This past weekend, 28 Midshipman candidates from the Naval Academy Prep School (NAPS) returned from a five-day voyage at sea aboard the 200-foot Tall Ship Oliver Hazard Perry, Rhode Island’s Official Sailing Education Vessel. It was the first of two similar back-to-back programs that Oliver Hazard Perry Rhode Island conducted this year in partnership with NAPS and hopes to continue in coming years.
“This program gave our Midshipman candidates a taste of the sea that we can’t give them with our current resources, so it has a lot of potential,” said NAPS Commanding Officer Mike Doherty. “A lot of these folks didn’t know what they were getting into, but all the responses I’ve gotten from this first group so far have been very positive, and we have the next group of 28 people even more excited about going on the trip.”
After leaving Newport, Perry sailed from Pt. Judith to Cape Cod Canal on a tight reach in fog. The next day, in sunshine, she motored through the Canal, reaching Provincetown in time for the trainees to have dinner ashore. The following day, Perry was surrounded by humpback whales feeding in flat waters about four miles off Provincetown. She sailed around the outside of Cape Cod, to Nantucket Shoals, and then sailed off the wind on a course back to Newport in a freshening 20-25 knots.
“On the way to Cape Cod it was choppy and windy, but on the way back it was not so bad…or we got used to it!” said Midshipman Candidate Kenneth Stelmack. “Going aloft is a crazy experience. I only did it once at the dock, but there were other people who did in the rain, and in the wind, while we were underway.”
Another memorable experience for the Midshipman candidates was observing the “bubble net feeding” technique used exclusively by Humpback whales. (The whales make a circular net of bubbles around a school of fish, forcing them upward and allowing the whales to swim upward through the bubble net, mouths wide open, to catch thousands of fish in one gulp.)
“I’m a believer!,” said Midshipman Candidate Jordan McDaniel. “If you really want to get into sailing or have any kind of interest in the sea, this is the place to be! The crew was outstanding, and they did a very good job of teaching us the mechanics of sailing. They also taught us a lot about teamwork – how in the Navy, like here, a large vessel would take dozens of people to make sure everything is done correctly.”
The mission of NAPS, located on Naval Station Newport, is to enhance midshipman candidates’ moral, mental, and physical foundations to prepare them for success at the U.S. Naval Academy.
“It’s a bit of a wake-up call, a reality check, and it gets them excited about being a navy sailor, said Commander Doherty. “At the Naval Academy, they have two designated times when they will get underway with some Navy ship, submarine or aviation squadron, but we don’t have that opportunity at NAPS. The expectation is that these individuals are going to be the core leadership of their class, and if they go down there (to the Naval Academy) with some seagoing experience and a little salt, it will make their experience richer.”
For more information on SSV Oliver Hazard Perry and its programs, visit www.ohpri.org.