Sailor lauded with Sea Scout award

Bill Ficker's list of maritime accomplishments is long, but at a luncheon Wednesday he reminded attendees about one that event organizers forgot: early adopter of stand-up paddleboarding.

"I'm a little hurt," joked Ficker, an America's Cup winner and architect who was being honored with the 2012 Good Sea Scout Award from the Newport Sea Base.

The 84-year-old then showed off a picture of himself as a boy, gliding across a wide open Newport Harbor, using what he said was a kayak paddle.

That was in 1937, he said, which appropriately was the same year that the Newport Sea Base opened on the harbor waterfront.

Ficker was recognized Wednesday for his "significant contributions to our harbor community," according to a news release. About 80 supporters of the facility's programs turned out for the lunch, held at the Newport Harbor Yacht Club.

Newport Sea Base, which is operated by the Boy Scouts of America's Orange County Council, provides opportunities for kids to learn about various aspects of the marine environment through sailing and other programs.

In addition to several area competitive sailing teams, the base is also home to three Sea Scout ships. The Sea Scouts are a division of the Boy Scouts' Venturing program for young men and women ages 14 to 21.

Dressed in a white and navy sailor's uniform, Laguna Beach High School student Liz Fletcher, 17, spoke about her experiences as a Sea Scout as guests nibbled salad.

"The feeling of racing a 38-foot boat up Newport Harbor," she said, is a "mix of terror and elation."

Leading cruises to Catalina Island and racing as a Sea Scout taught Fletcher leadership and helped her "stay out of trouble throughout high school," she said.

Newport Sea Base Director Shana Aguirre said the base serves about 28,000 locals per year.

She said that the sea base serves as an introduction to the water for many of the kids who visit.

"This event is important because it allows us to expand programs," she said. "I look at our participants, and they're role models."

Andrew Mayhugh, a 21-year-old Orange Coast College student and Newport Sea Base sailing instructor, said he started taking classes when he was 10.

More than anything, Mayhugh said, he likes the sensation of being on the water.

"[Sailing] can be very exciting, but still relaxing," he said. "Everything else you're worrying about goes away."

After lunch, Ficker was lauded for his sailing prowess by former crewmates in a video tribute.

When Ficker took the podium, though, he emphasized the central role Newport Bay plays in the community's identity.

For the past several decades, Ficker has been a community advocate known for his work helping to resolve coastal issues and planning the Back Bay Bridge at Pacific Coast Highway.

"This bay is what defines the city of Newport Beach," he said.

Twitter: @jillcowan

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