Jeff Chrjapin knows what veteran sailors mean when they speak of a captivation with the sea.
"There's definitely ... a draw," said the Clarks Hill, S.C., resident. "You always hear people say there's a draw to the ocean, to the sea, and there is."
The 20-year-old son of Karen Chrjapin, the Columbia County Chamber of Commerce executive director, knows from experience.
Chrjapin already has spent more than four months sailing the waters of the Atlantic and Indian oceans and the Red and Mediterranean seas to such locales as Malaysia, Sri Lanka and the Arabian Peninsula.
Instead of a traditional college or military academy, Chrjapin chose to ship off to the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in 2006 after his graduation from Westminster Schools of Augusta. Recently, he completed his sophomore year with a major in maritime operations and technology.
The academy, in Kings Point, N.Y., offers a blend of technical expertise of merchant shipping and extensive travel experience, said Martin Skrocki, the public information officer for the academy. Students will spend a year at sea learning merchant vessels between their sophomore and junior years.
"The kids have such a wonderful opportunity," Skrocki said. "By the time they graduate, they have typically been to 16 or 18 foreign countries."
Chrjapin said that while at sea he gained a valuable education working beside veteran merchant mariners.
"That is a very hands-on experience," Skrocki said. "Not only are they aboard an operating merchant ship but they are doing things. They are working with their hands. They are working with their heads. They are fulfilling sea projects that the academy tells them to do.
"So when they graduate, they've already been there and done that in a lot of cases. They have the chance to put theory into practice."
Chrjapin, whose father, Victor, is a Navy veteran, originally had his eye on the U.S. Naval Academy. As the Merchant Marine Academy started recruiting him to play basketball, Chrjapin said, he learned more about the experiences and post-graduate opportunities the academy offered over traditional military academies. He played NCAA Division 3 basketball his freshman year, but decided to focus on his studies his sophomore year.
When he graduates, Chrjapin will have a merchant marine third mate's license in addition to being a qualified member of the engineering department.
Because his education is paid for by the federal government, Chrjapin has an obligation to serve five years as a merchant marine, most likely working aboard merchant vessels such as oil tankers, cargo ships, tugboats or other civilian-operated vessels, and must spend time in the Naval Reserve.
Chrjapin also has the option to continue his education or serve five years in any active military branch instead of the Merchant Marine, Skrocki said.
Still uncertain about what he would like to pursue after graduation, Chrjapin has planned a few summer internships that he hopes will help him decide. This summer, he intends to intern with the Charleston (S.C.) Pilots Association.
Chrjapin said he also hopes to spend the summer between his junior and senior years on a naval cruise to help him decide whether a naval commission is the right option for him.
Last Monday, Chrjapin flew to Japan to board an oil tanker contracted by the Navy to refuel fleet ships at sea. Because the ship could go on military missions, he didn't have details of his trip other than it could be up to 110 days and the ship could travel anywhere in the Navy's 7th Fleet's area, which runs from west of Hawaii to west of India.
No matter what he chooses to do after graduation, Chrjapin said, he's prepared to spend a career at sea.
"You kind of get away from stuff," Chrjapin said. "Then, when you go into port, it is real exciting because you've been staring at water for two weeks straight."
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