Maritime student volunteers with South Street Seaport

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

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Maritime student volunteers with South Street Seaport

21-year-old Kevin Coombs has spent eight years working on historic tall ships – large, traditionally rigged sailing vessels. Because of his time on board, he’s learned a lot, discovered his passion, and found his career.

After he graduates from SUNY Maritime College with a degree in Naval Architecture, he plans to go into salvage work.

In salvage, he will repair other vessels in the same spirit that he has worked on these century-old tall ships since childhood.

“These tall ships are what inspired me to do Naval Architecture; this is why I’m here at Maritime,” Kevin said. “In salvage work, you come to a vessel, observe its behavior, do the calculations, and say, ‘How can I fix this?’ It’s all about repairing boats and doing the calculations to see the behavior of the boat and what it’s doing at the time.”

He has a lot of experience fixing ships, though most of that is on centuries-old vessels. He works on the ships in port and while they are underway, and because of the work he has sailed all of the Great Lakes, through the Saint Lawrence Seaway and to Nova Scotia.

Eight hundred miles from the Great Lakes, Kevin has continued to work on the tall ships as a volunteer with the South Street Seaport Museum. He’s there almost every weekend during the academic year and has accumulated more than 300 hours on the ships, painting, removing rust, climbing masts for repairs and running lines, and taking pictures almost the entire time. He is also reaching out to his fellow Maritime students to build a team of volunteers from the college.

Capt. Jonathan Boulware, executive director of the museum, spoke in glowing terms about Kevin and his fellow volunteers.

"Kevin exemplifies the very best sort of shipmate," he said. "He's committed, he's competent, and he's willing to do what needs to be done. Add to that that he's evangelical about the work, that he brings others with him regularly, and you have the ideal shipmate."

Wherever he goes – even if it’s 100 feet above the deck – Kevin has his phone with him, usually dangling from a line on his belt.

“Sometimes when I’m up there, I’m just so taken by the view and the way the light hits the water that I just stand there for a minute to take it all in,” Kevin said. “Every weekend I go and I learn something new. This is one of the few opportunities to get to work with and enjoy these boats as they were.”