Guest Blogger on USCGC EAGLE: School of the Ship
Posted by Tall Ships America on October 16, 2014
For the past few years, Tall Ships America members have been invited to participate in the USCG OCS (Officer Candidate School) cruise on board the Barque EAGLE. Guest Blogger Lance Fairbanks participated this Fall and provides a glimpse into the guest crew experience. You can see more of his photos on our Flickr page. Thank you, Lance!
Welcome Aboard: Gloucester was the first port where both Officer Candidates of the US Coast Guard and Members of Tall Ships America joined hands, before setting sail in the USCGC EAGLE. While we did not expect to win the Esperanto Cup during the 30th Annual Schooner Festival; we did however make a grand statement leaving the harbor, “We are America’s Tall Ship!” Officer Candidates and Members alike, we were all assigned to a division. We quickly made friends and found our way about the ship, what would be our home away from home for the next two weeks. As shipmates aboard a Coast Guard vessel, we were engaged in every aspect of life according to the Plan of the Day. As a sail training vessel, all of us took part in School of the Ship.
School of the Ship would be the theme of our entire voyage. Once we put on our climbing gear, we had an “up-n-over” drill, followed by other safety drills, man over board and abandon ship. This was particularly fun while everyone was wearing their immersion suits, like red “zombitized-gumbies” staggering about on deck. While some staggered more than others, we quickly learned who didn’t quite have their sea legs as we had finally gotten underway. Excellent! The first day out of Gloucester, we had sailing stations. We braced the yards, set the staysails, topsails and courses. The following morning, we set the t’gallants and royals. What a beautiful ship, from the flying jib to the gaff topsail, this Eagle was off and reaching full sail. In the Atlantic, the weather soon enough changed foul and the watch on deck had to furl sails in the dark of night, cold and pouring rain. Instead of sailing stations the next day, we gathered on the mess deck for a class on Mo-boards, yeah! There was not much else going on, unless you put in some study time or put on your foulies and made watch on the bow. Through large swells, it was more exciting than any amusement park or action film. “Bow to Bridge… we have attack dolphins approaching fast on starboard.” Well, they were hardly vicious, but certainly entertaining to watch as they swam beneath the bow, looked up at you and casually leaped away back into the blue.
During the mid-watch, we would watch the radar and even though we might have been on anchor, we always kept a plot of our position on the chart. Once or twice we would acquire a new target and would track its approach. If its closest point of approach sailed just outside of our minimum range, the Officer on Deck would say, “Good, we won’t need to wake the Captain.” As most people like a good night’s sleep, especially on a ship.
As the weather improved our Captain, Wes Pulver took great interest in presenting a class on Celestial Navigation; thereafter a challenge would ensue who could obtain the best sighting to our true latitude. We shot the sun, the moon and the stars. Once you got a fix, you would report your reading to the Captain. He would tell you if you were close, to try again or if you could claim bragging rights. Nevertheless, he took a personal interest in knowing all shipmates, how they came to EAGLE and their career goals. As the senior officer, he offered his insight and expertise as a Captain and one of few Cuttermen.
On the Bridge during Special Sea Detail, Captain Pulver was always there. Whether we were springing off the leeside of a dock at Yorktown or simply anchoring along the calm shallows of the Chesapeake Bay, he would always consult you, “How am I doing… so far?” Or he would give you encouragement, “Keep an eye on that dock; make sure it doesn’t hit our boat.” In any event, he was the perfect host and most professional of men. He presented great leadership as was reflected by his officers. In command of EAGLE, there was not only the Captain, but there were several other Officers and Permanent Crew. All in all we were about 160 shipmates and no matter who you met and talked to, everyone was personable and approachable. If you ever had a question about anything, all you had to do was ask, essentially anyone. But if they didn’t know, they were willing to accommodate and report back with the correct answer.
True to our Theme, each of us had a PQS worksheet to complete and later pass an oral exam. We often referred to our handbooks, Eagle Seamanship or deferred to one of the books on Navigation. Between the USCG paperback on Rules or the encyclopedic text originating with Bowditch, you had practically most of the information you would need.
At times we had a quest for greater knowledge, like exploring the Engine Room or Shaft Alley. Or if you had mess duty, you had to explore the Reefer as well as Room 1-20-2-Q (the trash locker)! Did I mention material condition X, Y & Z? It concerns the watertight integrity of the Ship and is important to know which doors you may open and those to keep closed. With safety always in mind, we knew as shipmates that accountability is our responsibility.
On any given day there was Muster, Sailing Stations, Watches, Quarters and Classes to attend. Everyone was engaged as we would wear the ship, or go aloft if you had watch on deck. The bridge and bow watch oversaw navigation and would report back and forth if there was visual contact of an approaching vessel. Otherwise, those of us off watch would attend classes in Damage Control or Medical Response training; all hands on deck for Drills.
Weather… if not foul or fair as a bell, it is nonetheless a good excuse to go aloft; that is whether or not the Officer on Deck permits. Usually while the ship is getting underway during Special Sea Detail, so much is going on that you would not want to become a distraction. However, once underway or at anchor, everyone had at least four of more opportunities to go aloft.
Aside from learning, we also had moments to honor exemplary service of the various Officers at Quarters. We also witnessed a burial at sea and we were acquainted with a Colonel of the Air Force, two Admirals and other dignitaries of the Coast Guard. If it was not however an official moment with all present, then it might have been the time between ourselves, to get to know each other. Through our own conversations or detailed communications, we listened, we learned and worked together as shipmates and friends throughout our School, the Ship we embraced. To culminate our friendships and the association between the US Coast Guard and Tall Ships America, we made safe passage beneath the Chesapeake Bay Bridge to the Inner Harbor of Baltimore. There we reunited with other Tall Ships, namely the CONSTELLATION, PRIDE OF BALTIMORE II, LYNX, GAZELA and KALMAR NYCKEL. There we welcomed our friends, family and the citizens of Baltimore to visit our Ship, America’s Tall Ship. There we would be present to enjoy together the Star Spangle Spectacular, the 200 year anniversary of our National Anthem. Although the voyage has passed and we were about to return to society, we would thank our official hosts and say our own individual farewells to our shipmates. And if there is any lesson to be learned of a Tall Ship, be it this, the voyage does not end here, but continues through our friendships until we shall sail again.