After 15 months of planning, the Training Ship Golden Bear steamed out of the Carquinez Strait this morning bound for Hawaii, the first of two summer training cruises. Many of 318 aboard were on deck and waved vigorously as the ship’s horn blew. 

Bon Voyage sign that family holds up in front of TSGB
Family of senior Matt Morganstein including his mom Amy,
sisters Drew, Rebecca and his girlfriend Lexie Phoummathep
on shore for this morning’s sendoff

Family members, faculty, and staff stood on shore and cheered them on their way, some bearing balloons and signs.

“It’s a mix of emotions, for sure,” said Amy Morganstein of Discovery Bay CA, mother of Matt Morganstein, who graduated last month with a BS in Mechanical Engineering. “I’m super proud and excited for him, but I’m going to miss him.” She watched the ship depart along with Matthew’s sisters Amy and Drew and his girlfriend Lexie Phoummathep. Under normal circumstances Morganstein would have completed his training cruise last year but because of the pandemic, many seniors are completing their requirements after getting their diplomas. 

Even under normal circumstances, preparing for a summer training cruise is a feat. This year, with all the planning occurring as the Covid-19 pandemic has evolved, it’s been particularly challenging, especially since two cruises are now scheduled to make up for last summer’s cancellation.  

“Everyone has been working as hard as they can to make this a reality,” said Sam Pecota, TSGB Captain. “The main mission here is to get the cadets their sea time and get them the training they need. That’s our focus.”

Families waving on shoreFamilies, friends, faculty, and staff wave from shore as the TSGB departs.

TSGB leaving with two tugboatsTraining Ship Golden Bear departs from Vallejo.

Meeting almost weekly since the fall, the cruise committee has held seemingly endless discussions about how to keep shipmates safe and free of disease. Early topics centered on whether masks would be needed and how the ship could be disinfected. The big break came in the spring, as everyone began to realize just how critical vaccinations would be to the process. 

“Once we realized that nearly everyone could be vaccinated, the conversation changed. We got pretty confident that we could pull this off,” said Pecota. The few that weren't vaccinated were required to quarantine for 14 days prior to departure and get tested before boarding. Those with vaccinations didn’t face those requirements. 

One major limitation as the Golden Bear charts a course toward Honolulu on the 45-day training cruise– so far, no port calls. The Hawaiian authorities treat the ship as any other cruise ship, and for now, ports are still closed to tourists. 

“As of now, most of our sightseeing will be from the ship,” said Pecota. 

Harbor pilot and alumnus Ed Enos ’87, a longtime Hawaii resident, along with others, has been working behind the scenes to help make getting onto land a possibility. “In Hawaii, we need our cruise industry back. The idea we’re pitching to the authorities is this — ‘Let’s use the Golden Bear as a guinea pig’ if you will, a test case to show that we can do this safely”. There have been near constant conversations with Hawaiian health authorities about a possible exemption for the training ship, but as of now, access to the Port of Honolulu has not yet been secured. 

In Vallejo preparations were underway for months. Lindsay Long, who is a specialist for the Office of Marine Programs and worked on many of the details around cruise planning and logistics, said recent developments have made her optimistic. “It’s starting to feel almost like a normal cruise right now,” she shared. “We’re getting all the boxes checked which makes me feel really good.” 

The ship’s captain points out that the extensive planning and the evolution of the two cruises in trying times has been a learning experience for everyone. 

“We’ve been dealing with lots of different opinions throughout all this and things change fast in the Covid world,” said Pecota. “We’ve tried to roll with it as best we can. Staying flexible has been key.” 

3 cadets waving from TSGB

On departure day Cal Maritime President Tom Cropper was onshore, watching as the ship got underway. He spoke about the unique experience the cadets would find on this cruise as well as in their future careers as mariners. 

“They will experience the beauty and the hardship of what they’re doing, all at the same time. It takes a good deal of grit and persistence. I see this more as a calling. It’s a profession, but certainly not a job,” he shared. “It takes a little extra commitment to come here and learn how to do it well.” 

To follow the progress of both summer cruises, check the TSGB Follow the Voyage blog.

Established in 1929, California State University Maritime Academy is the only degree-granting maritime academy on the West Coast. Located in Vallejo, California, the campus offers undergraduate degrees that prepare students for careers in engineering, transportation, international relations, business, and global logistics. Cal Maritime also offers a master’s degree in Transportation and Engineering Management, as well as a number of extended learning programs and courses.