Of all the ships that have sailed the oceans of the earth, the most majestic was the square-rigger. Whether she was a lumbering East Indiaman of the 18th century or a fleet Yankee clipper of the 19th, a square-rigger was the tallest and mightiest of sailing ships. Its routes were those of the prevailing winds, and its sails and rigging—acres of rectangular canvas suspended from yards the size of telephone poles affixed to towering masts—were designed to take advantage of those winds.
The last square-riggers still plying the seas for profit were German merchant ships of the Laeisz line that carried grain from Australia to Europe into the mid-20th century. But the beginning of the end had come almost a century earlier. The completion of the Suez Canal in 1869 gave a greater advantage to steamships than to sailing ships, and with the improvement of the steam engine at about the same time, sailing ships were no longer economical. Within 10 years the transfer of the world's cargo from sail to steam was well under way.
Although a life that had existed virtually unchanged for centuries came to an end with the passing of the deepwater sailing ships, an almost mystical conviction has survived in maritime circles—that going to sea under sail as a rite of passage can never be equaled, that the unique combination of individual initiative and selfless teamwork required to sail a square-rigger in conditions of frequent hardship and occasional genuine danger is uniquely suited to making men out of unformed boys.
That conviction—fueled by a large body of romantic literature, the nostalgia of an older generation and a certain amount of historical evidence—finds its expression today in school ships, the giant training vessels maintained by the navies and maritime academies of the world's seafaring nations. The U.S.S.R.'s Kruzenshtern, Norway's Christian Radich, Argentina's Libertad, Colombia's Gloria, Germany's Gorch Fock, Japan's Nippon Maw, Poland's Dar Mlodziezy, Venezuela's Simon Bolivar and the U.S. Coast Guard's Eagle are among the square-rigged ships that exist for the sole purpose of training cadets who probably never again in their professional lives will be required to "Ease the halyard, tend the sheet, walk away with the downhaul."
September 30, 1984
Yet the anachronistic practice of teaching marlinespike seamanship in the age of nuclear-powered ships not only continues but continues to grow as well. In 1956, one year before Passat, the last of the German grain merchants, off-loaded her final cargo, a Sail Training Association was formed in Great Britain for the purpose of bringing together the tall ships of the world in friendly competition—not just the large naval and merchant marine school ships, but, eventually, smaller vessels as well. The goal of the STA and of its later American offspring, the ASTA, was not to produce professional seamen but to introduce young people to the tradition and the character-building challenges of the sea.
"Introduced into a complicated environment where the trainee is virtually helpless without direction," wrote a former ASTA president, "he learns to accept instruction, realizes the need for discipline in a natural way, becomes aware of each member of the crew's dependence on every other, and perceives that he or she is of importance to the whole."
Or as Joanna Collins, a 19-year-old U.S. Coast Guard Academy cadet, Third Class, put it one day as she sat cross-legged on the gently rolling deck of Eagle, whipping the end of a length of four-inch manila line with beeswax-coated sail twine and using a leather bos'n's palm to force her needle through the strands, "If you come here as a bad person, really self-centered, it's going to change you."
Collins and 123 other first class (senior) and third class (sophomore) cadets from the academy in New London, Conn., led by Rear Admiral Edward Nelson Jr., superintendent of the academy, were on a five-week training cruise aboard Eagle that had begun at the World's Fair in New Orleans in May. Eagle had then proceeded to Bermuda, and now in June was halfway to Halifax, Nova Scotia. The Bermuda-to-Halifax leg of the journey was one of a series of races, jointly organized by the British and American Sail Training associations, intended to culminate in a vast Parade of Tall Ships' into the port of Quebec as part of that city's celebration of the 450th anniversary of Jacques Cartier's "voyage of discovery."
Since the American Bicentennial of 1976 with its Fourth of July OpSail spectacle in New York Harbor, the tall ships have become an indispensable part of such celebrations. Eagle's dance card is filled years in advance.
