Cape Fear Community College’s Marine Technology program could soon hit rock bottom. The state is proposing a new budget that would cut the lines to the program’s offshore training; the only one of it’s kind on the east coast. All this week, we will focus on what makes this program so unique and what’s at stake for the technicians-in-training, the college, and the town, if they lose their funding.
WWAY’s Hailey Winslow begins our series with the history behind the 44-year-old program.
The Marine Technology program started in 1964. Back then, Cape Fear Community College was known as Cape Fear Technical Institute, and downtown Wilmington was not the business and tourist hub it is today.
Sitting proudly on the docks of the Cape Fear River was the institute’s sea training vessel, the RV Advance II. The 185 footer was built by the US Navy in 1943 as a sub-chaser before the college acquired it and began running it in 1965. She could accommodate 55 students and 20 crew members.
The early 70’s lured a mass interest in the program more than two hundred enrolled. The students, or “cadets”, as they were called, wore Navy-like uniforms.
Between student training voyages off the southeast coast and international charters by scientific agencies to conduct oceanographic research work, the Advance logged hundreds of days at sea. After nearly forty years, it was time for the Advance to retire from her students. She was sold to a Virginia fishing company, and later taken a few miles off the coast of Oregon Inlet in the Outer Banks to be sunk and used as an artificial reef; a habitat for fish and exploring grounds for divers.
In place of the Advance came the RV Dan Moore, a much smaller research vessel but with some years left under her berth. Named after the North Carolina governor of the time, the steel stern trawler was operated by the North Carolina Department of Fisheries in Morehead City for 15 years. In October 1982, the Dan Moore sailed to her new homeport of Wilmington.
Mark Miller was a student in the Marine Technology program in the early 70’s, and he has never left. After working as a technician at CFCC for eight years, he now teaches the program in a classroom he once sat in as a student.
“The first thing that drew me down here was the ship. I came because I wanted to work on the water, I like boats, I wanted to work on boats, and obviously the lure of a ship. The only program that I could find, in the state or really the nation at that time, which had operational ships that would train me, was Cape Fear Community College,” remembered Miller.
Miller said his fondest memory of the program was heading up the eastern seaboard to Lake Ontario during the height of the Cold War. He was on a three-week training voyage with NOAA to study the Great Lakes. He recalls fighting bone-chilling temperatures, a churning stomach and the unforgettable sound of the RV Advance cutting through the ice hills of the North Atlantic; like fingernails on a chalkboard.
They pulled into port in Halifax next to a ship of young Russians. Unable to communicate verbally, they shared an appreciation of a view and experience Miller described as “magical”.
Miller has seen the name of the school change, the flag ships change – he has seen technology advance, but Miller said one aspect of the program has stayed constant; the success of the college’s offshore training. “The one thing that I see that hasn’t changed through all the years that I’ve been here, is the need for a marine technician. To have practical boat skills, be able to work around the water, work on the water, work on vessels, and have the practical knowledge needed to do those things.”
In order for students to gain that knowledge, they board the Dan Moore for days and weeks at a time, to put their skills and training in the classroom to the test on the open waters.
Running the Dan Moore and the tech program’s inshore boats, costs the school $571,000 a year. That covers fuel, up-keep, and crew wages. The Senate included funding for the program in their version of the state budget, just as they have done in the past. The House, however, did not. The budget vote has been delayed, and may happen next week.
School officials told us training a technician without taking them offshore, is like training someone to be a nurse without that person stepping foot in a hospital.
We got the chance to go 30 miles offshore with the students and crew to find out what they do aboard the Dan Moore, and why these voyages are so important. We will have that Tuesday.