From Messing About in Boats to Cal Maritime Cadet

Kelsey BrennerAll, Port Townsend Maritime Academy, Youth Programs

Speech by Matthew Rothschild, NWMC Program Alumnus & Cal Maritime Academy Student, from Navigator Night Out 2022

I graduated in 2020 from Port Townsend High School and the Port Townsend Maritime Academy in its inaugural year. I will be going into my junior year at Cal Maritime in Vallejo, CA, where I am majoring in Oceanography. I also happen to be in the inaugural class of Oceanography, the smallest major on campus, with a total of 5 (including me) in the class of 2024.

I originally applied to Cal Maritime’s Marine Transportation program, and to minor in Oceanography, since I’ve always enjoyed science. It was a blessing in disguise that I was not accepted into the Marine Transportation program, but I was accepted into the new Oceanography major. I realized that it’s much easier to start my mariner career later, but it will be harder to start an Oceanography career later, and I have already started earning my sea time for my small tonnage license.

I first got involved in the Northwest Maritime Center when I could barely talk and walk. I would attend the Wooden Boat Festival on my grandpa’s wooden boat, but the first summer camp I attended was the Messing About in Boats camp. Then in the following summers, I got into the Learn to Sail camps, from beginning to advanced small boat sailing.

I have been involved ever since. In 7th grade, I attended the Maritime Discovery Program. In high school, I took all the maritime courses, including Vessel Operations, Maritime Boat Building, Maritime Manufacturing, and Schooner School, an after-school program, in my sophomore year. Finally, in my senior year of high school, I was part of the inaugural Port Townsend Maritime Academy, which got cut short because of COVID.

At Cal Maritime, in my freshman year, I had endless hours of Zoom Biology, Ecology, Chemistry labs, and lectures. However, one positive that came out of COVID and distance learning was that I became very good at interpreting blurry lab images and videos since my Chemistry professor was very talented in taking images and videos without focusing the camera… This just is a metaphor for the beginning of my career where answers to questions we have aren’t clear and straightforward: they are often very messy and sometimes very confusing to our current understanding. I was able to attend the Academy in person for the first time my sophomore year.

I’m now on my summer break from Cal Maritime and was able to mentor and help the Port Townsend Maritime Academy at the end of their school year. I am also the summer deckhand here at the Maritime Center’s Admiral Jack for the Saturday maritime history bay tours.

I had mostly female mentors, teachers, and captains at the Maritime Center, Port Townsend High School, and at my high school job at Pygmy Boats. I learned from and was shown by these women that they are just as capable, and even more capable, than their male counterparts in the male-dominated maritime industry. Growing up in PT, I just thought this was the “norm.”

I learned very quickly after attending Cal Maritime in person this past year, that many people attending the academy and the industry do not share the same views. They are often very open and public about these views, and what they say is very damaging and harmful to some on campus. I have seen things such as Swastikas and Three Percent logos. I have also heard many times something along the lines of “Why is this place not just for white males fresh out of high school who want to come here for the United States Coast Guard license and then go work at sea only.”

One of the most important life skills I learned growing up at the Maritime Center was to be accepting and respectful of others. This has taught me to be a positive voice in influencing the maritime industry that is having a hard time accepting these cultural changes. I was imagining and planning that I was just going to attend Cal Maritime to be a cadet, but now, I feel I have to be not just a student, but also an advocate for basic values like respect and acceptance—all of which I learned from all my amazing mentors and teachers at the Maritime Center and Port Townsend High School.


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