The race started on June 2 in Bermuda on a picture-postcard afternoon. Thirty-nine vessels, divided by size, rig and function into four classes—the smallest a 45-foot sloop with a crew of eight, the largest a 369-foot square-rigged training ship with 172 aboard—crossed the starting line outside Hamilton Harbour in brilliant sunshine with an 18-knot breeze blowing. Leading the way were the Class AI ships—the 295-foot bark Eagle, the 270-foot bark Simon Bolivar, and the largest of the three, the two-year-old, 369-foot Dar Mlodziezy. Just behind in All were two somewhat smaller square-riggers, one of them the 117-foot bark Marques, owned by the China Clipper Society of Great Britain and sailed by American trainees for the summer series of races. In order to qualify, all vessels were required to carry crews at least half of which were young people, male or female, between the ages of 16 and 25.
Thirty minutes into the race the wind, from the WSW, had risen to slightly more than 20 knots, and Eagle, headed NNW, was up to 12½ knots of speed on port tack. All 22 of her Dacron sails were set: 10 square sails, four headsails, six staysails, a spanker and a gaff topsail. If the winds cooperated she would be able to maintain the same tack, with minor adjustments, all the way to Halifax, crossing the eastward-flowing Gulf Stream along the way.
"This is close-hauled for a square-rigger," said Steve Martin, a commander in the Coast Guard's active reserve. ("This" was about 55 degrees off the wind, while most sophisticated ocean racers can sail 35 degrees off the wind.) In civilian life Martin is a Florida citrus grower and a Star boat sailor. For the race he was Eagle's guest tactician, the man responsible for getting as much speed out of the 48-year-old ship as the conditions allowed.
Martin had already calculated that Eagle was moving one knot faster than Simon Bolivar, but almost two knots slower than Dar Mlodziezy. Furthermore, Squareski, as he had nicknamed the Polish ship, had been able to set her sails alarmingly fast at the start, much faster than Eagle. "It was like window shades coming down," he said. Squareski was clearly the boat to beat in the three-way race among the biggest school ships.
Commander Ernst (Ernie) Cummings, captain of Eagle, was confident, nevertheless. "They're bigger and newer than we are," he told his young crew as Eagle approached the starting line. "But I think we have the better crew, and I think we can win this race." Thus inspired, the cadets cheered. The pros, the enlisted seamen who sail and maintain Eagle all year and help out with the training of cadets in the summers, kept their thoughts to themselves.
Later Cummings said, "I couldn't understand how the Poles got their sails set so fast. It was as if they had power winches." Aboard Eagle the only power for setting, trimming and dousing sails is "Norwegian steam"—that is, strong arms and backs. An experienced crew on a smooth sea can set the sails of a square-rigger in half an hour or so. With 124 cadets working the lines, two-thirds of them third classmen who are, literally, learning the ropes—more than 20 miles of them—it can take longer.
Richard (Red) Shannon is a chief warrant officer and, in terms of actually sailing the ship, is as much in authority as anyone on board. After 30 years of service, Shannon, 50, is something of a legend in the Coast Guard, and is so highly valued that his retirement has twice been postponed. No one in the Coast Guard and few people in the world know as much about square-riggers as Shannon does. He's a born teacher. On the bridge he would stand at the shoulder of the first class cadet who was acting Officer of the Deck (OOD), and, in unobtrusive tones, advise and correct as the cadet shouted orders through a megaphone to the mast captains on the fore, the main and the mizzen.
Growing up in Hingham, Mass., on the south shore of Massachusetts Bay, Shannon sailed the family catboat and worked in boatyards during the winter and as a paid hand on yachts in summer until he joined the Coast Guard at 19. "When I was a little kid," he said, "I used to read about the days of the sailing ships and fantasize about them, and never dreamed I'd ever have a chance to sail one. I've been fortunate."
