“Bon Voyage Stinky.”
The homemade poster was for Joshua Grozier, a freshman whose family gave him the nickname as a little boy, said his mother, Mary Beth Grozier of East Falmouth.
“We purposely didn't write 'Josh' because we didn't want to embarrass him,” Mary Beth Grozier said. “But he knows who he is.”
As generations of cadets before them, freshman students along with some sophomores and juniors embarked on MMA's annual sea term, a semester at sea that will take them from Buzzards Bay to New Orleans to Aruba and many places in between.
Several exotic locations are on the list of ports the cadets will visit during their scheduled 43 days at sea. But the mostly open-sea trip, which MMA requires all students to make, entails near-constant rigorous work generating electricity and maintaining all other facilities while attending classes onboard.
“There's a lot of work that goes to a village of 700 self-contained (cadets)”, said Adm. Richard Gurnon, the academy's president.
After coming aboard for 15 full sea terms and nine partial terms, Gurnon said experiencing the high seas this way fast-tracks cadets toward maturity.
Far from a cruise ship, the T.S. Kennedy was christened under the name Velma Lykes in 1968, when it was a freight boat. Since then, the ship was renovated into a floating classroom, complete with coffin-sized bunks where cadets sleep.
“The analogy is it's a 1968 Chevy pickup truck converted into a Winnebago,” Gurnon said.
Brian Grozier said while his son was excited for the journey, he was nervous about “the drudgery of the routine.”
“You're stripped of all your individuality,” Grozier said. “It's one big team.”
The grueling curriculum Ramon Espino will experience aboard the T.S. Kennedy doesn't worry his mom Juanita Espino of Oak Bluffs as much as the brief stints of free time at the four ports – one of which is New Orleans during Mardi Gras – where they will dock during the trip.
“Our kid just turned 18, so it's like, 'Please, no tattoos,'” Espino said of her freshman son.
Hundreds of family members and friends stood at the dock at MMA as cadets in their navy blue uniforms and fore and aft caps filed onto the several levels of the 540-foot ship, some standing at the rails, searching for loved ones.
Lori Bowen traveled from Boyertown, Pa., with her friend, Petra Leiby, to see off Bowen's son.
“I don't think he's nervous at all,” Bowen said, holding a homemade sign that read “Bon Voyage Stephen” and bore a construction paper cutout of the T.S. Kennedy. ?“He's just excited.”
As the ramp onto the ship was withdrawn, the Gibbons family of Sandwich held three poster boards that collectively read “Happy Birthday Rory.”
Karen Gibbons said the send-off for her son's second sea term coincided with the sophomore engineering major's 20th birthday.
“We said we're sending him off on a Caribbean cruise with 700 of his friends” for his birthday", Gibbons joked.
The three horn blasts from the ship were met with cheers and dampened eyes from those standing on dry land.
As the ship began pulling away from the port, many followed its path on foot, waving as if catching up with a parade float.
When the cadets return to Buzzards Bay and finish the term on Feb. 26, Gurnon said, their growth will likely be apparent.
“The true benefit to this is you grow up,” he said.
By Sean Teehan
last updated 1-15-2013 by email@example.com