They are a guide for the base and the island, and their information is invaluable. Out mate, Jordan, was experienced and made our trip that much more enjoyable.
Before you go out to the island you are given a wet bag with snorkel gear and a dry bag to keep your things in. The dry bag is big and you shouldn’t have any problem getting everything inside. If you take a sleeping bag or ground pad they will not fit but they’ll give you a garbage bag if you need it. The dry bag does a pretty good job of keeping things dry. While wading to the island I let it float on the water and it only got a little wet inside.
Most of the boys intended to sleep in a hammock and didn’t bring a ground pad. The rain put a nix on the hammock idea 3 of the 4 nights we were there, and to my understanding some of them really missed having a ground pad. It’s bulky and kind of a pain, but I recommend taking a ground pad or sleeping bag to the island. I also had a small pillow which I did not regret.
One of my biggest questions was Skin-so-soft. It is the beauty product, but serves a very important purpose. There are bugs on the island called no-see-ums (I didn’t see or feel any at the main base) that land on you and spray crud that literally begins to dissolve skin. They consume the result (yes gross, but it’s so small you cannot see what’s going on just the resulting red mark). Skin-so-soft prevents their acidic puke from reacting with you. A little goes a long way too. We bought two bottles to share with 6 people and didn’t touch the second bottle. It was used by everyone a couple of times a day. If there were 8 of us, we might have made it to the second bottle. It works so well I recommended getting two just in case. One per person would be complete overkill.
On the island, you only need two sets of clothes; wet and dry. You wear your wet clothes out there so only need to pack the dry. I took a long sleeve shirt and pants just in case but didn’t touch them. If I were to do it again I’d take pants with zip off legs to use as dry shorts, and have the legs just in case. Because of the rain I ended up staying in wet cloths during the day and only wore my dry clothes when I went to bed.
Take Gold Bond Medicated Extra Strength Body Powder. I applied it to all the usual areas every evening before going to bed when changing to dry clothes. I took a large bottle and a small bottle as a backup just in case someone ran out or forgot to bring some. In hindsight the small bottle would have been plenty.
I had bug repellent, but never touched it.
I used a lot of sun screen, but probably not as much as I would have if it was sunny the whole time. I almost killed a bottle by myself. Take a backup bottle for the group.
I have a habit of packing things into plastic bags, the ziplock 1 gallons are nice. Not only to keep gear and clothes dry but for organizational reasons. This turned out to be a good practice, especially when one of my sunscreen bottles came open. It was a mess, but it was a contained mess.
If you have sunscreen, powder, skin-so-soft, or anything useful at the end of your trip donate it to the mates. They’ll make good use of it (they go out almost every week) and it saves them from having to buy it.
You will eat well.
Three words: disposable waterproof camera.
I found not having a watch or knowing what time it is a fun aspect of island life. To be honest I miss that part the most. Your mate will guide you to where you need to go when you need to go there. He or she will also tell you what you need to bring.
When you get back to base there is a place to do laundry if desired. None of us did. I still had a couple of sets of clean cloths in my “left behind” gear. One set for the luau and another for the trip home. I had three garbage bags to separate my island gear from the rest of the gear and used all three (one for the sleeping bag). You also get a few hours between the time you get back and when the luau stats to shower and relax.
Talking to other groups I think we booked our tickets far enough in advance flying into Key West was a good deal. Some groups flew into Miami or Orlando and rented a van. For future trips booking plane tickets early is the key to cost savings.
The taxi service we used was great (forget their name). We rode in a 15 passenger van from Key West airport to Sea Base. There was plenty of room for the 6 of us with gear. It was about a 30 minute trip. Note for future trips: the taxi service has an option for a trailer so that you can transport two crews, 14 people, with gear (gear in the trailer) to Sea Base.