Cal Maritime Faces Budget Cuts - May Cancel Next Cruise

Matthew Pinhey spent much of the summer studying in California State University’s most unusual classroom.

On board the 500-foot training ship known as the Golden Bear, Pinhey and more than 300 other California Maritime Academy students were responsible for steering the vessel and plotting its course. They operated radios and radar, read charts and repaired engines while cruising to ports of call in New Zealand, Australia, American Samoa and Hawaii.

With about 850 students, the Maritime Academy is the smallest Cal State school. It’s also unusual in that it has largely been spared the severe budget cuts that have hit the system’s other campuses. That is partly due to its size — it receives less of its funding from tuition than the others — and to its distinctive mission.

The academy’s leaders have less leeway to save money by cutting classes; specific courses are required for students to obtain their licenses as deck officers and engineers.

Still, the academy is navigating turbulent waters as the new school year arrives: The state budget crisis, along with high fuel costs, may force elimination of one of two eight-week summer training cruises for students seeking sea experience.

Located on the Carquinez Strait in Vallejo, the school also has run out of room for new classroom facilities, as well as student housing. Financial considerations and a lack of space have slowed efforts to boost enrollment.

“We are probably better off than many other Cal State schools,” said Gerald Jakubowski, provost and vice president of academic affairs. “But we also have a number of unique challenges.”

Graduates in the academy’s marine majors receive bachelor’s degrees along with U.S. Coast Guard licenses. Other programs include business administration, global studies and engineering technology. The school is considering a wider range of maritime-related majors to attract more students. Possibilities for expansion include a satellite campus at Travis Air Force Base in nearby Fairfield.

The academy has weathered previous uncertainty. Established in 1929 as a state-run nautical school, it survived budget-driven closure attempts in the 1930s and again in the 1970s before becoming the 22nd Cal State campus in 1995.

Although Cal Maritime is not a military school, students are called cadets and wear uniforms in class and on ship. They line up in formation and must be properly groomed. Besides the two training cruises aboard the Golden Bear, most students in programs to obtain a Coast Guard license participate in a commercial cruise of equal length with a private company or government agency.

Last week, the ship docked at the Port of San Diego for a few days before heading back to Vallejo.

Students such as marine engineering major Sasha Barnett relaxed after their first lengthy sea excursion, marked by new cultural experiences, rough weather in the Tasman Sea between Australia and New Zealand, and pride in their ability to handle their diesel-powered floating lab.

For Pinhey, a senior completing his third cruise, there was more work this time.

“It really helped us with our confidence and dealing with pressure,” said Pinhey, 23, who is majoring in marine transportation. “They throw a lot of stuff at you and you have to prioritize and figure out what’s most important. For most people, that’s the hardest thing on ship.”

The academy is one of only seven degree-granting institutions of its kind in the nation and the only one on the West Coast. Even in a tight economy, its job-placement rate for graduates is 95%, the highest for any Cal State campus. Cal Maritime alumni are found on ships, at ports and at other land-based industries up and down the coast.

Like other Cal State campuses that have had to absorb a share of this year’s $650-million state funding reduction to the university system, the academy imposed a hiring freeze, leaving several departments understaffed, administrators said.

“There’s no redundancy,” said Sam Pecota, chairman of the academy’s marine transportation department and captain of the recent cruise. “If we cut into personnel, we would have to stop offering classes.”

The 22-year-old Golden Bear is the former Navy hydrographic ship Maury, built to map the deep ocean floor.

It was transferred to the Maritime Academy in 1996. The federal Maritime Administration funds its upkeep so that it’s ready for action in case of emergencies.

But the school foots the fuel bill, and a typical training cruise can consume 15 to 30 tons of fuel a day at a cost of $1 million to $1.5 million. In case one of its yearly cruises is eliminated, the ship was modified to accommodate more students and staff.

A highlight of the recent cruise was the first use of the Golden Bear’s $1.8-million navigation lab, the most sophisticated nautical simulation equipment in the world, said Harry Bolton, director of marine programs and the ship’s commanding officer.

A virtual environment of ports, land masses, oceans and other scenarios can be re-created on three large screens and at 10 other training stations. The federal government paid $1.3 million of the lab’s cost and the school raised the rest through donations.

