A Parent's View of Sea Year

Discussion in 'Merchant Marine Academy - USMMA' started by kdbax, Oct 22, 2011.

  1. kdbax

    kdbax Member

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    To quote the Grateful Dead, "What a long, strange trip it's been." Okay, different kind of trip....:shake: I'm going to split this among several posts so it's easier to read.

    So our son’s ship is due in California sometime in the next few days, after which he will return to KP (I’m hoping against hope that he might make it home for a few days) for the remainder of his studies. He’s literally sailed around the world, and we are the proud owners of things like a silk wall hanging from Japan, a wooden mask from Honduras, two prayer rugs from Saudi Arabia, and a full Bedouin headdress. (Looking forward to what comes home from India and Korea.) For the benefit of parents here who are going to be sending their DS or DD off on their sea year, I thought I’d post a “review” of sea year from a parent’s perspective. Similar to the warnings I give in other reviews (I post reviews on Cruise Critic and Trip Advisor), just know that “your mileage may vary.” No two sea years are alike.

    DS is a 2013 B-splitter. His first sea term was July-October 2010, second was March-October 2011. For his first sea term, he sailed late due to summer school (thanks to Calc 2). His ship was a MSC oiler sailing out of Guam; the ship couldn’t take a deckie on first sea term, so son and his sea partner had to split up, with sea partner assigned to a MSC ship in the Middle East instead. New sea partner (another engine cadet) was great. Son and sea partner first flew from NYC to Norfolk to do MSC processing, then Norfolk to Guam via Tokyo. (Word of caution here: be careful when packing bags. Son’s bag was overweight, and despite his having orders from KP, Delta would not take the overweight bag. Son had to buy another bag in Norfolk and transfer items to that second bag to meet the weight requirements.)
     
  2. kdbax

    kdbax Member

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    Guam

    Son’s ship was the USNS John Ericsson. If you’ve watched the Kings Point Diversity sea year video of cadets in Guam, that was the same ship: http://www.youtube.com/kingspointdiversity#p/u/45/H60l_3udMKg. They were assigned to replenishing and refueling the USS George Washington battle group in the South China Sea. Son loved the experience – in addition to the engine work he was able to participate in a number of deck operations.

    [​IMG]
    Helo Ops on USNS John Ericsson

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    USNS John Ericsson

    [​IMG]
    USS John McCain, South China Sea

    In between deployments, when they were at port in Guam, DS and his sea partner had a fair amount of shore time; DS was able to get his scuba certification while there.

    [​IMG]
    Guam


    Back to KP for 3rd class second trimester. When he reported back, he found several mids from his class who, having finished first sea term, had decided “thanks, but no thanks.” Life at sea just wasn’t for them.
     
  3. kdbax

    kdbax Member

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    Second Sea Term...

    Second sea term started right after second trimester finals in March 2011. DS was able to come home on a Friday with instructions to report to his assigned ship in Rhode Island on Tuesday. That ship was a Ro-Ro car carrier (truly an ugly ship, BTW) that was scheduled to sail down the East Coast, porting in Baltimore, Savannah and Jacksonville, then over to Houston, then across the Atlantic, through the Med, through the Suez Canal, deliver cars in a number of garden spots of the Middle East (think Djibouti, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Bahrain, Dubai and Kuwait right at the height of Arab Spring:eek:), and then sail to Japan. As originally scheduled, DS and sea partner (now his originally assigned sea partner) would leave the ship in Yokohama at the beginning of May and fly back to the US for assignment to another ship.

    As it turned out, the earthquake and tsunami hit Japan while they were in the Middle East. No reason to go to Japan – there were no cars to pick up for delivery in the United States. So after the Middle East ports, they sailed to the Bay of Bengal, turned off the engines, and drifted until orders came through. And they drifted – and drifted. The food supply was starting to get rather limited, not that they were starving. (Although son and sea partner did rig some fishing lines to see what they could catch.)

    Finally they received orders to sail to Singapore, then sail back to the Middle East. Back through the Gulf of Aden (BTW, for those of you worried about ships sailing through “pirate territory,” the ships do have security and they do practice pirate drills) to Aqaba in Jordan, then to Kuwait. Finally, two months after they were originally supposed to leave the ship, they flew back to NYC from Kuwait via Abu Dhabi and London. By the time they left the ship, the entire crew had changed – only one crew member remained from the time they boarded in Rhode Island in March.
     
