And They're Off

Kennedy emarking

After a week loading supplies and making sure everything was ship shape, over 500 cadets embarked on Sea Term this past Saturday morning to the cheers of family and friends. This year's training cruise involves traveling through the Panama Canal, visiting the equator, and then returning through the canal to make stops at Balboa, Panama; Golfito, Costa Rica; Willemstad, Curacao; and Tampa, Florida, before returning to Cape Cod in late February.

The Kennedy's Master and MMA graduate Capt. Michael Campbell said the trip through the Panama Canal is a long process, but it is an important one for students who might have to travel through it at some point in their maritime careers. When the students reach the equator they will take part in the “shellback” ceremony, an initiation rite that commemorates a person’s first crossing of the equator. The T.S. Kennedy typically travels through the Panama Canal every four years, and there is a large MMA alumni group in the country to greet them. MMA played a key role in developing the Panama Canal by training Panamanians beginning in the late 1970's and ’80's to assume control of the waterway. The Academy also supported the launch of Panama Maritime University 10 years ago and continues to run an exchange program with the school. “This trip is a different one,” said Campbell. “It is a big experience.”

There are 531 cadets aboard along with an additional 100 faculty and staff for the 54 day cruise. The cadets are busy every day and won’t have any real down time. During the nearly two-month voyage on the training vessel, they will rotate through class and laboratory training, handle ship operations and perform maintenance and emergency drills. “The cadets are not going as passengers, they're responsible for the running and the maintenance of the ship, all on top of taking classes while underway. It’s a very, very busy period," says MMA President Francis McDonald '85.

Sea Term allows cadets to put into practice what they have been learning at the academy, whether it's their first semester, or they've been at Taylor's Point for three and half years. This will mark the final Sea Term for senior and Bourne native Christina Ruggeri, who majors in marine engineering, but her first time through the Panama Canal. “I am very excited for that,” she said. As a seasoned veteran, Ruggeri will be tasked with mentoring younger crew members aboard ship. She hopes that she will be able to encourage the underclassmen to ask questions, noting that she was often afraid to when she was a freshman. “That’s the best way to go,” she said, "this is all about learning.”