Amateur survivalists rough it on Wickets Island

Dec 7, 2022

Marese Barry-Belanger never had the chance to be a Girl Scout. On the stony shore of Wickets Island, without food or shelter, she was forced to learn survival the hard way.

“We won’t go hungry,” she said, pointing out the shellfish on the beach.

There was just one problem. Barry-Belanger is vegan.

A motley crew of survivalists-in-training took a raft to Wickets Island for a two-hour tour on Sunday, Dec. 4. On the island, they learned bushcraft, the art and science of surviving in the wilderness. 

Even when forced to “rough it,” the island gave Barry-Belanger a sense of serene isolation in nature.

“People pay so much to go on vacation,” she said, “but this is it, right here!”

The tour was supervised by Stuart Downie, Vice President of Outdoor Exploration for the Buzzards Bay Coalition. 

“There are fundamental skills that everyone should know just in case,” said Downie, who has done bushcraft for 20 years. “They are skills that we all had hundreds of years ago, that we’ve lost through technology. It helps bring back some of those back-to-nature ways of living and looking after the environment.”

“Where are you from?” Kyla Stearns asked Downie. “You have the accent of all the survivalists.”

Downie is from the Isle of Wight, off the southern coast of England. Television survivalist Bear Grylls also grew up there, but Downie dislikes Grylls because he takes too many risks.

Kyla, her husband Robert and her sons, 6-year-old Hunter and 5-year-old Callen, are avid fans of survival shows. 

“I feel like I’m on one of the TV shows, you know?” Kyla said as she and her family foraged for firewood.

“They had a bigger boat, though,” Ryan replied. 

10-year-old Grayson Eames was curious about everything, especially the steep cliffs left on the shoreline by erosion.

“I really wanna go up there,” he said. “That looks so much fun.”

He stomped around on the soft, muddy sand.

“What in the world is that?” He said. “That’s the most weird sand ever. It’s squishy, like a plushie.”

Eames has been interested in survival ever since he saw an episode of Bear Grylls’s TV show. He once fashioned a wooden shelter in his grandmother’s backyard.

“I think it’s great that he likes spending time outdoors,” said his mother Jennifer, who accompanied him on the trip. “It’s something we both enjoy.”

Once the crew returned to their encampment, Downie split them into teams and gave them their challenge. They had to build a fire powerful enough to boil water in a kettle. The team whose kettle whistled first would win bragging rights for the rest of the day. 

“Once it builds up, you need to nurture it, and love thy fire,” Downie said. 

His preferred fire-starting tool is a flint and steel, a mainstay of survival shows.

“It’s a manufactured version of what we’ve been doing with stone and metal and flint since the olden, olden days.”

Grayson displayed his own flint and steel proudly. He likes his better than Downey’s, because it has a built-in compass.

Downie said that in a pinch, you can use a cell phone battery to start a fire.

“Can’t you use a Doritos bag?” Grayson asked.

Buzzards Bay Coalition Adventures Manager Laura Lamar confirmed that he could, because the grease in Doritos is flammable. 

Downie gave each team a knife to shave the firewood.

“No stabbing,” Robert warned Hunter.

Downie used a Nepalese kukri knife to cut his firewood. He has one that he got in Nepal, but it broke from him using it so much. It currently sits on the mantle of the fireplace in his cabin.

“It’s like a little machete,” Grayson said. “That’s pretty cool.”

Grayson brought his own machete, but didn’t use it because it was dull.

“You don’t need sharpness for bashing,” Stuart said.

Grayson glowed with pride from the size of his fire.

“I’m more successful than two adults,” he said. “I’m impressed with me.” 

The kettle of Barry-Belanger and her partner Gary DeRusha whistled first. Nobody was more surprised by this than Barry-Belanger herself.

“I can’t believe it!” She said. “It’s a beautiful sound.”

“I think we succeeded,” Grayson told his mom. “We survived.”