In April of 2023, 13 Tall Ships America members applied for and received the opportunity to board the USCG Barque Eagle and had the experience of a lifetime sailing from New London, Connecticut to Sao Miguel, Azores, and then on to Den Helder in the Netherlands. While on board they learned about sailing the 300 ft. square-rigged barque, earned their topman’s certification, made many memories, new friends, and learned lessons along the way.
On my way from New Jersey to New London, Connecticut to start my journey across the Atlantic Ocean aboard USCG Barque Eagle, I was all nerves. Everything is new and there’s so much to learn. I’ve sailed before, but never on a vessel of EAGLE’s size and rigging. On the first day aboard, I found it intimidating to be around so many people in military uniform, but most were just as nervous as I was. I also met the rest of those who were traveling with Tall Ships America. We all quickly became close shipmates and great friends over the two weeks without phones or the Internet. In these two weeks, we would challenge ourselves in ways we didn’t think we could, and encourage other shipmates to do the same. The day-to-day life on board constantly changed but also, in a way, stayed the same. Wakeup was at 6:30 which was immediately followed by exercise on deck. We had breakfast and then would muster to discuss the tasks for the day. We then started on whatever work needed to be done depending on which watch we had. I found myself standing around on deck often, waiting to set sails or help with tasks, even if it wasn’t my watch. Lunch would come up quickly and then we would get back to work. While on board we received the EAGLE seamanship handbook which taught each shipmate the history of the ship; every sail, line, and pin there is to know on the vessel, along with sail theory and course of action for different situations. I learned valuable tall ship maintenance skills such as parceling and serving ratlines to protect the standing rigging, how to sew up ripped sails, and how to balance my food tray during a squall. When not doing maintenance or setting or striking sails, we often spent time in the sail locker watching movies, learning new decorative knots, reading our seamanship handbook, and learning every sail, line, and shackle on board. Our interest in learning about EAGLE lead all TSA members to have the opportunity to study and receive our topman qualifications to be USCG topman certified aboard USCG Eagle, which was an extremely special accomplishment for all of us. Nights sometimes called for ice cream, but on the days without it, it was the clearest sky one could ever lay eyes on, watching dolphins play in the bioluminescence along the bow, and midrations along with mid-watch talks and shenanigans – which were all treats in their own right. The biggest obstacle I found myself overcoming while on EAGLE was my fear of heights and going up in the rigging. Before getting on board I knew that one of the requirements was to be able to go up in the rigging. On my first day on board, everyone began to participate doing their “up and overs”. This involved climbing up to the first platform near the lowest yard and coming right back down. I got up halfway and almost gave up, but so many people around me cheered me on and offered words of encouragement. I was able to get up and back down again and tell myself I wouldn’t be going back up. Then “FOMO” kicked in and I would hear from others about what amazing views they were able to catch. Over the two weeks I would find myself going out to the tops, then out to the first yard, and then eventually get myself to go a little higher. I definitely would not have been able to do this without the words of encouragement from everyone around me. I never got up to the royals but I am proud to say that I was able to climb up higher in the rigging than I ever thought I would. I am so thankful for the experiences I had and the people I worked with over the two weeks we traveled across the Atlantic. I know that the memories, experiences, and knowledge I learned on board will carry on with me in many future endeavors.
Before this year’s conference I had no idea that Eagle ever allowed civilians to come aboard and serve as temporary additions to the ship’s crew. While I had been aboard her once before as a young child the majority of my experience with the ship had been stories told to me by my father about her globe trotting exploits. Needless to say when I learned about the partnership between Eagle and Tall Ships America I knew I needed to find a way aboard. What I expected was an adventure, what I didn’t was that I would meet a group of people who would truly shape my outlook on the Coast Guard and the tall ship community as a whole. Arriving in Ponta Delgada, the Azorian capital, I found the ship shining out in the harbor and it took my breath away. I remember the words my family said before I left, teasing my about what I would do if the ship wasn’t there when I arrived, I remember stepping off the bus from the airport and hoping as I turned the corner that I would see her, how the smile spread across my face when I saw her there, the sun barely up and the streets all but deserted.  When I got aboard I was given a rack and shown around a little but it took a few days for me to really find where I fit into the puzzle as I was the only new tall ship sailor arriving in the Azores. Yet despite this I was welcomed in as another member of the crew getting to know not only my fellow civilians but the Coast Guard men and women who call the ship home. The days went quick, sail stations in the mornings, setting sail, bracing the yards and furling followed by day work, maintenance, and plenty of study. A copy of the book Eagle Seamanship was procured for me and I was told that should I choose to I could attempt to become a topman, a truly knowledgeable member of the ship’s party responsible for the operation of the rig and the safety of all those who go aloft. To do so I would need to memorize the makeup of the different sails that make up the ships rig, demonstrate knowledge of basic sailing vocabulary, oh and also recite the names of every line aboard the ship on the spot, all 190 of them! I can say without a doubt that had it not been for the constant encouragement and aid of my shipmates I never would have completed the ordeal in my two weeks aboard. There were several afternoons towards the end of the passage to Den Helder where a group of four or five of us, Coast Guard and civilian alike would pace the deck back and forth quizzing each other until each one of us could recite each line by name with no poking or prodding.   Study sessions, movie nights, work outs on deck it sounds like summer camp, and these experiences helped bring each member of the crew closer for the harder moments. Up 50 or more feet in the rig the ship rolling beneath you as you strain with your shipmates to bring the sail up to the yard to be furled, your back aching, shoulders straining against the weight. Those mementos are when you need to know that the person to either side of you has your back, you need to trust them to lookout not only for themselves but for each other. In my life I have never seen anything that could teach teamwork, cooperation and leadership like being aloft on a square rigger. The ocean is vast and powerful, you alone are so small and weak in comparison no matter your skill, or strength. It is only together that a crew is able to accept the ocean’s challenge and forge a path forward. When you are out on the end of a yard all other pretext falls away; age, gender, race, creed, none of it matters in that moment and you stand there side by side, shipmates all. It is freeing while it lasts. Those two weeks have changed the way I look at the world, have introduced me to people who I will call my friend for the rest of my life, have given me the confidence to know that I can overcome the obstacles in front of me. I will miss my shipmates dearly, until I can see them again. 