Shannon is in charge of introducing an average of 260 cadets a year to the language and customs that govern the manipulation of 21,350 square feet of sail and 1,816 tons of ship. "You give them as much rope as you can, and you have to be patient," he said. "You have to remember it's a training ship and that they're going to make mistakes. But she's a forgiving ship. She was designed that way."
In the beginning, Eagle was the German training ship Horst Wessel. Built in 1936 for Hitler's navy at the Blohm & Voss shipyard in Hamburg, she was claimed in 1945 by the Allies as a prize of war. In 1946 a group of 10 Coast Guard officers and men were sent to Bremerhaven to refit Horst Wessel and sail her to New London. Refitting in the immediate aftermath of the war took five months, and the inexperienced crew, which was supplemented with German sailors, ran into a hurricane on the return voyage. But the ship reached New York Harbor safely, albeit with shredded sails draped over her spars.
Recommissioned as the Coast Guard cutter Eagle, she was put into service as a summer school ship in 1948. Her primary function is to give future Coast Guard officers the kind of firsthand respect for the wind and the sea that only a sailing ship, poised in precarious balance between nature's two greatest forces, can teach.
The wind continued to rise gradually through the first afternoon of the race and into the early evening. By 7:30 it was up to 24 knots, and the radio room reported that two of the smaller vessels were already out of the race; one, with a man overboard, had turned around to pick him up and was headed back to Bermuda. The other, Belle Blonde, a Canadian entry, had been dismasted but was continuing to Halifax under power. "This is big-boat weather," said Capt. Kirk (Doc) Barnes, a medical officer at the academy who was assigned to be ship's doctor for the cruise. Barnes was on the bridge, having a smoke, admiring the evening and standing, like everyone else, as if on the side of a steep hill, but a hill that shifted its slope every few seconds. Barnes executed a nimble two-step, forward and back, as he adjusted his stance.
In the normal course of a four-hour watch, the Ready Boat Crew, a body of 12 cadets led by a first classman or a senior enlisted petty officer, can handle any sail adjustments that need to be made. They plod about the decks single file, going where they are told to go, hauling what needs to be hauled, looking very much like what they are for the moment—deckhands. Tomorrow they know they will be something else—navigators, potato peelers, helmsmen; the rotation of tasks for the cadets is continuous—but for now they could be 18th-century seamen signed on to an East Indiaman for a three-year voyage. They perform ancient tasks in response to commands uttered in the ancient language: "Ease the halyard. Tend the sheet. Walk away with the downhaul."
This night, however, Captain Cummings had decided upon what the Coast Guard calls an all-hands evolution. He wanted to douse the royals, the topmost sails on the main- and foremasts. "We're heeling too much," he explained, "and because of that we're being slowed." The job required more Norwegian steam than the Ready Boat Crew could provide, so the all-hands-to-sail-stations siren was sounded, and cadets poured out of the messdeck and berth areas.
Noting a pale-faced cadet leaning on the leeward rail, perhaps too sick to realize he was in considerable danger of being rolled overboard, Cummings barked, "Get a belt on that kid." Someone handed the cadet a webbed belt with a metal clamp attached, the kind ordinarily used by cadets aloft in the rigging. The cadet buckled on the belt, hooked its clamp to a shroud and turned back to his miserable vigil.
By 8 p.m. the royals were doused and the Ready Boat Crew began rigging heavy-weather lines across the decks, "so we have something to hold on to in the night," one youngster said. At 8:10 the sun went down behind a dark bank of clouds on the horizon, and the quartz-halogen working lights atop the fore- and mainmasts washed the decks in a yellow, theatrical glow. At 8:30 the topgallant yards were hauled around squarer to the wind, which had shifted about five degrees. "Handsomely on the port t'gallant braces," shouted the cadet OOD. "Don't lose any in the belay."
At 9 p.m., with Eagle 70 miles out of Bermuda, a quarter moon shone brightly through the rigging out of a clear night sky. "We're flying now," said Shannon happily.
