Coast Guard training ship docks in Rockland

Posted July 24, 2009, at 8:38 p.m.

ROCKLAND, Maine — Driving rain and lashing winds failed to scare off the state and local officials, area businessmen and residents who braved the wet and chill to sail aboard the U.S. Coast Guard Academy’s three-masted training ship Eagle as it entered Rockland Harbor on Friday morning.

“The weather has not dampened our enthusiasm to welcome the Eagle to our city,” Mayor Deborah McNeil said in greeting the captain, crew and foul-weather-gear-clad crowd standing on the main deck. “We’re used to it.”

Mayor McNeil gave the ship and its captain a memorial plaque and two of its lobster-measurer keys to the city, which recognize Rockland’s designation as Lobster Capital of the World.

The tall ship Eagle arrived in Rockland in a downpour and will remain in the city through the weekend to participate in the celebration of the city’s designation as a Coast Guard City and provide tours for the public.

The Eagle has a crew of six officers and 56 enlisted sailors. The Eagle made this training voyage with 140 senior and sophomore men and women cadets aboard. Another 20 technical trainees also were aboard.

During the voyage, which began in Europe in April, the cadets spent most of their time at sea under sail. More than 200 lines must be coordinated during major ship maneuvers, and the cadets must learn the name and function of each one.

The Eagle offers the future officers the opportunity to put into practice the navigation, engineering and other professional theories they have learned in the classroom.

Upperclass 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. When the Eagle departed Halifax, Nova Scotia, last week the cadets and crew encountered fog and a little breeze, forcing them to motor into American waters. After they arrived off the Maine coast, the fog turned to rain.

“We are absolutely thrilled to be here,” commanding officer Capt. Eric Jones told the enthusiastic crowd that greeted the Eagle when it arrived in Rockland. “This port marks the conclusion of a long cruise. The seniors started in Spain and the sophomores came aboard in Bermuda. It’s been quite a journey. They’ve seen a lot of heat and humidity, and a lot of wind for sailing and a lot of fog when we got here.”

Jones said the cadets would leave the ship this weekend to be replaced by freshman cadets “who were in high school a month and a half ago.”

After Rockland, the Eagle will continue on to Portland where it will be open to the public next weekend, then to Portsmouth, N.H., before setting a course for its home port in New London, Conn.

On hand to welcome the ship and its crew were state Sen. Eric Rector, R-Thomaston, state Rep. Edward Mazurek, D-Rockland, who carried Gov. John Baldacci’s greeting, and representatives for Maine’s Republican U.S. Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins and 1st District Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine. Each welcomed the Eagle and congratulated the cadets for completing their voyage and Rockland for being designated a Coast Guard City, one of just nine in the country.

“We had great sailing weather all the way from Bermuda to Boston. We got to do it pretty much the whole time. That was a cool experience, using full sail without the engines,” said sophomore cadet Jeff Mistrick of State College, Pa., who was aboard more than a month. “We came out of Halifax and it was fog and a little wind. Now this. Well, welcome to Maine.”

The Eagle is one of five sister ships built for sail training in Germany in the 1930s. Eagle was handed over to the United States as reparation after World War II, and the Coast Guard took it over as a training ship.

Named the Horst Wessel when built in Germany in 1936, it was one of three identical vessels ordered by Adolf Hitler as training ships for naval cadets. The ships were not built to train sailors, but to covertly train German U-boat crews.

The three ships were constructed with their engine rooms and frames exactly like those of the U-boats that soon would terrorize the open sea. Eventually, a total of five of the ships were built.

The Horst Wessel was home ported in Kiel on the Baltic Sea and operated as a cargo ship during the war, while continuing to train U-boat crews.

Hitler actually spent a night aboard the ship in its Spartan guest cabin, though with private bath, Coast Guard sector commander Capt. James McPherson pointed out during a tour Friday.

After the war, the ship was confiscated and brought to America. Russia, Portugal, Romania and West Germany took over the other four ships. The Horst Wessel came to America and was commissioned into the Coast Guard on May 15, 1946, and has been taking summer cruises ever since. Plaques plotting the course of each year’s cruise since the first in 1947 hang on the wall of a ship passageway.

The Eagle is barque-rigged, has a steel hull and three masts, and is 295 feet long with a draft of 17 feet and sail area of 22,245 square feet.

“This is the boson’s [Paul Dupis, a 26-year Coast Guardsman of Augusta] favorite weather,” Capt. McPherson told the crowd. “Thank you for enduring it and coming aboard.”

A U.S. Coast Guard vessel ferried visitors in a driving rain from the Rockland Coast Guard pier to the Eagle off Owls Head so they could ride aboard as it sailed into Rockland Harbor.

Bob Liberty, an innkeeper in Rockland for more than 40 years, took the wet and choppy morning ride like an old salt. Standing on the open end of the boat with rain in his face and seas smashing over the bow and onto his head, Liberty quipped that he hoped he didn’t catch pneumonia in July. As the motor vessel lurched against the Eagle’s port side, Liberty inched along its rail, grabbed hold of the gangway and climbed aboard.

“I don’t care about the weather,” Liberty said. “Who knows if I’ll get to do this again? I wouldn’t miss this for the world. This is what it’s like in Maine.”

The Eagle is docked at the Coast Guard pier on Tilson Avenue and will be open for tours from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, July 25, and from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday, July 26.

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