Modern mariner phones home to Maine schoolhouse
From an oil rig in the Indian Ocean, a seafaring dad offers practical math and tales of pirates as lessons over a Web connection with his kids’ classroom back home.
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He has supplied the school kids back home with some pretty practical problems. The seventh graders have tried homework from Mac: “What speed do we have to average to travel 2,480 nautical miles in 18 days?” The West Taurus travels nine meters on a gallon of fuel. Not bad for a 36,000-ton vessel with eight 6300-horsepower engines. Better, in fact, than the family car going to the mall, adjusted for weight. Mac offers calculations for proof.Skip to next paragraph
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Capt. Andy Chase, professor of Marine Transportation at MMA, says that the new connectivity of mariners and their families isn’t necessarily a good thing.
“When I was at sea regularly [1979 to 1987],” says Captain Chase, “communication didn’t exist when you were out at sea, except on extremely rare occasions. You got mail in port, which was often two weeks to two months behind. If you were overseas, telephone calls would cost so much that you didn’t normally make them.”
Staying in touch with home while shipping can be a distraction. “When the septic tank overflows and the furnace dies [back home], you have to participate in the solution,” says Chase. “When emotional things are happening at home, they can distract you significantly from your work on the ship.” Like fixing No. 2 engine.
Chase was MacArthur’s navigation professor at MMA, and has a daughter in the Adams School sixth grade. He is the subject of John McPhee’s book about merchant mariners, “Looking for a Ship.”
A dozen MMA graduates work on West Taurus, including Leon, who lives in nearby Bar Harbor.
In his last dispatch from the rig on Dec. 5, Mac wrote: “By the time I get home, I will have traveled over 20,000 miles by air and 3,371 miles by sea; been in the countries of Japan, Singapore, Mauritius, United Arab Emirates and the good old USA. Thank you all for transiting the Malacca Strait and the Indian Ocean with me over the last few weeks.” He was heading for the airport.
Two days later, Mac was positioned at 44-23.2 N, 068-47.7W – back in Castine.
In a month, he’ll rejoin the West Taurus in Namibia for the trans-Atlantic leg of its voyage. Next time he’ll fly home from Rio de Janeiro. He drops by Bess’s classroom for a photo, and by afternoon, he’s building snowmen in the front yard with Bess and her brother, Will.