For an hour or more, the crew had been carrying out a barrage of commands while scattered over a deck the length of a football field. Because Eagle is a form of classroom and learning is the goal, an officer explained the maneuver on the public-address system. "We were overpowered, so We took in the royals," said the hollow, disembodied voice, cutting through the wind and the constant thundering of the sails. "Then we began trying for speed, and in the process we gained two knots." A somewhat tired cheer rose from the decks. "Just for your information," the voice continued, "if the wind holds we could reach Halifax by 1600 hours on 5 June." This time the cheer was heartfelt.
On the bridge Cummings allowed himself a little pep talk. "Maybe we'll catch the Poles tonight," he said. "Keep an alert watch all night. That's what'll do it. If they ease up a little, we'll have them. Got to keep her driving."
At 9:10 the wind out of the southwest was 25 knots. At 9:30, with the ship back in the hands of the Ready Boat Crew, the nightly movie began to roll, on the mess-deck for the cadets and crew, in the wardroom for the officers. In the wardroom pantry, Lieut. Phil Heyl, a political science teacher, made popcorn.
Twenty minutes later, the ship's siren sounded again. Wee wah wee wah wee wah. "All hands to sail stations." A line of heavy squalls had appeared on the radar 20 miles out. Time to start dousing the sails. In the Coast Guard this is called being forehanded, anticipating an emergency and preparing for its arrival. By 10:13 the crew, working hard, fast and steadily, had doused the mizzen gaff topsail, the spanker, the mizzen topgallant staysail, and the main royal staysail. The fore and main topgallants had been placed "in their gear"—gathered in to spill the wind but not yet furled.
At 10:16, 30 cadets and crew were spread out along the two topgallant yards, 120 feet up the fore- and mainmasts. Balanced on swinging crane lines, they were beginning to furl the topgallant sails, leaning over the top of the yard to grab a hunk of sail, pulling it up to the yard, anchoring it with an elbow, then reaching for another piece. The seas were 13 feet and building, and the ship was heaving violently, but the cadets were attached by their safety belts to the metal jackstays along the top of each yard.
Suddenly and without any warning, a squall with winds of up to 70 knots hit Eagle with tremendous force and knocked her down to starboard. The starboard rail was underwater, and the 150-foot masts, each weighing several tons, hung out over the mountainous seas at an angle of 50 degrees to the right of vertical—Eagle's normal angle of heel in a steady breeze is 15 to 20 degrees. At the moment of the knockdown, the flying and outer jibs, suspended from the fore-stays, both exploded, though in the precise, understated language of the sail they are said to have "carried away."
"When the blast came I gave the order, 'right full rudder' to the helmsman," said Shannon later. "To fall off, to get the wind on the stern. She started turning nicely, but then at the peak of the blast she stopped turning. The kids got scared, the helmsman had taken the rudder off [meaning he returned it amidships]. Here we were, laying over at 50 degrees. I yelled to get three more people on the helm so she could turn."
Even at her insane angle, Eagle's momentum continued to carry her forward. "We kept going two or three minutes," said Shannon, "maybe more. Then we righted ourselves."
The crisis within a crisis having passed, no shouts of "man overboard" having been heard and no serious injuries sustained, the dousing and furling continued on well past midnight.
It wasn't until eight the next morning that Eagle's exhausted crew learned the fate of the people aboard Marques (SI, June 11)—"went down in seconds, nine rescued, one body, overturned life raft, 18 probably lost"—as the result of a squall similar to the one that hit Eagle.
"Reveille, reveille, reveille. Heave out, trice up, lash and stow." At 6:30 every morning, seven on Sundays, these words were preceded by the piercing shriek of a bos'n's pipe sounded over the public-address system. Its duration seemed to depend on the whim of the piper, but it always did the job, even the morning after the storm. The wind, which had blown at 35 to 40 knots through most of the night, had eased to almost 25 by morning, but the swells were still huge, and breakfast was an adventure. Coffee and toast could be handled, but anything more complicated, anything that required letting go of the coffee cup, for instance, was out of the question, even though a rubber mat had been stretched the length of the table. The mat held the coffee cup, all right, but the table failed to hold the mat, and a seat on the leeward side was undesirable. The entire ship shivered and whirred, the propeller of the auxiliary engine spinning freely as the hull was lifted and buffeted by the seas. "The forward mess is a mess," said a cadet emerging onto the deck.
