CASTINE — When some 210 Maine Maritime Academy juniors boarded the State of Maine in early January for a two-week training cruise through the North Atlantic they had little choice.
As candidates for Coast Guard licenses, they were required to spend a certain amount of time at sea before they could qualify to become Merchant Marine deck or engineering officers. Unfortunately for them, the Coast Guard increased the number of required days at sea for students entering MMA and other maritime academies, starting with the admission of the Class of 2017, from 60 to 90.
To meet those requirements, the annual summer cruise was lengthened to 90 days. For juniors, who had already completed a 45-day training cruise, the academy added a 15-day winter cruise in both 2015 and this year to ensure that those students could satisfy their sea-time requirements.
Joining the license candidates who had to be on board when the training ship sailed for St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands last month were 15 intrepid students whose presence was entirely voluntary — all of them undergraduates in MMA’s Loeb-Sullivan School of International Business and Logistics. Their instructor for the trip was the business school’s dean, Donald Maier.
The trip, Maier said, offered “an opportunity for non-license students to learn what deck and engineering students go through,” when they go to sea and a chance to “learn about logistics on board.”
It was also an opportunity for Maier.
“I’d never been at sea,” he said. “I’ve moved (shipping) containers all over the world and never had the opportunity to follow one.”
The trip represented the first time that IBL students sailed on a training cruise, Maier said, but not for lack of trying. On its regular summer training cruises, the ship usually carries a full complement of about 225 student license candidates.
“There never was space on the summer cruises,” Maier said. “There were extra beds on this trip and Nate Gandy (Commandant of Midshipmen Capt. Nathan Gandy) offered us space in October.”
Although the school didn’t give final approval to the plan until November, Maier had no trouble signing up students for the three-credit elective course that would give them the chance to “learn about logistics on board.”
“I had a great experience,” Lyla Mathieu, from Fairfield, said last week. The junior, who is planning to intern with the German automaker BMW in Munich next summer, said the course “should have been implemented earlier and should be required in the future.”
Eleanor Carr, a sophomore from Bucksport, thought the course was “very, very valuable” for someone planning a career in logistics.
“There is no way to gain the information I did without experiencing it,” Carr said. “It’s really important to understand what we’re going to be moving,” as ship’s agents or some working in some other area of the maritime supply chain.
The IBL students got a good look at what it takes to actually run a ship at sea. Unlike the license candidate students, they didn’t actually stand deck or engine room watches, but they shadowed the students who did.
Wearing steel-toed shoes and work clothes like regular crew members, the IBL students stood on deck with student lookouts, visited the bridge and even spent time far below decks in the engine room. They reorganized and updated the ship’s engineer’s library, assisted with parts and supply inventory work and helped the ship’s yeoman’s department.
The experience promoted “camaraderie” between the license and non-license students, said Kendra Underhill, a sophomore from Newport.
“They learned we weren’t in their way,” said the sophomore, who will spend her summer co-op working at the Cianbro construction company. “Both sides got experience. We were all surprised that we were busy seven days a week.”
Mathieu said she “had a lot of help from my peers on deck and engine watch.”
The learning process went both ways. Before the winter cruise, neither Carr, Mathieu or Underhill had spent any time at sea, and Underhill had never even shared a room with anyone. On State of Maine, the students found themselves bunked three to a tiny cabin.
The experience “allowed me to com out of my shell,” Mathieu said. “You really didn’t have a choice.”
The IBL students were busy during the ship’s brief stay in St. Croix, too. As part of their program they visited a long-closed, derelict Alcoa facility located next to a shorefront oil refinery. The visit was part of an assignment to develop a busnisess plan for an Environmental Protection Agency-designated “brownfield” site. The EPA defines a brownfield as real estate so contaminated by a hazardous substance or pollutant that its potential redevelopment or reuse would be complicated.
As successful as the cruise was for the IBL program, Maier said the probability of a repeat in the near future is low. With no more winter cruises planned, he said, “we’d have to do it in the summers and space is limited.” The school’s Ocean Studies program would also like the opportunity to take its students to sea.
Despite the probability that the cruise won’t appear as a part of the IBL program in the foreseeable future, Maier was satisfied with what was accomplished.
“I think the educational objectives were achieved,” Maier said.
The students were satisfied too.
“I had a great experience,” Mathieu said.
Both Carr and Underhill said they would “absolutely do it again.”