Every year the T.S. ENTERPRISE the training ship for cadets at Massachusetts Maritime Academy, takes a two-month trip, either across the Atlantic to Europe, south to the Caribbean, or through the Panama Canal. During this expedition all freshmen students are required to brave the voyage, face the seasickness, and acquire their newfound “sea legs.” Last semester I was one of those freshmen, and I had the opportunity to explore the ports of Bridgetown (Barbados), Charlotte Amalie (St. Thomas), and Miami during Super Bowl XLI.
We called it “cruise” but there were no blinking lights, massages or hot tubs. The closest thing we got to gourmet meals was yesterday’s pasta passed off as noodle soup. The closest thing we had to a hot tub was the engine room, where our school-issued boiler suits seemed aptly named. Instead of a luxury bedroom, we got a coffin-sized rack in a hold full of at least 30 other stinking mariners.
I lived those two rocky months in the female hold, and found that it was a perfect opportunity to get to know the other girls at the Academy. Before cruise, I hadn’t had the chance to meet many of the girls on campus with more than a passing hello. After all, females make up less than 15 percent of the students at MMA, and there were only four other girls in my company of less than 50 cadets.
Life aboard the ship consisted of a three-day rotation of watch, maintenance and training. Watch found me on the bow in the middle of the night, reporting pirate ships, UFOs, and any other lights on the horizon. Maintenance found me sweeping the deck or painting the engine room in temperatures hot enough to melt the coating off of a digital camera (true story). Training found me tying bowlines behind my back, tracing out the steam cycle in the engine room, navigating on the bridge and learning the art of sliding across the classroom in my chair when a big wave hit. Despite the fact that upperclassmen warned me of having too much free time on my hands, I found myself constantly busy.
There were times that I wished I was anywhere but on the T.S. ENTERPRISE: in the middle of the night when I was stripping the floor, at 0600 when I was getting up early to sweep the gym, or in the afternoon when I was either getting puked on by a shipmate or yelled at by an officer. It was at those times that I would think of all my friends back in the States who were jealous of my “Caribbean cruise,” and laugh at their misconception.
However, it is hard to stay in a bad mood when there is a mesmerizing expanse of blue nothingness in every direction. All I had to do to raise my spirits was to go out on deck in time to see the last stars disappear into the sunrise and catch a glimpse of a few tiny flying fish. Then I would remember that I was getting my college education doing something that most of my friends back home had never even dreamed of doing. I would realize how lucky I was to be there, in the middle of nowhere, on the way to paradise. q
Amy Biddle is a cadet at Massachusetts Maritime Academy.