The shredded remnants of the two blown-out jibs still clung to the forestays, and dozens of lines made the deck an obstacle course. The wind was rising again, and the radar room reported a squall to the WNW.
At 8:05, with the wind up to 38 knots and the seas building to 30 feet, Eagle received an order from the Coast Guard Commander Atlantic Area, on Governor's Island in New York Harbor, to proceed to the scene of the Marques's sinking, 75 miles to the south. Cummings replied that heavy weather prevented him from complying, but that he would "proceed when feasible." Meanwhile, he made his decision: Douse all sails, heave to, bow to the wind, turn on the engine and wait in place for the low-pressure system to pass. "We're going the same speed as the low," Cummings explained. "It's uncomfortable and unsafe and if it keeps up we could be blown all the way to England. As for the race, we'll note our position and take the consequences, whatever they are. It's a good ship, but two or three days of this stuff, where just walking is work, is no fun. The kids are tired of it, everybody's tired. The best-laid plans of mice and men.... But I think we're safer this way."
At 10:45, with several cadets furling on the main and fore upper topsail yards and more still climbing the network of ratlines to join them, one last squall, a parting shot carrying 30-knot winds, hit Eagle, and it began to rain. The few sails still set whomped and cracked dangerously. B.J. Whitley, bos'n's mate extraordinary, bounded aloft alongside his charges, shouting hoarsely over the wind and the thundering sails, "Don't wimp out!"
Fifteen minutes later the squall passed, the rain stopped, the wind dropped to 25 knots, which now seemed tame, and the ship's main engine was started. For the next 24 hours, now on standby for the Coast Guard's search-and-rescue operation. Eagle remained hove to, her Caterpillar engine, known as Max, holding her in position.
On the evening of the second day the wind finally abated, the seas flattened, and the work of repairing gear and checking for further damage began. The work continued through three watches, and by the morning of the third day Eagle was ready to set sail for Halifax once again. Her engine was taken "off line," and at 10:15 she was officially released from standby status.
Stress, exhaustion and the continually pressing manual labor of sailing a square-rigger in high winds combined, in the case of many aboard Eagle, to postpone for a day or two an understanding of the ordeal the ship had been through the night of the storm. The enlisted men were the most matter-of-fact, having had the experience at sea to measure the night against. Tim Ciampaglio, quartermaster Second Class, would be completing his four-year tour in August. "Last October," he said, "off Cape Hatteras, there was a Canadian trimaran in distress in 12-to 15-foot waves. I went out in a small boat and helped pull three people out, but I never saw anything like this. Five of us were sitting on the port side of Eagle's foredeck. The ship went over, and we all started sliding down toward the starboard rail. I got two fingers on the rail behind me with one hand, and I managed to grab on to another guy with the other hand, and that's how we stayed for the 15 seconds or so until the ship righted itself."
"I've been in 10 years," said Rick Graves, radioman, First Class, "and I've never before been afraid for my life. Anybody who says he wasn't scared that night is lying. We were over for three or four minutes."
Karen Kusanke, a third class cadet from Parma Heights, Ohio, was lookout on the foredeck when the squall came through. "I remember the visibility kept decreasing, but I'm so new I didn't realize what was happening," she said. "I thought the rain was spray. It happened in a split second. Someone said they heard a scream from the fo'c'sle. That may have been me, I can't remember. I was scrambling on the floor [sic]. At the same time we heeled over, the sheet to the flying jib snapped. I was frightened to death. I kept seeing the green running light on the starboard side—it lighted up the water with a green glow—and thinking, my God, are we going to come back up? I have no idea how long it was. There were people sliding all over."
