CASTINE, Maine — To the sounds of tugboat whistles and cheers from the shore, the State of Maine, Maine Maritime Academy’s training vessel, eased away from the dock Tuesday morning to start its annual two-month-long training cruise.
Carrying 230 students and 55 crew members, the ship left early Tuesday to catch the slack tide on the Bagaduce River, heading out to Penobscot Bay on the first leg of the journey of about 11,000 nautical miles. With a new skipper on board, Capt. Leslie B. Eadie III of Brewer, the cruise is scheduled to visit ports in Norfolk, Va.; Valletta, Malta; Civitavecchia (Rome), Italy; Cobh, Ireland; and Portland, Maine, before returning to Castine.
Eadie, himself a 1976 MMA graduate, assumed command of the training ship after the retirement of longtime master, Capt. Larry Wade. He is a seasoned, professional mariner with more than 28 years experience at sea. He joined the MMA faculty six years ago and teaches courses in terrestrial navigation, marine communications, advanced tanker operations and casualty analysis.
In the wake of the military mission that killed Osama bin Laden earlier this week, Capt. Jeff Loustaunau, MMA’s vice president for enrollment management and the commandant of midshipmen, said Tuesday there will be increased security in port when they get to Norfolk.
They have “beefed up” security there and there will be stiffer ID checks going into the port, he said.
“We’ve also been in touch with the State Department and there are no threats in the Mediterranean that would prevent us from going there,” Loustaunau said. “We’re not going in harm’s way. If the situation changes for any reason, we are capable of changing also.”
The students on board are enthusiastic and ready to be underway, Loustaunau said.
“There’s a lot of energy on board ship right now,” he said. “Mostly, the students are excited about getting underway and operating the ship. For the freshmen, this is the first real taste of life at sea. And that’s what many of them came to the school for.”
MMA deck and engineering students generally go out on the State of Maine at the end of their freshman and junior years to meet at-sea requirements for their Coast Guard licenses. In their sophomore year, they ship out on a commercial vessel around the world to add to their sea-time experience.
The students have lived on board the ship for the past several days in preparation for the cruise. Some of those students, however, were left behind as the ship eased away from the dock and, aided by tugboats, turned in the river and headed out to the bay. They are members of the college’s lacrosse team and are still competing in the conference championships.
It was “very weird” to watch the ship depart without them, said Geoff Gezik, a freshman from Columbia, Md. Depending on how they fare in the championships, the students will join the ship in Norfolk by Sunday at the latest.
Gezik said he is looking forward to rejoining the ship and seeing the different ports along the way. He said he’s anxious to be working with his buddies on board the ship and learning from the permanent crew and from their upperclass shipmates.
“The juniors have done it already; they’re pretty knowledgeable,” Gezik said.
“They stress mentor learning here,” added Alex Hermes of Fallsington, Pa. “It’s an effective way of learning.”
Friends and family members also were excited and a bit apprehensive as they watched the ship depart.
“When we came in the fall, that ship looked really big,” said Roxanne Tolman of Vinalhaven, whose son, Dana, 18, was on board for his first cruise. “Today it looks really small.”
Her husband Courtland, a Vinalhaven fisherman, hoped to line up the islands’ fishing boats to greet the State of Maine as it sailed by.
“It’s going to be a very good experience for him,” said George Martin of Searsmont, who with his wife, Sarah, and son Tyler were on hand to see off their son Morgan, 19, who was embarking on his first cruise. “It will either make him or break him. But he’s always been around water, so he’ll be fine.”
Kim Metcalf of West Baldwin, who is president of the MMA parents association, said she was excited for her daughter, Rebecca, 18, a freshman sailing on her first cruise. Metcalf said this was a unique part of her daughter’s education that would gain her practical experience.
“They practice in port, but it’s not the same as when they’re underway and moving,” she said. “This is going to be the real thing. She’s going to take a lot of what she’s learned in class and put it into practice.”
The ship is scheduled to return to Castine on June 26.