The Eagle has landed in Halifax
With none of her 23 sails set to harness the breeze, the last of the tall ships to arrive for this weekend’s activities motored into Halifax Harbour on Friday morning.
It was smooth sailing on the United States Coast Guard cutter Eagle, but Seaman Toler Alexander said little compares to having a stiff wind power the ship at top speed.
“Whenever we have the rigging taken in tight, you get the wind slotting through the sails and it makes an awesome humming noise and it’s just amazing,” he said in an on-board interview.
“The ship just cuts through the water.”
A former army member who served 15 months as an artilleryman in Iraq, Alexander said his position on the Eagle is “by far, my dream job.”
The New London, Conn.-based training ship has been to Halifax several times but this is Alexander’s first visit.
Media were invited to join the Eagle and its crew for a ride Friday.
The German navy built the 90-metre ship as a training vessel in 1936, and the Americans claimed it as a war prize in 1946. Some old bathroom fixtures and a few pictures are evidence of its European heritage.
Another interesting piece of the ship’s background involves Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Alex Haley. In the 1970s, the former coast guard member sailed as a guest on the Eagle and wrote part of his legendary family saga Roots while on board.
A more recent bit of history, which is probably more significant to Cmdr. Mike Turdo, can be found on the ship’s bell. As part of coast guard tradition, the Long Island native had his newborn daughter Layla Rose baptized in the bell last summer.
“We did it up here on the bridge, with the chaplain from the coast guard academy.”
For those ceremonies, which are available to anyone from the ship or other coast guard staff when possible, the bell is turned upside down and filled with holy water. Once the child is baptized, his or her name gets inscribed on the inside.
A 15-year member of the coast guard, Turdo said the bell helps remind him of his little girl when he’s at sea.
“Being away from home is always the hardest thing for any sailor,” he said.
The ship has about 10 kilometres of rigging and about 56 permanent crew.
Coast guard cadets make up the bulk of the crew during summer months, when they are taken to sea and given the chance to learn everything from engineering and steering to hauling sails and cooking.
Some navigation skills were on display Friday. A number of young crew members hunched over charts of the harbour while others scoured the area with binoculars.
Officers yelled orders to a handful of staff turning a large trio of manual steering wheels.
Cadet 3rd Class Kendall Auth of Maryland said the coast guard is her immediate career plan. Like the others, she owes five years of service after her training.
The 19-year-old said she finds the work more rigorous than she expected, but she believes in their roles: fighting the importation of drugs, preventing the arrival of illegal immigrants and protecting the environment.
“There’s also a lot of responsibility that comes with wearing the uniform of our country.”
Free tours of the Eagle, which is moored next to Murphy’s on the Water, are available Saturday (10:30 a.m.-3 p.m.) and Sunday (10 a.m.-5 p.m.).