Sea Voyager Cruise Ship Gets Mixed Reviews

On Nov. 1, 244 of the displaced residents of the dangerously moldy Caroline and Prince George’s Halls were finally allowed to move aboard their new home: a small cruise ship named the Sea Voyager, docked right outside Historic St. Mary’s City. Some students welcomed the change, while others reported a tough adjustment to life on the boat.

The new “floating dorm” includes a spacious lounge, which contains a baby grand piano, exercise equipment, and The Love Café, an extension of campus grocery and coffee shop The Daily Grind. A separate but equally large study room, in what is usually the ship’s dining room, is also available for students who do not want to trek to the library. The Resident Assistant office is located in what was the ship’s gift shop. Each bedroom is named after a nautical area, such as “Cape Cod” or “Lake Huron.”

According to first-year Jemile Safaraliyeva, “The guest policy is difficult, checking in and out.” Only 294 people are allowed on the Sea Voyager at any one time; given students, faculty, and staff already on the ship, only 28 guests at a time are permitted to board the ship. Public Safety is stationed outside the dock to check residents and guests in and out of the Sea Voyager and keep track of the number of people on board.

Residents faced some unexpected nuisances to boat life. “It’s nice to be on campus, but the crew has safety boat drills two times a day,” said sophomore Sydney Hunter. First-year Jonathan Grossman-Zoha also expressed annoyance with these drills. “The staff uses the intercom in the morning and it wakes me up every day,” he said. “We hear all of it.”

Students had the most issues with the rooming situation on the Sea Voyager. “I have one of the biggest rooms, but others have rooms the size of prison cells,” says Grossman-Zoha. “You can hear every little thing through those walls, making it very hard to fall asleep, no matter what time,” added first-year Willow Smith.

“I like having a private bathroom, but it feels claustrophobic, and I get sea-sick,” said sophomore Lindsey Lepage.  Adding to the bathroom issues, Smith said, “The shower curtain likes to randomly blow in and stick to you.”

The Sea Voyager lacks a full laundry room, so many residents walk to nearby Calvert Hall to do their laundry. “It’s really annoying to share only three sets of washers and dryers among the residents of essentially three residence halls,” said Calvert Hall resident and sophomore Mike Harp.

Other students tried to keep a positive perspective of their new living situation. “We need to remember that this boat wasn’t built to be lived in for long periods of time, usually people are only living here for a week,” said Grossman-Zoha.

“I’ve really gotten to like the boat,” said first-year Andrew Murti. “When compared to a dorm, this is really swanky. I would do it for an extra semester. Walking ten minutes is better than a forty minute bus ride.”

First-year Serra Erbis lived in Waring Commons when she was originally ousted from her dorm, but says “When I found out there was a boat, I left. It sounded really awesome.” Safaraliyeva recognizes the uniqueness of her time on the Sea Voyager. “It’s an experience,” she said. “This is what college is all about, with everything changing so rapidly.”

Student Programming to Board the Sea Voyager

St. Mary’s own semester at sea has become the new normal on campus. With that new normal, the Residence Life and Student Activities offices are joining forces to begin programming on the newest campus dorm, the Sea Voyager.

Though bigger programs are soon to come, according to Director of Residence Life Joanne Goldwater, some programs have already boarded the ship. These include mocktails that were served at the first ship meeting on Nov. 1, the addition of The Love Café, an extension of The Daily Grind implemented the first week of November, and a board games night, which was hosted by the Office of Student Activities on Nov. 8.

“We’ve gotten a lot of interest from various faculty and student groups to do some stuff on board,” Goldwater said. “Now that we’ve just started our new normal, we can now see if we can pull some programming off. Our goal is to make sure the students are taken care of.”

Future program possibilities for residents of the Sea Voyager include an improvisation show hosted by members of the Take One! Improv Club living on the ship, panelists from various academic departments to host discussions, and a “Semester at Sea” information session, according to Goldwater.

However, the programming possibilities are not limited to these. Senior and Programming Assistant for Student Activities Melissa Griffith mentioned the possibility of an upcoming karaoke night with mocktails on the ship as well. “We were asked by the [mold team] to create some programming for the boat residents to make it a little happier,” Griffith said. “We are also looking into having a de-stress your life program with counseling available before exams.”

Though Goldwater is eager to implement programming on the boat, she claimed, “we also have to be mindful of the end of the semester. People are going to start getting focused on exams and projects,” she said. Though the staff will have this in mind, programming will still continue on the ship at students’ requests.

Assistant Director of Student Activities Clint Neill urges students to submit ideas for programming they would like to see on the boat. Students with ideas should contact Neill at cbneill@smcm.edu, Griffith at mmgriffith@smcm.edu, or students can also consult their RA.

Boatlife: The Good, the Bad, and the Voyage

I almost forget what it’s like to live in a normal St. Mary’s dorm. For the past three and a half weeks, in case you’ve been anywhere in the world without a local newspaper, I and 350 other students living in both Caroline and Prince George’s Residence Halls have been temporarily trying out some other living quarters due to the mold.

The hotels, at least where I lived at the Holiday Inn in Solomons, were nice but certainly a hassle. The disconnection from campus, a one-way commute anywhere from twenty-five minutes to an hour depending on traffic, and playing the guessing game on when a shuttle would show up got quickly and painfully old.  And of course, the move in general was a bit of a pain and stressful to say the least, especially with almost everything else on campus running on its regular schedule.

