CASTINE, Maine — The horns blared. Friends and family cheered and waved, and a few loved ones shed tears Tuesday morning as the 500-foot State of Maine eased away from the Maine Maritime Academy dock, pivoted with the aid of two tugboats, and slowly motored out of the harbor on its way to Europe.
The ship, carrying 235 MMA students and 55 crew and staff members, will travel to ports in France, Germany and England as part of the annual, two-month training cruise.
The cruise helps students seeking U.S. Coast Guard licenses to meet the time-at-sea requirements. Students usually take the cruise at the end of their first and third years. In between, they ship out for the summer on a variety of commercial vessels.
The cruise officially started Friday, and first-year students were ready to get underway Tuesday morning.
“I guess I’m anxious,” said Murphy MacLeod of Belfast, who just completed his first year at MMA.
MacLeod said he was looking forward to rough seas.
“I want to experience the things you don’t usually see,” he said.
Shaun Stayte, another first-year student from North Yarmouth, said his only real seagoing experience has been a ferry ride across the English Channel.
“I want to experience what it’s really like at sea,” he said. “We’ve had the training at school. I want to see what it’s like out at sea.”
Christopher Ney of South Paris said he’s also a newcomer to ocean travel.
“I just wanted to be able to experience the sea; I figured a 500-foot ship is the best way to experience it,” he said. “I’m excited. People who have been through it have said it’s hard, tough, but if you get through it, you’ll love it, and you’ll want to come back.”
Christine Norton of Bar Harbor gazed through binoculars searching for her son, Christopher Gridley, who is sailing on his first training cruise.
“I’m very excited for him,” she said. “He’s a hard worker, and I know he’s going to learn everything he can.”
Stephanie and Harry Rancourt of Hampden finished a final cell phone call to their son Luke, a junior who is heading out on his second training cruise on the State of Maine.
“He seems more confident this year;” Stephanie Rancourt said. “He’s done it before. He seems more excited, being an upperclassman.”
While the younger students move from job to job during the cruise, upperclassmen have the responsibility for running the vessel under the watchful eye of Capt. Larry Wade, the master of the ship, and the professional crew on board.
Gillian Faustine of Pittsfield, Mass., is the student regimental commander for the cruise who will oversee the 235 students on board during the two-month trip.
“I’m looking forward to being out at sea, working on the bridge and working in the ports,” she said. “And I’ve never been to Europe.”
The on board work is one of the benefits of the cruise for the students, according to MMA President William Brennan.
“This is an opportunity for them to take what they’ve learned and to apply it in a practical way,” he said. “For many of them, this is why they came here in the first place. This is what it’s all about.”
Brennan, who officially started his duties as president on Monday, was on board when the ship pulled away from the dock. He planned to sail out into Penobscot Bay with the students on Tuesday. He will rejoin the ship later in the cruise.
Brennan is no stranger to MMA cruises, having grown up in Castine, the son of an MMA administrator.
“I’ve seen plenty of cruises depart, and I’ve even been on a couple of them,” he said. “But this is my first one as president, and it’s special for me to be a part of it now.”
Students and staff again will coordinate “Follow the Voyage,” the ship tracking website that is available through www.mainemaritime.edu.
Also, in coordination with Educational Passages, the students will launch several 4.5-foot, unmanned sailboats equipped with GPS and satellite transmitters at various locations. Educational Passage, out of Belfast, works with student and community groups to track the boats as they travel on the wind and currents.
The State of Maine is scheduled to arrive in Portland on June 20 and be back in Castine on June 26.