A Visit to the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Barque Eagle in Dry Dock
As I was driving over the Curtis Creek Bridge on the outskirts of Baltimore, I could see it above all else. I knew it wouldn’t look the same as I had seen it weeks ago, at dawn, while anchored in the Chesapeake Bay. I also knew it wouldn’t look the same as it did tied up along Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, in all of its splendor, during the Star Spangled 200 celebration. Nonetheless, this ship – in the water or not – commands attention.
A little history about the ship– the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Barque Eagle began, not as an American vessel, but as a German one in 1936 (see photos below). Built by Blohm + Voss and christened Horst Wessel, the ship entered duty as part of Adolf Hitler’s fleet. Post-war, in accordance with the Potsdam Conference/war reparations, the German ship became ours and rechristened, Eagle. Members of the ship’s German crew willingly helped bring the ship over to New London, CT., the Eagle’s homeport. There are even stories of a young boy who attempted to stowaway on the Eagle’s post-war, Atlantic crossing. Another interesting tidbit of the ship’s history – author Alex Haley, while a guest on the ship, wrote part of the book, Roots. Haley was a messboy and later, a journalist in the Coast Guard – one of the first in that job rating. A framed image of Haley, his book cover and a short bio hangs in a passageway. I don’t know why a movie hasn’t been made yet about the Eagle and its history, but I eagerly await the day this ship makes it to the big screen.
The following three historical photos show the ship in build-stage and were provided by Blohm + Voss.
Back to present day – I arrived at the U.S. Coast Guard Yard Curtis Bay (The Yard) awaiting to see Eagle again. Met promptly by Petty Officer Kaufmann, a boatswain’s mate third class, we began our tour. It’s unfathomable (sorry, had to) how, as big as this ship is (length and height), it even made it from water to land (see the rail photo). I’ve seen ships – Navy ships – in dry dock before, but never a tall ship. To understand the magnitude of even just the ship’s prop, which I’m told isn’t “that big,” see it next to people working on it and that puts it into perspective.
The work being done to Eagle goes beyond cosmetic. Among other work, asbestos is being removed, ballast lead treated/recovered and the oily water separator repaired. Helm gears, possibly older than those working them, are being attended to also. The to-do list goes on and on and doing all of this work is a combination of civilian contractors and the Eagle’s crew.
Some interior spaces are gutted, as they’re prepared for updates. During dry dock, Eagle’s crew doesn’t live on the ship. And while they normally eat aboard, they’re not currently – there are dining facilities at the Yard.
The ship has seen 26 commanding officers – plaques display the names of all, and like those plaques, many others tell where the Eagle has sailed, including its most recent journey into Maryland.
The Eagle has spent some time at the Yard before, most recently just a few years ago. You can read about that here – http://articles.baltimoresun.com/2012-02-08/news/bs-md-coast-guard-eagle-20120202_1_tall-ship-training-vessel-horst-wessel.
Eagle is scheduled to be complete with repairs in January, but won’t leave Maryland until the spring. It’ll then head back to New London, refreshed, refurbished and ready to set sail for places near and far. In human years, Eagle is a grande dame. In tall ship years, it’s a ship with a long life ahead, particularly because of all the meticulous care bestowed on it.
Marylanders – give Eagle a ‘like’ on Facebook. Especially because, for the time being, Eagle is a fellow Marylander (that might rile Connecticut up a little bit, but so be it) – https://www.facebook.com/CoastGuardCutterEagle
To see some historic photos of Eagle, including a few with VIP’s aboard, visit – http://www.uscg.mil/history/cutters/Eagles/Eagle1946_pics.asp
One other tidbit of information and only because some might not realize the organizational structure of the Coast Guard. It differs from the Navy, Army, Air Force or Marine Corps, which fall under the Department of Defense – http://www.uscg.mil/history/articles/Homeland_Security_Baldinelli.asp
For further reading material, Alan Villiers wrote about his experiences on the Eagle in short stories and in, at least, one book. A book that’s been in my family for as long I’ve been alive – Men, Ships, and the Sea, has a great short story about it called Summer cruise on a school ship.