Coast Guard Sailing Vessel Weathers the Seas


Coast Guard Barque Eagle is “America’s Tall Ship.” Through its training mission, the ship broadens the nautical heritage of Coast Guard cadets and officer candidates. In addition, the barque has uniquely served as an ambassador for the United States of America and the U.S. Coast Guard, at home and abroad, for 67 years.

With 23 sails harnessing wind as the ship’s primary means of propulsion, Eagle’s operators take the weather very seriously. While Eagle generally navigates in the direction of its next port call, the ship often sails on whatever wind is present. The ship can only sail approximately 75 degrees off the true wind, and thus if the wind is blowing from the direction of the next port call, planning a transit can be challenging. Observing, predicting and responding to the weather all play a huge role in life on the barque.

Wind speed and direction drive life aboard the 295-foot Eagle. When winds change, the sails have to be adjusted accordingly, often in ways that require all hands to muster and bring the ship onto a new tack. This task requires a great deal of proficiency and strength, as there are six miles of rigging and more than 23,500 square feet of sail to negotiate and maneuver.

Daily weather briefings are held to inform all hands of developing patterns, pending changes and potential threats. The weather briefs are conducted on the messdeck each day, and all hands are invited to attend. Briefers download the Navy Fleet Weather Center’s forecast and updates from the National Weather Service to help them understand what drives the weather and how conditions may alter in the future. The trainees then utilize a large weather chart on the messdeck to explain current patterns during their briefs to the Captain, most of the crew, and many of their classmates. The weather chart, representing North America and the North West Atlantic Ocean includes wind arrows, pressure systems and a pictorial Eagle, all of which can be positioned on the chart to show the ship’s current location and the prevailing conditions.

During Eagle’s fall 2013 Officer Candidate School deployment, Officer Candidate Jon Karagiannakis delivered the first formal weather brief of the patrol. As a member of NOAA’s Basic Officer Training Corps Class 122, Karagiannakis is a weather hobbyist who even built his own weather station to monitor the environment. He took a class on synoptic meteorology at the University of Illinois and volunteers his time teaching about weather phenomena at local elementary schools.

Karagiannakis placed an emphasis on planning for his weather briefing.

“When we first got onboard Eagle, I acquainted myself to the different features of the weather chart to see what tools I’d have available, so I actually planned for about two days,” said Karagiannakis. “On a sailing vessel, since the winds are your primary means of propulsion, you need to check the weather and be prepared for anything.”

Eagle’s commanding officer, Capt. Wes Pulver, complimented Karagiannakis on an “outstanding first weather brief of the patrol.”

Pulver is constantly monitoring the weather while underway. Eagle is a sailing vessel, and the captain’s intentions are to sail “full and by” as often as possible. Sailing “full and by” is the equivalent of sailing close-hauled on a small boat, and allows Eagle to achieve its maximum sail efficiency and speed.

“On a vessel as unique as Eagle there are so many factors to consider during every single onboard evolution,” said Pulver. “When shifting winds impact our operations, we assess the situation and adjust accordingly. This is a humbling responsibility, being in command of America’s Tall Ship. The weather has such a great influence on how we negotiate the sea, and if a mariner does not pay attention closely, it could be dire. By closely watching the current condition, the trending weather patterns and upcoming forecasts, we can more dynamically sail Eagle and execute our training plan.”

Preparedness is paramount aboard Eagle according to Chief Warrant Officer Jimmy Greenlee, the barque’s sail master.

“We’ll monitor the weather as far as a week in advance at times,” said Greenlee. “If there’s rough weather out there, we need to adjust our sails to stay safe, and we need to lower the sails before the bad weather arrives. The key factor is the foresight to know what weather is coming so we can take advantage of it in order to get from our origin to our destination.”

Eagle’s crew is always changing, just like the winds and the skies. The men and women of the Coast Guard stand ready to negotiate any challenges that Mother Nature presents, always hopeful for fair winds and royals all the way.

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