When Maine Maritime Academy students lug two months’ worth of uniforms and supplies up the T/S State of Maine’s gangplank, they can look forward to days of routine ship work at sea.
But when the training vessel cruises into port, life gets a little more exciting, said Travis Norwood and Rebecca Metcalf, junior midshipmen preparing for their second cruise.
“The biggest thing is the ports,” Norwood said.
Midshipmen participate in the training cruise as first- and third-year students, with their itinerary switching from Europe to the Caribbean.
“The Caribbean cruise is more of a beach day,” Metcalf said.
This year the State of Maine will stop in Puerto Rico and Tampa Bay, Florida—which has a “huge alumni association,” noted Norwood.
MMA alumni will greet the ship and even throw a party when the ship pulls into ports, Metcalf said. In 2011, the Norfolk, Va. alumni association arranged a tour of Bush Gardens.
It was after the Norfolk stop that Metcalf and Norwood’s first cruise got exciting.
“We were leaving Norfolk and the waves were 25 feet,” said Norwood.
When a storm hits, everyone has to stay at their posts, whether they get seasick or not. Coming out of Norfolk, they did.
“The decks got really messy,” said Metcalf.
But it is the day-to-day life on board that gives students the practical, hands-on training intended by the annual 60-day cruise.
Reveille is at 6:15 a.m., said Norwood. “Someone actually says the word ‘reveille’ over the loudspeaker three times.”
Muster is at 7 a.m., which is the ship’s accountability check, to “make sure no one’s gone overboard,” said Metcalf.
Then it’s straight to the day’s assignment, whether it’s utility (cleaning), maintenance (usually painting), watch or class, until 1600 hours. Each rotation lasts three days.
“The structure on board imitates what a real ship would do,” Metcalf said.
The days go by slowly, Norwood and Metcalf agreed, but the weeks pass quickly.
The benefit of going on your second cruise as juniors, Metcalf said, is that “as freshmen you’re doing what juniors tell you to do. As juniors, you guide the freshmen.”
Despite the monotony of swabbing or painting the decks, “I had a blast freshman year,” said Metcalf.
As juniors, students also have the chance to learn celestial navigation, using the night skies at sea, not just rote formulas.
“You learn it in the classroom and then you do it and it doesn’t seem like magic anymore,” said Norwood.
Both students look forward to shipping out when they graduate in 2015. Norwood shipped as a sophomore with a military sealift command and is veering toward that as a career. Metcalf wants to work on her pilotage, she said.
“We only have a year before we get a real job. This is about as close as you get,” Norwood said.
Learn more about the cruise here