Sailing into St. Thomas on Saturday, we had the unique opportunity to tour one of America’s treasures – The Barque Eagle or America’s Tall Ship. At 295 feet with 380 tons of ballast and a sail area of 22,227 feet, this beauty serves as the United States Coast Guard training cutter for future officers. Called the Barque Eagle as a barque is a sailing vessel with 3 or more masts having the fore and mainmasts rigged square and only the mizzen (the aft-most mast) rigged fore and aft. USCGC Eagle is both home and classroom to cadets of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy.
Taken from the introduction to the 1898 edition of Luce’s Text Book of Seamanship…
“The highest compliment one can pay a sailor is to call him a ‘SEAMAN’. In that one word is expressed the whole mastery of [his] profession. Seamanship cannot be learned in a day, a week, or even a year, for within its meaning lies the ability to handle a vessel under any and every circumstance, fair weather and foul. Nor can it be learned solely from books. But as in every other profession, armed with the knowledge of what other [men] have found successful, the landsman in light of [his] own experience will learn the more readily and surely.”
The Early Years of the USCGC Eagle
The USCGC Eagle was originally known as the Segelschulsciff (school sail ship) Horst Wessel. Built in 1936 at the Blohm and Voss shipyard in Germany. SSS Horst Wessel served as the flagship of the German sail-training fleet. After the war, the Allied nations secured the vessel as war reparations.
“The Coast Guard, along with the naval and merchant services of many other nations, has continued to employ a sailing school ship to train. It has long been recognized that even in an age of technological complexity, sail training still provides the best possible foundation for seamanship. The sea has not changed. It remains the same unforgiving environment that it always was, as capable of destroying a modern supertanker as it was of destroying the frail wooden sailing craft of an earlier era.
Anyone who aspires to become a seaman must begin with acquiring a firsthand acquaintance with the relentless forces of wind and wave at sea. Only by starting with such an understanding can the sailor learn to recognize and respect both personal limits and those of the ship on which he or she must depend both for survival and the successful accomplishment of assigned missions.
Yet Eagle is more than a school for seamanship. She also provides an unparalleled opportunity for aspiring seagoing officers to develop confidence, courage, and good judgment: precisely the qualities the Coast Guard needs in its leaders. If wind is the force that can drive the ship, it is human ingenuity that has developed the means to harness that force, and it is the crew who must employ those means to make it happen. In Eagle, cadets are the crew. To sail the ship they must learn to work together as a team, to be decisive in circumstances that can be both frightening and physically demanding, to give and respond to commands quickly and clearly. And in the end, there can be few experiences as intensely satisfying as the successful accomplishment of a sailing evolution.”
The USCGC Eagle is maintained and operated year round by a permanent crew of 57 personnel. Seven officers, consisting of five commissioned and two warrant officers, oversee all aspects of the vessel. Three departments: Operations, Engineering, and Support, consisting of nine enlisted ratings and non-rated personnel totaling 50 crew, conduct the day to day training, maintenance, and seamanship required of “America’s Tallship”. On average 15 personnel from various units supplement the crew to provide well-rounded experienced trainers during the cruises.”
To find out the location of the USCGC Eagle for free tours, check out their Facebook page here.