As I finally settled into the hotel, I was completely blind-sighted by a bombshell e-mail from President Urgo, which made me feel certain that I was either hallucinating or that someone had clearly hacked his account.

But without a doubt, within the next week, my life was packed up in boxes once again and, this time, shifted to cruise control ready to board the Sea Voyager for the rest of semester.  Some students were excited to live on a boat and some were happy just to be back on campus while others took the opportunity to groan some more about moving.

But I’m not complaining.  Actually, the rest of this might come off as a bit of a thank you note to those involved in planning and executing the Sea Voyager project. And I can honestly say that I love my new temporary home.

As students, we can’t forget that the entire residence life and executive staffs at the College have been working hard and have probably been under more pressure and stress than any of us affected by the move.  They did this for us so that we can maintain a normal (or as normal as possible) college experience during the unfortunate moldy circumstances.

Not only have they been working to accommodate our needs, they’ve added conveniences on board like The Love Café (the ship’s version of The Daily Grind), designated library-type study spaces with printer accessibility, wireless internet, and free laundry services once a week. Being able to brush my teeth and take a shower without shoes on isn’t bad either.

There are some setbacks in the deal like the limited visitors rule including no overnight guests, and the overall process of having to check in and out to enter or exit the boat, but it’s for our safety. And though the showers are tiny and rooms are a little snug, let’s be honest, I’d sleep in a cardboard box to have my view of the St. Mary’s River.

Plus, both the crew of the boat and College staff has been working nonstop at ironing out the creases of the process, and they’re doing a good job.  So on behalf of my fellow floating classmates, or perhaps only those who feel the same way that I do, thanks.  It really does show who we are at St. Mary’s, and is part of the reason why I love this place so much.

Looking back at this semester in future years will be pretty cool, too.  I know I already have my shoebox of pictures and newspaper clippings started.  And I can’t wait to see what further adventures I’m in for in my remaining years here at St. Mary’s.

Students Leave Hotels, Move to Ship

On Oct. 25, President Urgo announced in an all-student email the college rented a cruise ship called the Sea Voyager to house 244 students displaced by mold in the Prince George and Caroline residence halls.

The ship arrived at the Dove dock in Historic St. Mary’s City on Oct. 30 and students were originally going to move into the ship on Monday, Oct. 31. However, at a press conference on Monday President Urgo said students could not move into the ship until the next day due to a problem securing the boat to the dock, which prevented the final safety tests.

The displaced students moving into the ship are currently living in three hotels in California and Solomons, MD. Urgo made the decision to rent the ship after students moved to the hotels saying, “[hotel] challenges threatened to dilute the residential experience of St. Mary’s. And even more, would soon violate the every mission of our college.” He added, “The Sea Voyager restores our campus community.”

The idea to rent the ship came from Dan Plesch, a 2004 graduate and sailor. Plesch saw the ship was for sale and moving from Maine to Virgina. He suggested the college could rent the ship during the sale process.

Urgo saw the idea as an innovate solution and unique fitting to the college community given the importance of St. Mary’s river. He said, “[acknowledging] the source of so much of this College’s spirit. This wonderful body of water: the historic byway for seekers of truth and knowledge, through refuge and through study.”

Students were displaced after the college determined the mold in the two affected dorms was systematic and not sporadic. The college consulted with Compliance Environmental, Inc., an environmental and industrial hygiene consulting firm, and Dr. Hung Cheung, an occupational physician, and decided to do extensive mold remediation, according to Charles “Chip” Jackson, Associate Vice President of Planning and Facilities.

“The mold is primarily located above ceilings and within enclosed conditioning equipment,” said Jackson. The College does not yet know the exact cause of the mold beyond condensation from the heating and cooling pipes. “The insulation failed to prevent condensation from forming and causing mold, […] we are committed to finding the root cause,” he said.

Jackson also said the cost for mold remediation in both residence halls will cost approximately $1 million from the college’s physical plant fund. The cost for temporary housing, including the ship and hotels, will be an additional $1.5 million from the college’s contingency fund. “This event will not impact next year or subsequent years’ tuition,” said Jackson. “Our students’ safety and well-being is foremost in our minds,” he added.

Most students are excited by the ship but some are still concerned about the underlying problem. “Since they found the mold, they have done a good job but my hall reported [mold] on day two of the semester and no action was taken until day 30. The problem should have been dealt with this summer,” said sophomore Sami Keyani, originally a resident of Caroline first left.

According to Urgo, the college has not given any compensation to the displaced students beyond reimbursement for expenses. Displaced students will be given priority for housing next year.

During their stay on the ship, students will have TV, wifi and a 24-hour study room. The ship’s crew will also clean students’ rooms.

As for security, Public Safety will be be patrolling the shore around the ship from 7 p.m. until 7 p.m. and the ship’s crew will handle security on the ship 24 hours a day. While non-residents will be allowed on the ship, only 290 people will be allowed on at any time and everyone, residents and non-residents, will be required to sign in to gain access to the ship, according to Jackson.

The ship is also required to comply with all state and federal laws governing a ship at sea. For instance, one of every ten bags brought on board must be search to comply with Homeland Security regulations.

Students will reside on the ship until the end of the semester.