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2011 was a Good Year for...CFCC's Marine Tech program

With the end of 2011, WHQR is taking a look at some of the people, places, and products that have had a good year, despite the down economy. 

WHQR’s Michelle Bliss reports that after surviving state budget cuts, the marine technology program at Cape Fear Community College is still afloat, teaching many of its lessons from offshore classrooms.

Along with reading textbooks and listening to presentations on their trade, Cape Fear marine technology students often leave their brick-and-mortar lecture halls and take to the high seas.

Department Chair Jason Rogers says that experience helps 94 percent of his alumni find a job or continue their education after graduating.

“Every student that’s in the program spends 32 days underway on our dedicated training vessel, the R/V Dan Moore. That is our bread and butter. That’s why employers hire our graduates—it’s that at-sea training.”

During the two-year program, students take cruises to places like Savannah and Charleston. Their final ride is to the Bahamas.

Operating the 85-foot research vessel, the Dan Moore, along with a handful of smaller boats costs nearly $700,000.

“That’s the money that was targeted this spring by the governor’s office for elimination. That’s the money we worked so hard for this summer to make sure it was restored and we were fully funded,”

Governor Bev Perdue originally proposed cutting those operating funds. The move would have saved money in the short-term, but it would have kept students indoors for courses like Boat Handling and Seamanship. With state support, Captain Steve Beuth can assess his students out in the field—where he says they belong.

“Alright, here’s how you’re going to be graded. You’ll get five grades; two of them will be for dockings. There will be a port side docking and a starboard side docking. There will be a grade for getting away from the pier cleanly…”

Beuth took a crew of six out on the Cape Fear River for their final exam earlier this month in a 26-foot Navy motor whaleboat.

Each student, strapped into a puffy orange life jacket, had to “walk the tightrope,” as Beuth calls it, driving parallel to the dock with just a few feet to spare.

They also had to “thread the needle” by carefully weaving between the dock’s cement pilings and a nearby channel marker.

“It takes a lot of awareness, a lot of planning. It takes a good, slow, safe speed to give you the opportunity to back out if it looks like we’re going to miss it.

Beuth says that by threading the needle, his students like 24-year-old Taylor Flannery, get a feel for the artistic judgment needed to safely navigate any boat.

“Now, slow it down some there. That’s a good speed. Now, a hard right.”

Flannery moved from Connecticut for the program. She says there’s nothing like it up north, and that more time on the water will prepare her for a career in wildlife conservation.

“So, we started with the jon boats, and now, we moved up for the skiff and the whale boat. They all have different feels, different motors—and, so, it’s really just trying to figure out that. And plus, currents and wind, that all plays a factor in that, too.”

The hands-on experience that Flannery describes was saved this year in the final version of the state budget, a change that required phone calls, emails, and letters from alumni and employers to lawmakers.

Now that funding is secured for the next two years, program administrators will turn their attention to their next goal: replacing the 45-year-old R/V Dan Moore before that vessel has sailed its course.

Do you have insight or expertise on this topic? If so, we'd like to hear from you. Please email the WHQR NewsTeam.

After growing up in Woodbridge, Virginia, Michelle attended Virginia Tech before moving to Wilmington to complete her Master in Fine Arts from the University of North Carolina in Wilmington. Her reporting and nonfiction writing have been featured on NPR’s All Things Considered, within the pages of Wrightsville Beach Magazine, and in literary journals like River Teeth and Ninth Letter. Before moving to Wilmington, Michelle served as the general manager for WUVT, a community radio station in Blacksburg, Virginia. She lives with her husband Scott and their pups, Katie, Cooper, and Mosey.