As Kusanke spoke, a first class cadet passed by and glared at her. "Don't make so much of it. It wasn't that bad," he said. Kusanke stared after him with an unuttered "but..." on the tip of her tongue. In the cadet hierarchy aboard Eagle, a third classman like Kusanke is an enlisted man; a first classman is an officer.
As if by unspoken agreement, no one dwelt much, not out loud at least, on the sinking of Marques. The 18 reported lost had indeed drowned. The consensus was, "These things happen sometimes when you go to sea," and the judgment seemed fair. People learning to save lives also learn that not all lives can be saved.
The morning of the fourth day was perfect—smooth sea, nice breeze, bright sunshine. Admiral Nelson was standing on the fantail outside his quarters, admiring it. "You get a day like this, you get everybody to reenlist," he said. But in the afternoon the wind died, and for the next two days life aboard Eagle changed totally. The cadets in the pilothouse, charged with plotting position reports received from the cadet navigator and translating them into pencil lines on a chart, wore holes in the paper with their dividers. Clumps of cadets huddled here and there on the decks, taking instruction in everything from electronic navigation to bandaging an arm amputated at the wrist. In the clear evenings they scuttled about carrying wooden boxes that held their sextants, intent on catching the twilight stars—Vega, Arcturus, Saturn and Mars—and recording their fixes in notebooks.
Time passed slowly. Meals that at the beginning of the race had seemed too close together, now were maddeningly slow to be served. Ennui hung in the air. Everything—land, the race, the news—seemed far away and unimportant. "Do you get any sports?" Cadet Lincoln Benedict asked the radioman. "Naw, not a thing," was the reply. Benedict walked away shaking his head.
"No wind is the second most demoralizing thing on a ship like this," said Cummings on the fifth morning as Eagle drifted 575 miles off Cape May, N.J., and worse, some 300 miles south of Halifax. "The first most demoralizing is turning on the engine."
"There's a big high-pressure system off Cape Hatteras that governs the whole ocean, and that's what we're in," said Martin. "It's a beautiful day for a modern vessel, but it's very hard to make this thing move. You need a good breeze and it has to be steady."
Lieut. Willy Henrickson, in charge of wardroom morale, ran low on movies. In desperation, he dug out Table for Five, a PG-rated film made with, by and for morons. "They traded Breaker Morant for this," he fumed as he changed reels.
Water conservation became an issue. A small engine used for the desalinization of seawater had burned out. The laundry and scullery were "secured," meaning they were closed. Two meals a day were eaten from paper plates, and there were dire threats of "water hours," restricting use to certain hours if everyone didn't shape up. Then a generator overheated after its sea-water strainer became clogged up with jellyfish. Chief warrant officer Dave Winchester, the chief engineering officer, came to breakfast the morning of the sixth day out of sorts after a night of clearing them out by hand. "Dave," Cummings needled, "do they give purple hearts for jellyfish stings?"
Eagle, still in the waning grip of the Gulf Stream, was drifting farther and farther east of the rhumb line—the most direct route to Halifax. Several of the smaller boats, those with fore-and-aft rigs, which could sail close to the wind, had passed her and were approaching the finish. Dar Mlodziezy was 47 miles ahead to the ENE; Simon Bolivar was 45 miles behind. Captain Cummings, watching from the bridge one evening as the day's garbage from the messdeck was dumped overboard, remarked dispiritedly, "The garbage is beating us."