I applied to sail across the Atlantic on the United States Coast Guard Cutter Eagle without having much of an idea what to expect. I had sailed a fair amount on square riggers up to that point, and had been to sea before, but the prospect of a month-long transit on a commissioned military vessel – the largest sail training ship in the U.S. – was still a bit daunting. I should not have worried. Eagle’s captain, officers, and crew all went out of their way to make me and the other Tall Ships America sailors feel welcome and at home. On paper the benefits of sailing on Eagle are obvious: high tonnage, oceans sea time is always difficult for tall ship sailors to accrue. In addition, sailing on a ship of Eagle’s size and rig is a unique and valuable experience for any professional mariner. Nevertheless, I found that the real reasons to sail on Eagle are less tangible: watching pods of whales blow in the Bay of Biscay, laying aloft to gasket down royals before a storm, watching movies in the sail locker on chairs lashed to stanchions so that they don’t fly across the ship on the roll. These are the sorts of things I will always remember and cherish. During my month on Eagle, I learned a great deal and benefited from the knowledge and experience of her crew. Unexpectedly however, I also did a fair amount of teaching. The vessel had undergone an extensive shipyard period prior to our Atlantic crossing, so the voyage ended up serving as something of a shakedown cruise. For some of the Coast Guard and NOAA officer candidates, Eagle’s spring 2023 shakedown was their first experience afloat, let alone on a sailing ship. I greatly enjoyed sharing my own traditional rigging experience with them as we ran bunt and clew lines, test set each square on the fore and main, and bent on the main t’gallant while underway. Overall, I cannot think of a more rewarding way to spend a month than bouncing across the North Atlantic on “America’s Tall Ship.” We worked hard, ate well, and slept soundly (when the sea state permitted), and upon our arrival in continental Europe I found myself wishing I could stay on longer. For a variety of reasons, this was not to be, but as I write this personal statement back home in the states, days from starting a new contract on a different ship, I sincerely hope to return to Eagle sometime soon.
The opportunity to sail with the US Coast Guard aboard Cutter Barque EAGLE came about at just the right time in my life. I began tall ship sailing in 2017 as a trainee onboard Barque Picton Castle, which sparked my desire to become a full-time merchant mariner and tall ship sailor. After several trips/jobs on Picton Castle, Pride of Baltimore II, Schooner Tree of Life and other ships, I had yet to check off a big bucket list item as a sailor: crossing the Atlantic. What better way to do so than aboard America’s tallship! Just prior to my EAGLE voyage, I had spent a large amount of money to travel and complete my 100-Ton Masters license course in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The Captain David V.V. Wood scholarship eased the financial aspect of the trip and made it doable. I was ecstatic to be chosen for the trip and also to be able to join for the full crossing from New London, CT to Den Helder, Netherlands. On our first full day aboard EAGLE and out to sea, our Bosun informed us and the crew that we were to be included as full working members of the deck department (all of us TSA sailors were more than eager to be put to work!). From then on, we worked side-by-side with the professional crew. EAGLE had just come out of a 5-month long dry-dock period, and although the crew had accomplished an incredible amount of work, there was more to do. We assisted in completing the rigging and bending of sail on the foremast. We helped seize ratlines aloft and finish patch-serving the shrouds, and as EAGLE crept steadily towards the Azores we began test setting her sails one-by-one. It was truly a rush to be aloft the day we set her topsails and could feel the ship begin to drive herself forward under the power of the wind. The journey continued like this all the way to the Netherlands (a ship’s work is never done, but we also enjoyed some wonderful sunny days of “holiday routine” under full sail!). My time on EAGLE was both a learning experience (there is always something more to learn as a sailor) as well as a time to reinforce my existing skills and trade best practices with other crew members. I and each of my TSA colleagues also qualified as “topmen” of EAGLE, allowing us to be leaders in the rig during sailing evolutions. Additionally, it was rewarding to share the experience of sailing with the Officer Candidates, many of whom (although seasoned mariners) were experiencing life aboard a square-rigger for the first time. TSA sailors and the Coast Guard crew formed some very close and lasting friendships, something that I hope continues through this program in the future. Indeed, we discussed with the crew how to maintain and strengthen the TSA/USCG EAGLE sailing program, and several of us are considering joining the Coast Guard Auxiliary to continue that relationship as individuals. Sailing on EAGLE was both a professional and personal achievement, and one that I hope to have the chance to do again in the future. I cannot overstate how much I gained as a mariner from the work on board, the chance to better understand EAGLE and the Coast Guard’s mission, and the professional relationships and friendships I made onboard. Any tall ship sailor would be well-served by this experience, and I am extremely appreciative to Tall Ships America, the Northeast Maritime Institute, and the Captain David V.V. Wood Scholarship Program for facilitating my journey!