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Day 20: At Sea, Finally!

Yesterday, we left our home port in Castine, bound for sea. It’s been a long, long time coming; after fourteen days at anchor and another four in port, the ship, its inhabitants, and the townsfolk of Castine are more than ready for us to leave.

Maine had blossomed into a lush, green summer – seemingly as soon as TSSOM left. We were in a time and place we had never known or expected when Castine had become a bright, cheerful vacation town rather than a gray, chilly college campus. Flowers bloomed everywhere, children ran and played, and birds sang in the gentle sea breeze. It felt as if we had ended up in a storybook or on a movie set, rather than returned to our homeport, and we looked at everything with fresh eyes.

Our departure was uneventful. Our own tug Pentagoet helped Fournier’s Tractor guide us out. Familiar faces were on both vessels, and as Fournier’s Tractor pulled away, its crew waved to us, smiling faces framed by wind-tossed hair. A small crowd watched from the town docks. There was no grand send-off this time, only a small acknowledgment that this would be TSSOM’s last time in Castine – for real, this time.

And then we were underway. We passed through Penobscot Bay, passing by the familiar scenes of Isleboro and Searsport, out past the hulking silhouette of Vinalhaven, and the last few islands dotted across the horizon. The other boats in the bay seemed curious about us. One small trawler traveled alongside us for a good long while, keeping pace with our ten or so knots. I watched them, waved, and a lone figure on the stern waved back. I wonder what TSSOM means to them – is it just a big ship interrupting the calm and quiet waters of the harbor? Do they know her? Did any of them go to MMA, maybe? Another small fishing boat came along the starboard quarter, closing quickly, then turned a hard left and cut across our wake, before skidding to a hard stop. Then they, too, followed us in close trail, playing in our wake as if it were a bow-riding dolphin. I suppose we got too far from their mooring, because they too disappeared after a while, leaving us to the open ocean.

The sea awaited us patiently, and so did the sky, with fairweather cumulus scattered about, promising good weather on our voyage. Now that we’re out beyond the protection of land, I can feel the gentle rocking of the ship with sea swells. It isn’t uncomfortable or distracting, but it’s a strange feeling for the floor to rise to meet my feet, almost as if the ship herself is breathing. The dull roar of the engine can be heard and felt throughout – that’s her heartbeat. I wonder what it will be like on land again, after two weeks at sea? Already we’re a quarter through with cruise and it feels like no time has passed at all.

Our second day is, on its surface, no different than the usual day at anchor – Alpha’s on utility, charged with scrubbing the ship from top to bottom, Bravo is on watch (the first full day at sea!), Delta is participating in training (including tap and die and terrestrial navigation), and my own company, Charlie, is assigned to maintenance. I spent the work day painting the tool board in the machine shop in the pattern of the American flag, while some of my shipmates performed fire extinguisher inspections, disassembled oil purifiers, and a wide variety of other tasks that keep the ship running.

Of course, there’s time for fun, too. We’ve had several whale sightings already, including a National Geographic-worthy scene where a whale breached at the same time as two dolphins. The fantail, 03, and 04 decks bustle with activity as cadets and staff alike enjoy the weather – there’s a few games of cornhole going, some folks are fishing, and I’ve been enjoying painting, practicing with my new gouache paints. The night before, I was lucky enough to follow a number of upperclassmen up to the bridge for celestial navigation practice. We took an amplitude of the sun, and azimuths of stars, in order to cross-check our gyro compass and position.

We’re well beyond sight of land by now, but a few birds still stray out this way, and earlier this morning, a little butterfly made its way towards us, flitted around our heads for a few moments, and was on its merry way. As I write this, I’m in awe of the simple beauty around us. The sky has taken on the pale pastel beginnings of sunset, and the sea has almost a silver tone. Mare’s tails (a sort of cirrus cloud that usually foretells rain and wind) and contrails dot the sky. Being underway is an incredible feeling, and spirits are high. I think we’re all ready for our grand adventure, and we’re truly a lucky few to be able to experience this.

Post By: 4/C Meredith Spotts