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Mutiny on the Texas Clipper By Stephen Harrigan Somewhere in the Gulf Galveston There are no pelicans on Pelican Island, and for at least one human visitor the absence is understandable. It is an “island” in the Texas Gulf Coast sense, a drab five-mile area of sand and scraggly vegetation, missing linkage with Galveston by perhaps a quarter mile of sluggish water, though this fact is remedied by the presence of a drawbridge. As with most Texas leeward islands, it is as easy to assume that Pelican Island was dredged into existence by man as wrought by the hand of God. It has that aura of having been the cause or effect of someone’s industrial dreams, the vestiges of which are still visible in the bright yellow mounds of sulfur across the bay in Galveston’s back yard. All around, it is land that has been used unkindly, even its natural aridity has been claimed and made over. Rising from the graceless surface of the island, starkly visible across the summit of the drawbridge, is the Texas Maritime Academy, or more properly Texas A&M’s College of Marine Sciences and Maritime Resources, of which TMA, as they call it, is the most conspicuous subsidiary. The campus of TMA consists of three or four brand-new buildings shaped conspicuously like plain boxes, though the main building does have a sort of grudging blockhouse architecture whose severity has already taken over the appeal of its newness. Docked in front of this edifice like someone’s lakeside yacht is a 15,000-ton converted cargo ship, the Texas Clipper, the centerpiece of a controversy that has now reached full rage on the campus. THE TEXAS Maritime Academy is a four-year training program for those who “possess the desire to become the leaders of tomorrow in the maritime industry,” an accredited course of studies culminating in a Bachelor of Science Degree in either marine engineering or marine transportation, its main objective being to provide trained officers for the merchant marine. “The highlight of the school year,” as the brochure puts it, “is the summer cruise.” Every summer the After Steve Harrigan wrote a fine, sensitive piece on armadillos for Rolling Stone, the Observer searched him out and found him toiling in the textbook section of the University Co-op in Austin. In his spare time he writes fiction and mows lawns. 14 The Texas Observer Texas Clipper heads out of port to Europe or the Mediterranean or somewhere else, providing important on-the-job experience. The Academy is open to males from 17 to 22, it is ten years old, and the only school of its kind on the Gulf Coast. So far so good. ‘ But not everyone is content about TMA, most notably two professors who recently authored a 29-page report attacking the virtual existence of the Academy, with specific indictments of its administration, its atmosphere and, the cause celebre, the sea-worthiness of the Texas Clipper. The report was written some months after the men, Joseph G. San Martin, a naval architect and marine engineer, and Paul Dempsey, an English and government teacher and the school’s humanities department in general, were relieved of their duties at TMA amid a confusing flurry of ill-will and accusations. Of all the charges made in the report, the stability of the Clipper is the one most directly refuted by the administration, very possibly because of a recent Coast Guard investigation, the impending results of which the powers seem to await with untarnished confidence. But San Martin, whose subversive appearance is confined to a neatly trimmed but still controversial beard, seems skeptical of the Coast Guard’s infallibility, as well as the administration’s search for a moot point. His charges that the ship is too old for service \(it dates from has inadequate ballast and a dilapidated power plant are, after all, the convictions of a naval architect, one who seems on good terms with his own judgment, if not with his superiors. But there is discontent with the ship in other areas as well. San Martin and Dempsey see it as a metaphor for TMA’s military and academic incompetence, as a breeding ground for the disillusionment and frustration that a good many of the cadets seem to be experiencing. It is also an uncomfortable place to live, and for the 71 students now attending TMA, it is all they have by way of residence. During most of the year, when it is not on cruise, the ship is used as a dormitory and all cadets are required to live there \(to the tune of a 7 p.m. weeknight curfew Martin and Dempsey allege that the ship offers little but boredom and neurosis, that the psychologial toll it exacts from the students is in a large measure responsible for the Academy’s slipshod state. DEAN WILLIAM H. Clayton, who recently replaced the allegedly infamous Admiral Craik as superintendent of TMA, admits, out of a reluctance to deny all of the report’s allegations categorically, that it contains “germs of truth, twisted and distorted and exaggerated.” He hastens to refute “the contention that the students are potheads and alcoholics and moody and introspective.” This last statement may seem inconsistent in light of a recent dope raid on board the Clipper, for which the dean gave his official sanction. Given that the situation at TMA is a hopeless melage of such allegations and counter-allegations, of facts covering up facts, one could do worse than admire the cutting edge of bitterness that has risen up amid the blandness of official regime and procedure. Dempsey and San Martin and a number of dissident students, armed with “facts” at least as effective as the administration’s, have gone further, have raised the level of their attack to tone, have brought style and anger to Pelican Island, and one senses that the truth of the matter lies more in their rage than in the administration’s orderly defense. A few “germs of truth”: Last summer’s cruise would have resulted in mutiny had the cadets elected to go ahead with a proposed work strike. The strike was prevented largely through the efforts of San Martin and Dempsey, who were subsequently accused of inciting the disturbance they had just quelled and were read the regulations regarding mutiny as, apparently, an implicit warning. But the grievances still remained unsettled. Cadets estimated that they were paying $1.25 an hour for the privilege of spending a third of their cruise time painting the ship and performing other odd jobs. They were made to rigidly conform to rules of conduct openly violated by some of the officers, subjected to verbal abuse in almost every port \(if they were whose hearts were not lifted by the sight of American boys in uniform. And uniforms were all the cadets were allowed to wear. On the same cruise,. a student who had been confined to the ship because of a late project was finally allowed a few hours shore leave if he did not go past a bar at the end of the quay. He had to be drug back and sedated, after attempts on his own and others’ lives. Moody and introspective. There have been changes since the summer; from now on seniors may wear coats and ties in foreign ports, others must wear official blazers; longer liberty hours have also been arranged. These improvements were made some seven months after the crisis that necessitated them; In time for the next cruise, on which San Martin and Dempsey will be conspicuous by their absence. There is an official reason for Joseph San Martin’s dismissal. He was absent from the ship while on watch in Copenhagen, at which time a safety valve on the main boiler “went off,” as the official report puts it. San Martin, acknowledging his