  4. kdbax

    kdbax Member

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    Next Ship: M/V Ocean Crescent

    Now it’s the beginning of July. Son came home (we’re in upstate NY so it’s an easy train ride) and sea partner went home to Florida to await the next assignment. It wasn’t long in coming – a few days after arriving home, DS received a call with orders to report to a ship in Houston – the following afternoon. We scrambled and found DS a flight on Southwest to Houston via Tampa that got him there in time. Sea partner made it as well.

    This ship is a freighter designed to load heavy cargo – things like turbines. Their first voyage took them from Houston through the Panama Canal to the south side of Honduras and then back through the canal to Houston. Son had been to Panama before, but never sailed through the canal – he thought it was an amazing experience. (On their way back to Houston, we managed to find the ship on marinetraffic.com, saw that they were sailing through the canal, and went to the Miraflores Locks webcam just in time to watch them sail through the locks.)

    Once back in Houston, DS had some free time – spent time on the beach in Galveston. He likes Galveston a lot – not so much Houston. It was now mid-August and the rest of us were about to go on vacation – a cruise out of Charleston, SC. We called DS right before sailing and he wasn’t entirely sure what their plans were.
     
  5. kdbax

    kdbax Member

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    A surprise visit home

    As it turned out, DS and sea partner flew back to NYC from Houston a few days later. Seems a Coast Guard inspection team was boarding the ship for the next leg of its voyage, and there wasn’t room for DS and sea partner. They would meet up with the ship in its next port, which was … Albany, NY. 25 miles from our house. I work in Albany. After reporting back to KP, DS went home, without us there to meet him. Imagine our surprise when, the day we disembarked the cruise ship in Charleston, we received a call from him:

    “I’m at home. Can I go get the dog from the kennel?”

    So, we got a few unexpected days with DS (having cut short our drive back from Charleston to meet him).

    Sea partner arrived at our house the day before they had to report back to the ship. DH drove them to the port – port security let DH drive right to the pier, and DS and partner really got heckled by the rest of the crew for their “door to door” taxi service!

    The next morning, the ship sailed early. We live near the Hudson River, so I went down to one of the waterfront parks to watch the ship sail and take pictures. Ship’s next destination: India.

    [​IMG]
    M/V Ocean Crescent, downbound Hudson River

    From India, the ship sailed to South Korea – then across the Pacific to California. That’s where we expect DS and sea partner to depart the ship and return to New York. If we’re lucky, he may get a few days home before the second trimester starts.
     
  6. kdbax

    kdbax Member

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    Sea Year Recap

    So this parent’s thoughts on sea year? It’s been one heck of an experience. Son has seen places of the world we would never expect to see – places that tourists never visit. (Several years ago we did a cruise that stopped at Roatan, Honduras. After porting in Honduras in July, DS is the first to tell us that we really haven’t visited Honduras.) He’s learned a lot about life on a ship – and he seems to like it. He’s seen what he likes in shipping companies – and what he doesn’t like. (He described one captain as so insistent on finishing his contract under budget that he scrimped on food supplies.) Most of all, he’s gained a lot of practical experience working in a ship’s engine room.

    As for us – the unofficial KP motto “Semper Gumby” really applies to sea year. Our experience was that e-mail was practically nonexistent. We took to checking his Facebook page to see whether he had posted anything. Phone calls were sporadic (although DS was fairly faithful at trying to call); unless your cadet is in the US, calls will come via a phone card or the ship’s satellite phone. You’ll see weird caller numbers in your Caller ID register. And the calls may come at strange times (DS didn’t realize he was getting me out of bed at 6:30 in the morning on a Sunday, since he was on the other side of the world).

    Understand that ships’ schedules are subject to change, as are the cadets’ assignments to ships. It’s all very fluid. Port times can vary as well; shipping companies don’t like to pay more than they have to in port fees, so the less time in port, the better. There were several times when the crew never left the ship given the limited port time. When DS sailed the Ro-Ro this past March-July, I think he was off the ship a grand total of 5 days. It was a far cry from his experience in Guam, when he had lots of time ashore.

    You might like to visit sites like marinetraffic.com. (I actually had it bookmarked before son started sea year since I’m a cruise liner buff and like to follow ships). This site will list ships that are in port or underway and provide links to vessel details (e.g., if underway, its speed and course). It finds ships only if (a) the ship has a working transponder at the time and (b) there is a receiver within distance. You won’t see your cadet’s ship if it’s in the middle of the Pacific – it will be “out of range.” And if the ship’s transponder isn’t turned on (military and MCS ships usually don’t), there won’t be a record of its location either.

