Access to e-mail aboard ship good for morale

This story was published on June 08, 2007 on Page A7 in all editions of the Bangor Daily News

AT SEA IN THE MEDITERRANEAN – Communication is one aspect of maritime technology that has seen a big improvement, and not even the most old-school sailor seems to mind.

“That’s something that really has helped with morale,” said George Kimball, radio officer aboard the State of Maine. “We’re able to get a news service, talk to loved ones over e-mail. It helps to bring you back in touch with the world.”

“Otherwise,” he said, pointing toward the port hole at the ocean passing by, “that’s all you have.”

E-mail capabilities aboard the Maine Maritime Academy training ship began in 2002, but the messages are sent through a satellite, which can get expensive.

The first year, students were charged a flat fee of $100 for its use throughout the 60-day cruise.

Now students are charged based on how much they use the service. Some use it more than others. Students also can use a satellite phone on the ship, but that’s even more expensive, so they typically wait until they get to port.

“Being able to e-mail is nice. If I have a bad day or something, I can write home and vent about it. No one’s going to listen to that here,” said junior James McLeod, an engineering student from Holden.

All MMA students are required to have a laptop computer, and those participating in the cruise are required to bring them aboard. But that doesn’t mean they are all glued to their computers.

“I’m very independent and when I’m at sea my family gets used to not hearing from me,” said junior Heather Swan, a deck major from Washington, D.C. “Some of these younger students get so wrapped up in their laptops. This should be a break from that.”

Some students still write letters and receive them the old-fashioned way. Commandant Jeff Loustaunau said there are usually 40 to 50 envelopes waiting for the ship at each port.

Aside from e-mail, the crew maintains a Web site that is updated daily so parents and friends back home can track the ship’s progress and see photos that are uploaded.

Capt. Laurence Wade, who is recovering from a stroke he suffered early in the cruise, was the one who made a big push to keep up the Web site during the cruise.

“We called him ‘Captain Tron,'” assistant commandant Gary Frost said. “He really brought a lot of us up from the Dark Ages.”

Frost, who participated in several cruises long before e-mail was an option, said he writes to his wife every day back home in Orland.

“We have technical problems from time to time and if it ever goes down for a day or so, you wonder how you ever lived without it,” he said.