Sailing toward their lives on the sea

Three Martha’s Vineyard cadets work and learn onboard MMA training ship.

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There are 420 cadets from the Massachusetts Maritime Academy working onboard the T.S. Kennedy during a six-week sea term that began Jan. 10, a time to apply classroom knowledge to the vessel. Among the many cadets, three of them hail from Martha’s Vineyard: freshman Caleb Burt, sophomore Taylor Trudel, and junior Jacob Maccaferri.

The Times spoke to the three students by phone after the Kennedy stopped at a port in Charleston, S.C.

The three Islander cadets were attracted to the school for various reasons: the school’s programs, costs, hands-on experience, and anticipated employment opportunities after graduation. One unifying factor for the three was their desire for a life on the water. 

“The first thing I wanted to look for in a college was somewhere that could get me to a career on the water,” Burt said. He also wanted to go to a school that would not waste his money, and would maximize his employment prospects. 

Trudel found out about MMA’s existence during his freshman year of high school. He took a tour of the school and “fell in love” with it. The academy was the only college Trudel applied to, and he planned to enlist in the Coast Guard if he did not get accepted. 

“I got into Mass Maritime, and it’s history from there,” Trudel said. “I was very fortunate.”

“Being on the water is pretty much all I’ve ever known, so I kinda just knew I wanted to be in a maritime profession in some way or another,” Maccaferri said. He considered enlisting in the Coast Guard, but thought the academy’s return on investment and its reputation were too good to pass up. “Hopefully, it works out.” 

The three cadets, all of whom are marine transportation majors, agreed that the school is academically challenging. During the sea semester, classroom work and grades are done on the Kennedy alongside learning the different duties on the ship. In particular, the cadets go through four rotational duties on the ship: the classroom, utilities (trash compactor work, monitor the ship, etc.), maintenance (painting, needle gun work, etc.), and watch (look out for danger to the ship, keep track of navigation systems, etc.). The work can be tough, Burt said. He and Maccaferri believe watch is the most difficult duty, although it is useful because it models what they will be doing on a ship in the future. 

Burt said that on Friday, he woke up at 2:30 am for a 3:15 watch, which was the day the Kennedy arrived in South Carolina. He said he was awake for around 22 hours that day. 

“‘Learn, do, learn.’ It’s kind of their motto,” Trudel said, who likes being on the watch. “It’s kind of like trial by fire, but it’s very rewarding.”

Maccaferri said he learns more during the sea terms than in regular classrooms. 

The Kennedy will take the cadets to a few ports during their travels: Charleston, San Juan, Puerto Rico, and Tampa, Fla. Stopping at these ports allows the cadets some time to relax and explore each place. Trudel went on a tour of the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown while in South Carolina.

If the ship is not at a port, the cadets do their duties, study, and undergo drills. In Puerto Rican waters, the cadets trained in anchor drills, which consists of learning to drop anchor, and “emergency maneuvers” like rescuing an overboard person, according to Maccaferri. 

When asked, the cadets said they have their own goals, or are considering aspirations after college. 

Burt and Maccaferri both want to be third mates on a ship. 

Burt saw a presentation while in high school last year about Vineyard Wind and the offshore wind farm the company is planning to construct. This company was “attractive” to him because it would allow him to be out at sea, but not for as long as on something like a cargo ship. 

“Whatever will take me, I’ll go on it,” Maccaferri said. He plans to “make the big bucks” while he is young to get rid of student loans. Maccaferri also plans to see the world while on his employer’s ship. After a while, he wants to find something local, such as a tugboat or a private yacht. “Shipping out isn’t really for family life, after all.” 

Trudel said he wasn’t exactly sure what he planned to do after graduation, but he said there are “lots of opportunities.” 

The cadets were confident in the academy’s ability to make them attractive to employers. After graduation, they receive licenses, such as marine engineering and marine transportation, from the Coast Guard. 

The Kennedy is now on its way to San Juan. Check out the ship’s location at bit.ly/3Hjqp5h