The shipboard experience is the heart of training for students, and they know they are receiving a different kind of education — one that includes scrubbing decks, sewing canvas, learning to tie more than a dozen knots and using the stars, along with an old-fashioned sextant, to navigate.

Pinhey, a Florida native who lived on a 41-foot boat as a child, wants to join the Coast Guard when he graduates.

Barnett, who has a Navy Junior ROTC scholarship, will be commissioned as a Navy ensign when she graduates and hopes to serve on a nuclear submarine.

“Just realizing that you’re one of the ones making the ship go where it needs to go — it definitely lived up to expectations and beyond,” said Barnett, 18, a sophomore from Van Nuys. “I don’t think I’d have this much responsibility at any other college.”

From the LA Times:,0,6080000.story

Didn’t they just install a Transas simulator on the ship? Maybe they can simulate the cruise while tied up to the dock.

What they need is a real tugboat and barge.

With “95%” job placement it shouldn’t be a burden to increase tuition to cover the cost of training cruises. Either that or eliminate the training cruises all together and have academy grads work a year in the industry. This would this save the taxpayers some expense, reduce the cost to parents and students would gain valuable real-world experience. Win-win-win!

The above article said, “The shipboard experience is the heart of training for students, and they know they are receiving a different kind of education.” why must that education come on the backs of taxpayers when it can be had for free?

Or only do a senior cruise to satisfy the oicnw/oicew assessments (that way you only need one cruise per summer instead of two) and make them do two cadet shippings.

I call BS on their 95% placement. Unless putting a 3M into an AB slot is considered placement for them.

As a former student you are correct it should be another commercial cruise your freshman year instead if taking the school ship out cadets could learn alot more that way in my opinion.

Every member in my graduating class had a job when they graduated 10 years ago. My brother graduated 10 years before that and everyone in his class had a job. So I say your right 95% is BS, my experiences have been 100%.

The difference between 2001 and 2011 in the job market for graduating cadets is significant. As recent as 2007, I understand that every graduate had a job lined up by graduation day. That all changed with the recent economic downturn. I know of many who graduated in April, who do not have much work. I know of others that graduated a year earlier who are in a similar position. There are occasional nightmate/port relief jobs, but sailing jobs are rare. Working for local (SF Bay) tug companies isn’t much better. How does working as a part time deckhand trainee for $10/hr sound? It is true. Sometimes a call out will be for only 2 hours. BTW, my information comes directly from the young men and women graduates who are trying to find work. I would not call this anywhere close to 95% job placement. CMA and others may have a different definition of job placement than I do, but the bottom line is that jobs aren’t as easy to find and the job market ain’t what it used to be. I do believe that these young men and women are better off than their distantly related peers who have taken 5+ years to graduate from a liberal arts college without a specific skillset. A better economy sure would help.

On the subject of fuel costs consumed for the summer training cruises on The Golden Bear. Two years ago, one reason that they did not go to Australia and New Zealand was because it was so far away and the (fuel) costs were a significant factor. So what did they do this summer? Yep, they went to Australia and New Zealand. As the parent of a recent CMA graduate and another still there, I would have no objection to an increase in training cruise fees to cover fuel costs. Sure, paying more hurts, but I can’t think of anything more I’d rather do than invest in my son’s education.

After my first son came back from his 2 month commercial cruise, he said, " I learned so much more on Commercial Cruise than training cruise. Commercial Cruise is the real thing". It certainly would be great to substitute a “commercial cruise” for a “training cruise” and save the school some money…and the cadets would get some real world experience! I related this statement to a MARAD person I know. He agreed with my son’s statement, but said the problem was there were too many cadets and not enough places to put them.

I am just the messenger.

Maybe for mates, but right now there is a shortage of engineers. There has been numerous open jobs for engineers the last few months. Engineers seem to always find work. If they can’t find any right now, they are not looking hard enough or are too picky

brjones, from what I understand, you are 100% correct! There are plenty of jobs for engineers.

I know my company was looking for 10 engineers about two month ago.

They should go back to having one cruise a year like they did up until 99. Cut the cost in half. Personally even though the students feel they are learning more from the commercial cruise, they are actually learning a lot from the Bear. When I get engine cadets out here from the state schools, I know that they have at least seen a boiler, or generators and larger HP diesels. Just the fact that they have been exposed to life at sea and the equipment makes my job easier in teaching them all I can.