Oh Captain! My Captain! Our fearful trip is done;
The ship has weather'd every rack, the prize we sought is won;
The Port is near, the Bell I hear. the people are exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring
Walt Whitman wrote to commemorate a great tragedy in American History, yet his opening verse seems so applicable to our return today and I must confess. I was wistfully gazing out from the Bridge wing this morning, pleasantly daydreaming about the many unforgettable events of this Sea Term when the famous poem came softly to mind. There are many delightful highlights of every voyage but the fondest memories are always the products of homecomings. I was reminiscing on past ones and quietly watching The Cadet Officer of the Watch as she prepared to hoist anchor and enter the Canal. Slowly, the long forgotten verse came to me, a silent whisper repeating; The Port is near, the Bell I hear. the people are exulting, over and over it replayed until it became a quiet stanza. As I watched the young Cadet going seriously about the work and listened to the quiet voice, I was peacefully carried back to a parallel time almost three decades ago with Oh Captain! My Captain!
In my mind's eye, it was my senior year again, and I was a First Class Cadet standing there in her place; Cadet Officer of the Deck. The watch team and I were in command. We were swashbuckling seniors responding from the heart... and we were cool! I was proudly running the underway checklist and admiring my handiwork when a minor problem arose. I glanced furtively about the Bridge, instinctively seeking the familiar and supportive guidance of either the Mate or Captain but they were curiously gone. My chest tightened; I realized then, that we senior cadets had earned the honor; we would be taking her to the pier that day...alone: our premier test and their absolute trust.
I relived my struggle to recite familiar, carefully rehearsed commands and to hear my own voice above the deafening percussion of my racing heart. Then, super imposed upon my competing thoughts came a barely audibly voice repeating The Port is near, the Bell I hear. the people are exulting. It was a tidbit left over from Literature class and I certainly didn't need the distraction but it continued. I can almost touch the shore it seems so close. I see the families there, waving signs as we speed by and I hear the people are exulting. Out ahead the bridges appeared to constrict the startlingly narrow channel even more, but the Bell I hear drowns any doubt as the giant ship somehow squeaked by and sailed on to the crowded pier where, the people are exulting. Heaving lines shot out, long silver ribbons unfurling skyward and descending in elegant arcs and the last line was over, on the last day of my last sea term;...our fearful trip is done; The ship has weather'd every rack, the prize we sought is won...
I remembered the Captain's face as he materialized grinning, alongside me on the Bridge wing. Where had he been? Did he miss that great landing too? The bridge seemed so crowded. My shipmates were there. They beamed with pride and I heard their confident laughter but behind their eyes and mine lay stark reality. Our carefree, college days were quickly fading; We were "Finished with Engines", nearly finished with school and almost ready to set sail into a complex new world, weather bigger storms and win grander prizes. Genuine adventures waited.
My last Sea Term as a Cadet was a bittersweet time in my life and I remember it often. The recollections were particularly vivid today as we prepared to enter port and I patiently waited to hear "anchor's aweigh". For that announcement was my cue to step quietly back from the lighted expanse and join the Mate in the shadows. From that sequestered vantage, I looked out upon the stage as the perennial drama opened and softly, from somewhere deep within, I heard: The Port is near, the Bell I hear. the people are exulting...The Port is near, the Bell I hear..The Port is near. I wonder, does the Cadet Officer of the Deck hear it too?
Well, folks this is the last official entry in the Captain's Log for Sea Term 2000 and it too, is bittersweet. The voyage topped every expectation but I will miss writing to all of you. I will especially miss my great friends in our Worldwide Classroom; Thank You for the many inspiring letters, your warm thoughts, and your thoughtful questions. From the Captain, the Officers, the Crew and above all, the Cadets, May you enjoy "fair winds and following seas." So long from the Massachusetts Maritime Academy, Buzzards Bay. See you next year, when we sail even deeper into the New Millennium. AND PLEASE...COME CHECK US OUT!