Last week, 250 students at St. Mary’s College of Maryland were swept up into the news cycle when college leaders decided to house them on a cruise ship. They had been displaced from their residence halls to remote hotels because of a mold outbreak.
It became a signature story for St. Mary’s, a college largely defined by its waterfront setting. There is but one problem with the cheery narrative: As of this writing, no one has been allowed to board.
College spokeswoman Barbara Geehan said in a lunchtime e-mail that Coast Guard officials have finally cleared the Sea Voyager for boarding and that students will be permitted to settle into their rooms/cabins at 2 p.m.
The Sea Voyager was headed for Virginia when college president Joseph Urgo made arrangements to rent the vessel as a floating dormitory. It diverted up the St. Mary’s River and was originally scheduled to arrive Saturday.
But the voyage was beset by delays.
Thursday evening, Urgo sent this dispatch to the St. Mary’s community:
We’ve received news that the Sea Voyager is taking longer to reach the Chesapeake Bay than initially estimated by its crew. Significant weather in the Atlantic Ocean has slowed the ship’s progress.
The ship finally arrived Sunday, and preparations began for students to board the ship Monday. Then came this update:
As we were preparing to move on board the Sea Voyager today, the Coast Guard inspection team identified a potential mooring issue that requires the ship to be repositioned slightly. The ship will be moved a few feet away from the dock and backward about 12 feet. This repositioning will require rigging a new gangway from the ship to the dock that should be accomplished tonight. The Coast Guard will re-inspect the ship Tuesday morning to make sure that the new mooring and gangway are safe.
Urgo apologized to the students who had already packed their belongings and arrived on campus to board the ship.
Students have been returning from the Southern Maryland campus to hotel rooms. Those rooms are comfortable, students say, but also distant: One hotel is nearly 20 miles from campus.
From a public relations perspective, the cruise ship solution seems to have trumped the underlying mold problem in the public consciousness. Late-night comedian Jimmy Fallon even mentioned the Sea Voyager in his monologue.
“Yeah,” one student noted on Twitter with evident pride, “this is my school.”