    I’m looking forward to having son back on terra firma, and as much as he has enjoyed sea year I think he’s looking forward to a bunk that doesn’t pitch and/or roll. I figure it may take a while for him to get his land legs back again – on cruise ships we call it “mal de debarquement” when you leave a ship but feel like you’re still aboard. Not sure what they call it on cargo ships….
     
  7. KPMum2012

    KPMum2012 Parent

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    DD actually found she had a hard time sleeping at first after her second sea year. She had become so accustomed to background noise of the engines after six months that it was too quiet in her bedroom at home.

    Be prepared, if your DS actually does get a few days at home, he will most likely be completely absorbed by finishing up those pesky sea projects. Until you have seen them for yourself, you can not believe what is actually involved.
     
  8. kdbax

    kdbax Member

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    His last Facebook posting says, "D--m you steam project.":wink:
     
  9. KTB8

    KTB8 Member

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    Parent's View

    Wow. Thank you for that story. My son is just getting ready to go out to sea. He is very excited. As his parent of course I am a little nervous. I really enjoyed your story.
     
  10. cmakin

    cmakin Member

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    I haven't been to sea in over 20 years and I stil have problems sleeping in a quiet room. In fact, most nights I sleep with the TV on. Must be why I am divorced. Well, one of the reasons, anyway.
     
  11. kdbax

    kdbax Member

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    Glad I could help! As I write, son's ship is within range of Long Beach. No word yet on what his travel plans are, though....
     
  12. kdbax

    kdbax Member

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    Just to update...

    Son made it back to KP. The ship docked in Long Beach yesterday morning and he took a redeye from LAX to JFK, arriving at 5 a.m. He told us he'd call when he was back on campus - no phone call. Seems he got back to KP, found berthing, and promptly fell asleep. He was exhausted....:redface:
     
  13. usmmaparent

    usmmaparent Member

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    Thank you

    kdbax, Thank you so much for taking the time to post about your experience. My son will be going out shortly, he is looking forward to it. I on the other hand need to take a deep breath and remember what a great job we did raising him and know that KP has prepared him well as they have prepared so many before. He will be fine and so will I, just like so many moms before me :wink:
    Thank you again.
     
  14. kdbax

    kdbax Member

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    Glad I could help! Now that son's sea year is over, I can go back to worrying about him driving the car when he comes home on break.:redface:
     
  15. KP2013dramamama

    KP2013dramamama Member

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    Oh I don't think you have to worry about that. One arrest on a car violation (ie: speeding,etc ) from what I've been told, which stays on the records, will put him our of contention when Shipping companies look at him.....no....nothing to worry about. Just one reminder will be all that's needed! :eek:
     
  16. jasperdog

    jasperdog Member

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    Pretty sure speeding violations etc aren't issues however things like DUI's could/would possibly be so; and of course anything involving drugs would also be so.
     
  17. cmakin

    cmakin Member

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    A DUI IS a big thing with the Coast Guard these days. They are an issue for those renewing also. The Coast Guard does a separate check for these types of things. If they find that someone is lying about it on their application/renewal, things do not go well from there. While it was certainly not an issue with the VALDEZ incident, the fact that Hazelwood had a previous DUI became an issue; with the press, anyway.
     
  18. KPEngineer

    KPEngineer Eternal Father ...

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    And don't think you are safe once the license is in your hand. If additional information comes in after the license is issued that would have caused them to reject it, they will do an emergency revocation. Keep your nose clean now and always.
     
  19. cmakin

    cmakin Member

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    Oh, exactly. Somethings are also out of one's control. I was reading on another board just a week ago that one tugboat captain was losing his license because he "failed" a sight color test on his renewal physical. This was his fourth renewal, so he has had his license for 15 years and obviously passed the test in previous physicals. Reminded me a bit of the plebes from the class of '15 that were hit with the same issue.
     
  20. KPEngineer

    KPEngineer Eternal Father ...

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    There are numerous threads on that other board about massive frustration with the NMC regarding medical issues.
    As an FYI to all the parents and mids who frequent here and may not already know it. The USCG is taking increasingly strict looks at a mariners medical history and current condition. To the point of absurdity in my and many others' opinions. The Chief Engineer on my last boat was renewing his license and was denied because he had taken dramamine and had a prescription for the behind the ear motion sickness tabs. Sadly, I'm not joking.
     

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