The Sailing Bradfords

By: 
Roberto Vazquez
JOHNNY BRADFORD, left, with his father, Lee.

The Sea Base Aquatic Center is home to the Long Beach Area Council and its non-profit Sea Scout program. The facility, which sits directly under Davies Bridge, was built in 1965 with money donated from Tidelands oil proceeds.

This is where you will find elder statesman Lee Bradford, II, whose father (Lee, Sr.) first skippered at the Sea Base in the early 60s. Lee, II, assumed the helm in 1968 and continued for 48 years. Donna, his wife of 50 years, and their son, Johnny, sit nearby. Johnny Bradford has become the third generation to lead, assuming the helm six years ago.

Donna Bradford confides, “It’s one of the best kept secrets in Long Beach.” Johnny Bradford quickly adds, “... and we want to let the secret out.”

A branch of Boy Scouts of America, the co-educational maritime program is designed for 13 to 21-year-old youths, to foster character and leadership through skills and traditions of seamanship.

Lee Bradford shares the story of his father, at 14, working in a coke factory, processing coal. Lee, Sr., and his older brother, Ira, had recently learned how to make a tourniquet at a Boy Scout meeting, a fortuitous lesson. Days later, Lee, Sr., had his hand and arm caught in the moving gears of a machine, while at work. Ira Bradford immediately used the Boy Scout lesson, saving Lee, Sr.

As his voice catches, tears begin to roll down Lee Bradford’s face. “He could’ve died. His brother put a tourniquet on. He lived his whole life with one good arm.”

Lee Bradford’s story sums up the spirit of the Sea Scouts program. “He taught everybody down here (at the Sea Base) you can do anything you want to do.”

Chris Macy is the Sea Base Director, a lifelong sailor and waterman. Macy states, “First, we never turn anyone away. Whether financial, whether transportation, we find a way to get them here. They’re better off here.”

Then, Macy points to a lack of confidence in today’s youth. “How many kids do you see that can’t even look you in the eye?” Adding, “It’s not something you can just give to somebody, pull it out of your pocket and hand it to them.”

Director Macy also highlights the employment opportunities in today’s economy, “There’s a need for tradesmen and people who know how to use tools.” The Sea Scouts program offers the tools needed for working with wood, metal, fiberglass and composites.

Macy explains these applied skills complement the confidence and teamwork necessary in boating.

“When you go to sea with somebody, out there, there’s nobody else. If something happens, you gotta work together.” He adds, “No one else is gonna help you. When they do that, it creates that eternal bond … that eternal friendship.”

Macy reiterates, “This is a youth program designed to teach independence,” concluding, “There is such a huge value and return on the investment, physically, morally, socially.…”

Mitchell Gottesmann, a former Sea Scout, said, “I was welcomed with open arms by Skipper Lee and everyone else. (Lee) was always this pillar of knowledge.” Gottesmann, an IT manager, stated, “My leadership is leading by example, a willingness to do it myself. That’s all from Johnny and Lee. That’s how they lead.”

Gottesmann also described the lasting effects of teamwork on the open sea. “My best friends, I met all of them in the crew. Next month I’m attending one of their weddings.”

Gottesmann concluded, “When you’re in a crew, you’re all in there for a reason. That’s one of the great things about the crews. You make friends for life.” For Tim Minner, now middle aged, the Sea Scout experience was also life changing. “I grew up under Lee as a mentor. He taught me so much about boats, sailing and being a leader.”

Minner added, “We were taught at a young age to work with other people, as a team, how to lead and how to complete projects.” Minner emphasized, “Lee was a great teacher, somebody I respect greatly. He’s dedicated his life to helping kids.”

Minner also described the leadership of Johnny Bradford, Skipper of the Emma E. “He’s got more patience than anyone I know. That’s not always easy with young people.” That patient leadership will serve many, including the next generation of Bradfords. Johnny and Melina Bradford are parents to three children, including Evelyn, 9, a Cub Scout member.

Evelyn and her younger brothers, Dylan and Nolan, will one day join the Sea Scouts, too, ensuring the family’s legacy continues. Most importantly, they will form lifelong friendships, develop confidence and be skilled sailors, all because of Sea Scouting.

Indeed, the future of the Sea Scouts and the Bradfords is bright and clear, full of hope and promise, like a ship with the wind in its sails, full speed ahead.

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