CASTINE, Maine — After a career that has spanned the seven seas and touched the lives of thousands of Maine Maritime Academy students, both as a skipper and as a teacher, Capt. Laurence “Larry” Wade is stepping down as master of the college’s training vessel, State of Maine.
Wade said he made his announcement to retire early in order to ensure a smooth transition for the new captain. He will remain at the academy through the spring for that transition, but will not be on board the training ship for the two-month cruise next summer.
Wade has been the master of the State of Maine since 1996 and during that time has guided more than 3,000 MMA student mariners around the world during 15 training cruises, according to MMA President William Brennan.
“He will be greatly missed, but I am confident that we will not lose touch as I know he will retain his close ties with the academy,” Brennan said. “It is with a great sense of pride that I can say I have sailed with Captain Wade — that I have been his shipmate.”
Wade has had a long association with the college. He graduated from MMA in 1964 and began a career as a professional merchant marine that lasted more than 30 years and took him all over the world.
“It was challenging back then,” Wade said. “Things were changing all the time. I sailed on the first of the big ships coming out then. And I sailed on the second fully automated ship in the world.”
At 80,000 tons, those ships were about twice the size of the largest ships before them, he said.
“It was a lot of fun,” he added. “There was some intrigue. You got to see so many different things. But at the same time, when you’re at sea, something can happen every day.”
Being captain of some of the large tankers brought with it a lot of responsibility. Sometimes, he said, it was “scary.” One of the most harrowing incidents took place in Prince William Sound in Alaska in 1979. He was taking an oil tanker fully loaded out of Valdez when the vessel lost power.
“It was a raging gale,” Wade recalled. “Just horrible, horrible weather. The seas were breaking over our sides. We spent 19 hours adrift, fully loaded, and we didn’t spill anything.”
The Coast Guard wasn’t able to get out to help them and one of the tugs that did make it out took on water and flooded its lazaret, the area where its steering mechanisms were located. They had to find shelter behind an island and wait for someone to pump them out.
“We were within a half-mile of going onto the rocks, when the engine room called and said they’d restored some power and could give me some rotations. I said, ‘Give me all you got,”’ Wade recalled. “We were able to get back to Valdez. I think we were the first ship to go back in there loaded.”
Wade said he made more than 300 trips to Valdez over the years, as well as stops all over the world. When he wasn’t hauling oil, he said, they would clean up the ship and haul grain from the U.S. to countries in Africa and Europe, from Ethiopia to Yemen, to Turkey and even to Russia.
Weather is always a factor at sea, but despite incidents such as the Valdez storm, Wade said he never felt he was in danger of going down with his ship.
“I always made sure that my ship was ready and capable of handling it,” he said. “If it wasn’t, I didn’t go out.”
Wade retired for the first time in the 1990s and started his own maritime consulting company. It was during that time that he helped to convert the current State of Maine from a U.S. Navy vessel to a training ship, and it was then that MMA tapped him to be the ship’s skipper.
“Larry was able to convert that ship so that it was the most technically modern training ship in the United States, if not the world,” said Leonard Tyler, who was president at MMA during Wade’s tenure as captain. “The thing that has always impressed me is that, despite being — well, my age — he is so technically savvy. And he brings that technology to the students on the training cruise and in the classroom at the academy.”
Being skipper of the State of Maine has been a good “retirement job,” Wade said.
“I’ve had a great time with the students and the cruises. The kids are so great,” he said. “They have such a quest for knowledge. And our job is to provide them with all they need to know.”
On one cruise, Wade recalled, the State of Maine was headed out of Genoa, Italy, and its next stop was at Marseille, France. It was just a short trip down the coast, but because they were on a training cruise, they often go out for several days on exercises.
So instead of sailing directly to Marseille, the ship sailed around the islands of Corsica and Sardinia off the Italian coast. They were headed east through the Strait of Bonifacio between the two islands, Wade said. They have a stringent traffic control system through the strait, he said.
“There was a lady midshipmen who was the officer of the deck,” he said. “She called in to Bonifacio control and gave him the whole spiel: Our length, tonnage, and she told him we were going to Marseille. Well, we were headed east and Marseille was on our stern. The officer says to her, ‘Are you sure you’re going to Marseille?’ She said yes, and he sent us on our way.”
After a day or two, the ship headed through the strait again, this time heading west. As luck would have it, he said, the same midshipman was the officer of the deck, and the same traffic control officer was on duty in the strait.
“She called up again and started through the whole spiel when he [the traffic officer] interrupted her and said. ‘Wait, I’ll bet you’re still going to Marseille.’ She responded, ‘Yes, sir, we are.’”
The training cruises, which have taken MMA students to ports as diverse as St. Petersburg, Russia; and San Juan, Puerto Rico; Bayonne, France; and Barcelona, Spain, are designed to prepare students for situations they will encounter after they graduate.
“The basics of seamanship don’t ever change, but technology has changed tremendously, and there are so many more things available to help them operate the ship now, for both the mates and the engineers,” he said. “In some way, it makes it easier. But we try to make sure they have an understanding of the basics; we try to train them so that they have a sixth sense that tells them when their instruments are lying to them.”
Students respond to Wade because of his knowledge and his personality.
“Students have a great deal of respect for him as the ship’s master,” said Capt. Jeffrey Loustaunau, the commandant of midshipmen at MMA. “They respect the position, but they also respect Larry Wade. He knows his stuff and the students respect that. They’re trying to be him; they want to become licensed mariners and he’s been a tremendous example for them.”
MMA senior Taylor McGovern of Orrs Island has had the chance to work closely with Wade while serving as cadet master, the captain’s student counterpart on the training ship.
“The guy’s a genius,” McGovern said. “He’s got all that experience behind him; it’s just amazing. He’s tough on us, but he’s tough because he has to be. He tells it to you straight. And he really looks out for the students. He expects a lot from us, but he’s able to teach us a whole lot.”