June 21 – The Maine Maritime Academy flagship, Maine State, returned to its home state after a two-month transatlantic voyage, the ship’s first voyage outside U.S. waters since the coronavirus pandemic began. COVID-19 more than two years ago.
The voyage – or “cruise” as the ship’s crew call it – took the academy’s 500ft flagship to ports on the east coast of Bermuda, Ponta Delgada in the Azores and Reykjavik, Spain. Iceland, the favorite of crew members and rising eldest Pieter Oudéjans.
“In Iceland, we saw a lot of natural features — geysers, waterfalls, hot springs. Really beautiful scenery,” Oudejans said Monday, a day after the ship arrived in Portland.
The onset of the pandemic kept the ship in port in 2020 and led to limited travel to US ports in 2021. Students and faculty were eager to cross the Atlantic and continue the ship’s educational mission.
“We want to provide our students with the broadest possible international experience and exposure,” MMA President Jerry Paul said. “What this ship does is exactly its name, the ‘State of Maine’. It projects the values of the State of Maine by sending students all over the world.”
Cruising in the state of Maine is a long-standing tradition at the academy. Each year, approximately 200 sophomores and seniors pack and stack their sea bags on the ship to participate in a 70-day voyage to develop their maritime skills.
On board, students like Oudejans gain certifications and hands-on experience for their future careers in the merchant navy. For Oudejans, who acted as second cadet for the duration of the voyage, his practical training involved sailing the ship itself.
“What you get out of it is what you put into it,” Oudejans said. “While you are (navigating) you are responsible for over 200 people. You have to learn to accept responsibility.”
In addition to the student crew, MMA graduates were present on the ship to help guide the young sailors. Captain Gordon MacArthur considers this ability to influence the next generation to be one of his most important responsibilities.
“Being able to see the next generation of sailors learn, grow and prepare to enter the industry is great,” MacArthur said. “They say knowledge is power, but it’s only really powerful if you share it.”
In addition to this learning experience, the trip also acts as a way for students to solidify their career choices and form lifelong friendships.
“My freshman cruise is my most vivid memory…it was what changed my mind about being a naval aviator,” MacArthur said.
“(Cruise friendships) are the closest bond there is,” said Paul, also an MMA alum. “When you go to sea with someone, you are friends for life.”