MMA schooner Bowdoin returns from Arctic voyage

Posted July 31, 2008, at 12 a.m.

CASTINE, Maine – Amid the welcoming sounds of horns and on-board cannon volleys from a flotilla of gathered boats, Maine Maritime Academy’ s schooner Bowdoin returned Wednesday afternoon from its two-month Arctic voyage.

The crew, which included 11 MMA students and five professional crew members, dropped the schooner’ s sails and eased the 88-foot vessel into its dockage on the college’ s waterfront. After a brief and final crew muster onboard, they disembarked to greet awaiting friends and family on shore.

The trip, part of a three-month MMA course, covered more than 5,000 nautical miles and took the Bowdoin and crew about 240 miles north of the Arctic Circle, the part of the globe for which the vessel was designed. The Bowdoin was built in 1921 for Adm. Donald MacMillan who sailed the schooner on scientific expeditions until the 1950s.

After crossing the Arctic Circle, the crew was inducted into the Realm of the North Bluenose during a 2 a.m. ceremony which included painting the stem of the Bowdoin and the crew members’ noses blue. Roused from their bunks by the clanging of pots, and clad in swimsuits, the crew members were doused by the fire hose with arctic water — temperature 36 degrees Fahrenheit — and then had to rush forward and kiss the now-blue stem of the schooner.

Capt. Andy Chase of the MMA faculty and a former Bowdoin captain, delivered Blue Nose certificates to the Bowdoin on Wednesday as the schooner entered Castine Harbor.

Few today can boast of sailing in the Arctic waters as the 16 crew members now can and the voyage required bravery, skill and planning, according to Capt. John Worth, the small-vessel master at MMA.

“It’ s a test of personal fortitude and for most, a life-changing experience,” Worth said.

Their accomplishment included a number of high points, along with enough low points to be remembered as well.

They encountered rough weather on the return voyage across the Labrador Sea that beleaguered the Bowdoin and the crew for several days.

“It was exciting at first, but it got old after a while,” said Logan Smith of Tallahassee, Fla. “You weren’ t scared for the boat, but you got tired of getting banged around for about two days.”

“We got knocked around pretty good,” said Jessica Hewitt of Harwich, Mass. “I spent a lot of time hanging over the side. But I did my job. And I got a lot of support from the rest of the crew.”

The high points of the voyage trumped the low ones, and “amazing” was a frequently heard adjective as the sailors described their trip. Some of those high points included, 24 hours of daylight, caribou chili, drinking iceberg water, dips in the frigid Arctic water, brilliant stars, icebergs, and, almost unanimously, Disko Bay.

“We entered the bay and went across and the whole time we were surrounded by icebergs,” said Chris Dimmock of South Kingston, R.I. “Every one of them was different. Thousands and thousands of them, and sometimes in the distance you could see the mountains of Greenland.”

It was a beautiful day, recalled Kate Knudson of Chandler, Ariz.

“The bay was filled with icebergs, big and small, and you could hear them cracking and churning,” she said. “It was fantastic.”

To top it off, she said, a random fishing boat came by and hoisted a bucket full of crab for the crew.

The voyage was no mean accomplishment, and beside that, it was a learning experience and part of the MMA curriculum. The learning came in many forms, according to Capt. Rick Miller, who guided the crew and the Bowdoin over the past two months. The ice and the long passage across the Labrador Sea were part of that experience, he said, along with some formal teaching, especially for the new sailors in the crew.

“But most of the learning was experiential,” Miller said. “On a trip like this, you can’ t help but learn about yourself and about the challenges of sailing in a small vessel and about working as part of a team to keep the boat running safely.”

That kind of lesson hit home for Robin Parker of Irvine, Calif., in heavy weather during the crossing of the Labrador Sea.

“I watched the mates, and I realized that they take on so much responsibility being in charge of the boat,” he said. “And I realized that I’ m going to be responsible for a ship like that some day. It was a good learning experience.”

The Bowdoin had last been in Arctic waters in the 1990s, and this trip was the brainchild of three students, who worked with faculty members to promote and plan the voyage. According to Miller, they documented the planning, preparation and the cruise itself, to provide a guide for the next Arctic voyage.

Miller said he hoped the next trip to the Arctic would be soon, a sentiment that was echoed by many of the younger members of the crew, who already are talking about the next trip.

The day to day captain’ s log for the Bowdoin’ s journey can be seen online at http://bowdoin.mma.edu/arcticcruise&nbspand the nnline ship locater is at http://charthorizon.com/m/cz/map?vessels=Bowdoin

rhewitt@bangordailynews.net

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