The world at their feet: Eleven students aged 16 to 31 are currently on the Bermuda Mate programme, working towards a seaman’s qualification that will give them an entry level job on a ship anywhere in the world.
Photo by Meredith Ebbin
The world at their feet: Eleven students aged 16 to 31 are currently on the Bermuda Mate programme, working towards a seaman’s qualification that will give them an entry level job on a ship anywhere in the world. Photo by Meredith Ebbin
It's a course that promises to expand the horizons of young Bermudians who have the sea in their blood.

The Bermuda Mate programme kicked off last week on land, with three weeks of classroom instruction at the Adult Education School.

Next weekend, the 11 Bermuda Mates who were chosen for the pilot programme will leave Bermuda on board the sail training sloop Spirit of Bermuda for Fairhaven, Massachusetts, where they will begin the next stage of the course.

The 11, who range in age from 16 to 31, are taking an able seaman's course at the Northeast Maritime Institute in Fairhaven.

The Institute, a school for professional mariners, is picking up the tab for the 12-week course-which costs around $24,000 per student-with the expectation that the National Training Board will sponsor subsequent waves of Bermudians.

Successful completion of the course will open up the waterways of the world to young Bermudians. They will be able to use the internationally recognized able seaman's certificate to obtain an entry level job on a ship anywhere in the world.

Students say the course is intense and challenging. The next phase in Fairhaven is expected to be even tougher, but that hasn't put anybody off.

Daniel Brangman, 18, who wants to be captain of a cruise ship, said: "It's challenging. There's a lot of information you have to grasp in a short period of time."

Mr. Brangman, who said he has been around boats all his life, graduated from CedarBridge Academy in June and will be entering a technical college in New England in September to study marine engineering.

Daniel Martin, aged 17, said he is happy working on any kind of boat -fishing, charter, or glass bottom. He said of the course: "It's been challenging. It's a lot of stuff to remember."

He said it will only get more difficult, but he can't wait to move on to the next phase.

Crash course

David Bean, 24, who is taking a break from his studies at a maritime school in the U.K., described the programme as a "crash course" where more topics are covered in a shorter period of time.

He said the Bermuda Mates are "trailblazers" and the programme "is a benefit to the whole island."

Students this week were mastering knot typing. Other topics covered are splicing, helm commands, watchkeeping and personal survival.

The 11 have varied educational backgrounds. Some like Mr. Martin, attended a home school, and Tyneisha O'Connor, a former CedarBridge student, have taken the GED or high school equivalency exams through the Adult Education School. But they failed some subjects, and will have to resit some exams.

Ms O'Connor, 18, the only woman among the group, is daughter of a pilot who works at Marine and Ports and the granddaughter of a fisherman. She said she wants to work at Marine and Ports as well.

Like most of the Bermuda Mates, she has been exposed to life at sea, having done several ocean crossings on Spirit of Bermuda.

Others like Melvin Martin, who is in his early 20s, and Travis Robinson, 20, are veterans of Spirit as well. But they have finished high school.

Mr. Martin, was employed by Spirit as a bosun until last August, has done several ocean crossings, and now sees himself as a mentor to the teenagers in the group.

The three-week course in Bermuda is being taught by Sue McDonald, a lead instructor with the Northeast Maritime Institute who first sailed to Bermuda with the U.S. Coast Guard in the mid-1980s.

She said the course has gone well, despite the challenges it has posed for some students. She said it's the same with student mariners everywhere.

"Some people catch on quickly, others need a bit of extra help," she said. "We pair students up based on their ability."

The heavy emphasis on teamwork is a good lesson-it is important for everyone to work together "as a team to get the vessel under way."

Derek Spalding, an employee of Marine and Ports, and a cohort leader for Spirit, said the course opens up everyone's eyes to the possibilities. The qualification he currently has only entitles him to work on a local boat in local waters.

"It's one of those opportunities people have to grab and take advantage of," he said. "There are so many whips and lines you can grab for the future."