Mass. Maritime cadets head for Puerto Rico on sea term

photos: Nelson Brace '64

BUZZARDS BAY - Family, friends, - and dogs - lined up canalside at Massachusetts Maritime Academy on Saturday afternoon to wave goodbye to the cadets embarking on a monthlong excursion aboard the T.S. Kennedy. Onlookers held signs reading “Let Dreams Set Sail,” “Sea You Later” and “Bon Voyage” as they scanned the decks for one last glimpse of a loved one before departure. In the crowd, senior Nick Cassisi’s family gathered to bid him farewell. “He didn’t want a sign, so we wear orange hats so he can see us,” said Trish Cassisi, Nick’s mom.

Walter Botsch, father of Nicholas Botsch, a senior traveling on sea term for the first time, stood with a tall post featuring signs for each of the ship’s ports of call. “It’s been a blink of an eye,” Botsch said. “It feels like he just started.” The sea term will take the 477 cadets aboard the Kennedy to Barbados, Puerto Rico, Tortola and Miami. “It’s an exciting time every year,” Rear Adm. Francis McDonald said before departure. “This really stands as the pinnacle of putting what you learn in the classroom to practice.”

The practice of sea term began with the school’s founding in 1891, McDonald said. “It follows a learn, do, learn philosophy,” he said. As some cadets embark on sea term, others will take part in co-ops and internship programs around the world, McDonald said. Most students will be learning in their industry, McDonald said, bringing that knowledge back to the classroom and, ultimately, to the workplace.

As part of this year’s trip, a one-day excursion Feb. 2 on Puerto Rico will help a local school in need. Residents are still struggling to rebuild after Hurricane Maria hit the island in September 2017, said Lt. Commander Deputy Commandant Edgar Pinero, who helped organize the event. Born and raised on the island, Pinero learned that the Pedro P. Casablanca Public High School, home to 300 students in Jardines de Caparra, Bayamon, needs help. Volunteers will help repaint the school’s gazebo, reline the basketball court and clean up a small area used as a garden.

The school district is providing all the materials for the work, including paint, paintbrushes and rollers. In addition, the school superintendent will provide transportation to and from the port, which is about a 30-to 45-minute drive, Pinero said. An authentic Puerto Rican lunch and live folk music has been arranged, and cadets were asked to bring a musical instrument to take part.

Pinero is hoping to recruit 50-75 volunteers from faculty, professors, staff and cadets. “I would consider civic engagement, community service, one of our core values here (at MMA),” Pinero said. “We want our students to know to help or assist those in need.” Community service happens all year long at MMA, he said. During Christmas, cadets help the state Department of Children and Families buy and deliver gifts, and during the school year, cadets mentor children through the local Boys and Girls Club. Sea term has made previous humanitarian stops in Costa Rica, Haiti and a number of other countries, McDonald said.

The last time the T.S. Kennedy was in Puerto Rico was to house federal emergency workers during the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, he said. Now the ship is returning to help the hard-hit communities. “I am very, very proud of our cadets who are giving up time in port to help make a difference in other people’s lives,” he said. Although it is a nice time of year to get out of the New England weather, McDonald noted that this is no “Norwegian cruise line.” Cadets will take classes, in addition to learning how to operate and maintain the ship. There will be some liberty time for cadets in each port, and it will be well deserved, McDonald said.

Covered in scarf, hat and hand warmers, Amanda Bradley was with her sister Emma and her mother, Heather, to wave to her high school sweetheart, sophomore Finley Mullally, leaving for his second sea term. Although it will be weeks until Bradley, a sophomore at Boston College, will see Mullally, she plans to meet him in Miami, the last port of call on the trip.