'America's Tall Ship' Makes First Visit to Norway Since 1963

The U.S. Coast Guard's Barque Eagle, known as "America's Tall Ship," came into port in Oslo, Norway May 5, 2019 for the first time since 1963. (Military.com photo/Oriana Pawlyk)
The U.S. Coast Guard's Barque Eagle, known as "America's Tall Ship," came into port in Oslo, Norway May 5, 2019 for the first time since 1963. (Military.com photo/Oriana Pawlyk)

OSLO, NORWAY -- It's not necessarily the ship that comes to mind when you think about America flexing its muscles abroad to project seapower and dominance.

But when the U.S. Coast Guard's Barque Eagle, known as "America's Tall Ship," came into port here Sunday for the first time since 1963, the locals were eager to see it. More than 1,300 people visited the ship Sunday; the vessel sees 90,000 tourists each year, officials said.

The ship trains hundreds of cadets each summer on the basics of navigation and seamanship -- something the service believes can still make a tough and ready Coastie despite the emergence of a near-peer power competition.

It's not always about learning on the newest technology. The Coast Guard thinks some things are just meant to be done old school.

"They don't come here to learn how to sail, although that is a bonus," said Chief Petty Officer Kevin Johnson, the training cutter's command chief, master-at-arms and food service officer for the last three years.

The U.S. Coast Guard's Barque Eagle, known as "America's Tall Ship," came into port in Oslo, Norway May 5, 2019 for the first time since 1963. (Military.com photo/Oriana Pawlyk)
The U.S. Coast Guard's Barque Eagle, known as "America's Tall Ship," came into port in Oslo, Norway May 5, 2019 for the first time since 1963. (Military.com photo/Oriana Pawlyk)

"We're teaching you how to work as a team," he said during an hour-long tour of the ship. "And it's tradition."

Two groups of 150 cadets each will soon embark on the service's 12-week summer program. The first group is comprised of third-class cadets, the second of first-class cadets.

The cutter will likely hit its max capacity of 234 crew with each group; 50 enlisted and eight officers man the ship year round. Roughly 40 percent of the trainees are women, Johnson said.

The ship, which has only basic radars for navigation, will also host a number of international cadets during the training program. Members "from as far as Micronesia" have come to learn team building and leadership on the Eagle, designated WIX-327, he said.

Life onboard the ship is meant to give cadets the "life as an enlisted person" experience, demanding strength and discipline, he said. They'll climb to the top of the mainmast, which towers above the deck at 147 feet. Most cadets know that "someone still has to put the flag up" and furl the sail by hand.

"They still climb the rigging," Johnson said, adding that the small boats need to be lowered by hand.

He said two cadets have gone overboard during his tenure: one while touching up the hull en route to Ireland and another who lost balance on the rigging and fell into the water.

"They're both OK," said Johnson, a 19-year veteran of the service.

The U.S. Coast Guard's Barque Eagle, known as "America's Tall Ship," came into port in Oslo, Norway May 5, 2019 for the first time since 1963. (Military.com photo/Oriana Pawlyk)
The U.S. Coast Guard's Barque Eagle, known as "America's Tall Ship," came into port in Oslo, Norway May 5, 2019 for the first time since 1963. (Military.com photo/Oriana Pawlyk)

The cadets will take their meals in five shifts, retire to the berthing quarters to sleep, and leave the ship to explore cities when "there isn't work that needs to be done," he said.

The 295-foot vessel is rooted in training. Built in 1936, it was formerly known as the Horst Wessel and operated by Germany for its cadet training program during World War II before it was captured by the British in 1945. It was then traded to the U.S. a year later.

During a four-year service life extension program, completed last year, more than 1,500 square feet of original German hull plate was removed and replaced, Johnson said. The ship was home-ported in Baltimore, Maryland, while the upgrades were being finished.

The U.S. Coast Guard's Barque Eagle, known as "America's Tall Ship," came into port in Oslo, Norway May 5, 2019 for the first time since 1963. (Military.com photo/Oriana Pawlyk)
The U.S. Coast Guard's Barque Eagle, known as "America's Tall Ship," came into port in Oslo, Norway May 5, 2019 for the first time since 1963. (Military.com photo/Oriana Pawlyk)

The Eagle requires "constant maintenance," and the cadets and crew know it, he said. During its 19-day trip across the Atlantic en route to Portsmouth in the United Kingdom last week, two sails split during bad weather. One split more than once.

"I think they even got the sewing machines out" to fix them, Johnson said. There are layers of baggywrinkle -- old, fringe-like rope -- meant to protect the sails from chafing.

The ship has been largely Atlantic-based, sailing to the Caribbean and various European locations. The Eagle has visited Australia, but otherwise hasn't made its way to other parts of the Pacific Rim. "Not yet, anyway," Johnson said.

The Eagle, which can hit 17 knots max speed under sail, heads next to Kiel, Germany, to pick up the first summer class of cadets. It will then sail to Copenhagen, Denmark; Antwerp, Belgium; the Netherlands; the Azores; and finally back to the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut, which will be its homeport after this summer.

The German-turned-American trainer will also participate in events marking the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings and the Battle of Normandy on June 6.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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