Swab-chaser gets the scoop on Eagle voyage


Kristi Langenbacher


Sunday, August 26, 2018

Among families of U.S. Coast Guard Academy cadets, it’s called “Eagle chasing.”

Parents, siblings and friends of cadets on board U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Barque Eagle closely watch its sailing schedule and anxiously travel sometimes great distances to await possible port calls and an opportunity to see their cadet.

This summer, I too took part in the chase.

Known as America’s Tall Ship, Eagle moored in downtown Norfolk earlier this month, and was greeted by friends and family of many cadets on board, including several with ties to North Carolina.

I joined friends and family awaiting the opportunity to visit with the cadets who were taking part in the Cadet Summer Training Cruise aboard the 295-foot, three-masted vessel used for training future Coast Guard officers.

And it was quite a sight to see. The majestic Eagle is the largest tall ship flying the Stars and Stripes and the only active square-rigger in U.S. government service.

To maneuver Eagle under sail, the crew must handle more than 22,000 square feet of sail and five miles of rigging. More than 200 lines control the sails and yards; every crewmember, cadet and officer candidate must become intimately familiar with the name, operation, and function of each line.

A permanent crew of eight officers and 50 enlisted personnel maintain the ship year round. They provide a strong base of knowledge and seamanship for the training of up to 150 cadets or officer candidates at a time.

On the decks and in the rigging of Eagle, young men and women get a taste of salty air and life at sea. They are tested and challenged each and every day. Working aloft, they meet fear and learn to overcome it. The experience builds character and helps future officers develop leadership and teamwork skills that prove valuable throughout their careers.

Eagle offers future officers the opportunity to put into practice the navigation, including celestial navigation, engineering, and other professional theory they have or will learn in the classroom. Upper class trainees exercise leadership and service duties normally handled by junior officers, while underclass trainees fill crew positions of a junior enlisted person, such as helm watches at the huge wooden wheels used to steer the vessel. Everyone who trains on Eagle experiences a character-building experience.

The newest cadets at the Coast Guard Academy, the swabs, take part in a one-week sail on board the training ship during their seven-week summer training session before the school year begins. On the deck of the Eagle, they are able to put to the test the teamwork they have quickly developed at the academy, and better understand the importance of working together and trusting their shipmates.

The sails on Eagle do not raise themselves, and one person cannot raise them alone. It requires a coordinated effort of dozens of hands and eyes and voices to take a folded mass of canvas and turn it into a sail that captures the wind and propels the nearly 300-foot-long tall ship forward.

The first group of new cadets from the Coast Guard Academy took part in Swab Short Phase I. They boarded the Eagle in Miami in late July and sailed to Norfolk. They disembarked there, where Swab Short Phase II came on board to sail from Norfolk to New Bedford, Mass. Swab Short Phase III brought cadets from New Bedford to New London, Conn., last week.

As the parent of a swab, I can tell you that the floating classroom offered the cadets many valuable lessons, and a unique and unforgettable experience. I was fortunate to interact with many of the swabs, and look back on my first Eagle-chasing experience as a success.

Kristi Langenbacher is a Coast Guard spouse and writes about military family life.