Maritime academy cadets receive rousing welcome home

By Sean F. Driscoll 

Cape Cod Times

BUZZARDS BAY — It may not have been the shores of Aruba, but the Massachusetts Maritime Academy's dock on a sunny, relatively mild day was a welcome sight to the 600 cadets who stepped off the training ship Kennedy on Sunday morning, 45 days after they left port for their sea term.

Each year, cadets who are studying a Coast Guard-licensed field spend a month and a half on board the Kennedy getting an intensive look at the ship's operations. Although it's not their first time at sea — the Kennedy takes freshmen on a three-day trip to New York at the start of the year — for many, it's the longest they've been away from home in their young lives, said Rear Adm. Francis X. McDonald, the academy's president. 

While at sea, the cadets work about a 12-hour day, either in an area of the ship or in a classroom setting. Weekends bring a stop at a warm-weather port, where cadets have liberty for a few days of rest and relaxation. 

"Some people think it must be a nice time — go to the Caribbean, play a little shuffleboard, hang out on the deck," he said. "It really couldn't be further from the truth for the vast majority of the journey."

This year, the Kennedy crossed the Equator and went through the Panama Canal twice while en route to Panama, Costa Rica, Aruba and Key West, Florida. The ship also stopped at Haiti to drop pallets of donated supplies. It also stopped for a memorial ceremony at the last known position of the El Faro container ship, which sank Oct. 1 in a hurricane while traveling to San Juan, Puerto Rico, from Jacksonville, Florida. Among the crew of the El Faro were two MMA graduates.

The El Faro was on the mind of Carolyn O'Shaughnessy, of Cotuit, as her son, Henry Jr., took to sea. Although she and her husband, Henry, had every confidence that the Kennedy would keep its crew safe, the loss of the El Faro couldn't entirely leave her thoughts. 

"That had to be something for them," Henry O'Shaughnessy said of the ship stopping at the site of the El Faro's sinking. "For kids going into that field, I have to imagine that was interesting as far as how they felt." 

Lorraine and Barney Murphy, of Mashpee, were at the dock to greet their son, Ryan, 19. Lorraine said Ryan was looking forward to a hot shower and a meal at 99 Restaurant and Pub. 

"They'll have definitely grown up a bit being away from home for this long," Lorraine said. "This is part and parcel of being in the real world." 

The real world, however, doesn't always include a welcome befitting the Beatles arriving in America. As the Kennedy made its way down the Cape Cod Canal from Cape Cod Bay, where it anchored Saturday night, throngs of family and well-wishers lined Academy Drive to wave at the ship as it approached. The crowds surged toward the dock as the ship turned the corner and they roared with delight when the mooring lines were tossed to shore. 

The roars abated a bit during the long and somewhat tedious process of getting the ship fully docked and the gangway lifted into place by a crane. But once the cadets started to stream off the ship, the cheers resumed. 

For sophomore Alexander Calderwood, 20, of Brewster, coming home meant a break from the long days spent in the Kennedy's engine room, which he cheekily called "the dungeon," where temperatures routinely topped 100 degrees. 

"We were working all the time, all day and night," he said. "We didn't have much down time." 

Patrick Graham, 19, a sophomore from Marshfield, said he was eager for a good night's sleep in his own bed instead of being stacked three deep in a barracks-style room built for 40. 

"It was really cool seeing the ship up close at sea," said the naval engineering student. 

The cadets will have at least one more day on board the Kennedy while the ship is cleaned, then they'll have a few days of rest before the spring semester begins Feb. 29. Many of the other academy cadets have been spending their winter break fulfilling a co-operative education requirement, either by working at sea with a merchant shipping company or at another facility across the country. 

"We follow the 'learn-do-learn' method here," McDonald said. "This is most definitely the 'do.'" 

— Follow Sean F. Driscoll on Twitter: @seanfdriscoll.