Cadets look forward to port stop as MMA ship docks in Split, Croatia

This story was published on June 09, 2007 on Page A1 in all editions of the Bangor Daily News

Editor’s Note: Bangor Daily News reporter Eric Russell and photographer John Clarke Russ are aboard Maine Maritime Academy’s ship the State of Maine as it conducts its annual training cruise. The two will file daily stories and photos as they accompany 250 students and crew to European ports of call.

SPLIT, Croatia – Students lined the top deck of the State of Maine on Friday morning, dressed in their summer white uniforms as the temperature rose past 70 degrees.

Other cadets on duty rushed around the main deck getting lines ready to secure the Maine Maritime Academy training ship to its dock on the Adriatic Sea.

All they really wanted to do, though, was hear the two most important words at sea: “Liberty call.”

The third port of the 60-day annual cruise couldn’t come soon enough for some students. Although it had been only five days since the ship was last in port in Palermo, Sicily, everyone on board seemed to be in agreement that Split would be the best of the four stops.

For the past few days, cadets have been speculating about the pristine beaches of Croatia’s second-largest city, which has become one of the more popular tourist stops on the Mediterranean.

But while students’ minds already were spinning about the possibility of exploring foreign lands, they still had to help land the ship in port, which takes a certain amount of work.

Up on the bridge, as the State of Maine eased through the waters of the Adriatic, passing countless islands along the way, the chatter grew louder as port drew closer.

Capt. Brendan McAvoy, the ship’s master, called the plays, shouting commands from the bridge wing into the bridge cabin. Cadets repeated his words.

“Stoppers,” McAvoy yelled.

“Stopping engines,” replied Luke McPartlin, junior deck major from Belgrade. He waited a few seconds, looking at the controls in front of him before shouting to McAvoy, “Engines stopped.”

McAvoy also radioed commands from the bridge down to 2nd mate Harris Erlanson, who was on the bow directing students to throw out the mooring lines.

Back inside the bridge, another few seconds passed before the captain hollered, “Midships,” which means steer the rudder back to the center.

The ship came into the Split harbor nose first, then swung its front around with the help of tugboats before coming to rest in a commercial port area.

Mark Gauthier, a junior from Salem, Mass., who was manning the helm, downplayed his role Friday morning.

“Really, the helmsman doesn’t do much. I just wait for the commands and do what they tell me to,” he said.

Even after the ship comes to a stop and is secured to the dock, there is a significant amount of lag time before students can debark.

Foreign custom agents have to board the ship and inspect it before anyone is cleared to leave. Meanwhile, students on utility duty prepared to unload the garbage from the ship, a large mass of cardboard and plastic that was carried down the gangway a little at a time. The rest of the bagged garbage was unloaded with a crane from the main deck.

While waiting for liberty call on Friday, students made their way down to a lounge near the mess area where they could exchange money. One U.S. dollar equals about 5.7 kuna, the currency for Croatia, and cadets planned to stretch their money as far as it could go.

When liberty call finally came at about 11:30 a.m. local time, junior cadets scattered from the ship. The freshmen, however, had to wait.

“Freshman liberty call isn’t until an hour after the juniors get to leave,” Lori Berggren of Scarborough explained. “It’s just one of those things you learn to deal with because you deal with so much crap already.”

All cadets received a port brief Thursday night about the ins and outs of Split, including tourist attractions, museums, places to eat and possible bus tours.

“We try not to come out and tell them where not to go because that’s exactly where they’ll end up,” utility officer Victor Pinkham said.

Assistant Commandant Gary Frost had his own words of advice.

“Use the buddy system,” he told cadets. “We don’t want anyone out there on their own. And remember, 0.08 [blood alcohol content] is the limit.”