A 20-knot teaser blew up on the afternoon of the sixth day that had everyone on the bridge smiling. Cummings said, "If this keeps up we've got 'em." Martin said, "Isn't it amazing the difference a couple of hours can make?" Shannon said, "That's going to sea. You have to be patient." Martin got on the PA. and addressed the crew. "Just want you to know what all your effort is for. We've set a course now for Halifax, and our speed is almost 12 knots." The cadets cheered again, but for the last time. By evening the wind had died again. On the morning of the seventh day, Martin was in CIC (Combat Information Center) listening to the position reports from the other vessels in the race and plotting their positions. As he drew a small triangle to represent Dar Mlodziezy he stabbed the chart with the point of his compass in disbelief. "It's not possible," he muttered, "not unless they motored." During the night, while Eagle had been making barely 35 miles toward Halifax, the Polish ship had covered 120 and Simon Bolivar 100. "Or unless they had a completely different weather system, which isn't likely since they're only 80 and 60 miles away, respectively." He checked the bearings again. "I don't believe it, I don't believe it."
As any reasonable team captain would do, Cummings, when he heard the news, turned the matter over to a higher court. "If they [the crew of Dar Mlodziezy] didn't turn the iron jenny on, then the good Lord has decided they should win the race, and there's nothing we can do about it," he said.
During the morning, Dasher, a 60-foot cutter, and Donald Searle, an 80-foot ketch, both Class C boats from Great Britain, crossed the finish line outside Halifax Harbour. For the square-riggers time was running out. The time limit for Eagle's class was 8 a.m. on the eighth day and Halifax was still 148 miles away. That night a heavy fog settled down into Eagle's rigging. Every two minutes her automatic foghorn sounded, and drops of water rolled off her sails onto the decks.
At eight the next morning, Eagle radioed her position to Assiniboine, a Canadian escort ship. Latitude: 42 degrees, 29 minutes north. Longitude: 62 degrees, 34 minutes west. The race of the tall ships was over. In due time an STA official in Halifax would feed the positions into a computer along with the handicaps and, in Eagle's case, a time allowance for using her engine while on call, and a winner would be declared. Meanwhile, Eagle still had 125 miles to go. At last, too late, the wind cooperated. By 9:30 the fog had burned off, the wind was blowing out of the southeast at 16 knots and Eagle was clipping along at 7½ knots with all sails set. At lunch, Cummings instructed his officers, "No matter where we finish, tell them I was proud of them. Tell them they all stood tall. They did a fine job."
"We're going too fast now," said Tom Clarke, the executive officer. "At this rate we'll arrive in the middle of the night. We don't want to do that, so the Ready Boat Crew will shorten sail this afternoon, and this evening after dinner we'll harbor furl."
Harbor furling, part of the work of readying the ship for the beauty contest the next day in Halifax, is similar to sea furling, but, being meant for show, it's tighter, tidier and more difficult, especially when cold is numbing the fingers of bare hands. After dinner, as the cadets and crew started up the ratlines, the sun was still well above the horizon, but for the first time since Eagle had left Bermuda, the wind, blowing 24 knots now, had turned cold. Their yellow foul-weather gear flapped against their legs and occasionally a watch cap would sail off a head and fall to the deck or into the sea.
The job took 2½ hours, all told. At times the wind would snatch a sail from the grasp of a hand and the sail would suddenly swell like a balloon, and the slow process of reaching, grabbing and retrieving, layer after layer, would have to begin all over again. But spirits were as high as the yards in spite of bloody knuckles and frozen ears. Laughter and shouts of happy derision rang out from the mainmast to the fore as the cadets raced each other to finish first. The hands on the main, having furled their last sail while those on the fore were still struggling with a lower topsail that refused to be tamed, roared in unison, "On the fore! Need some help?" Military discipline had the night off.
The engine had been running since midnight. By 8:30 a.m. Eagle was close enough to the coast of Nova Scotia for the crew to be able to see cars moving along the shore roads. As she entered Halifax Harbour, land-warmed air greeted her, and the cadets shed their blue Windbreakers.
"I hate these shoes," said Rick Graves, the radioman, looking down at his shiny-black Corfam dress shoes. "I miss my boots. In fact, I don't know which I miss more, my wife or my boots."
Instamatics appeared, and the cadets took snapshots of each other, like tourists, arms about one another's shoulders.
"Third class, man the yards," came the command.
Several cadets scrambled up the ratlines one last time, to stand at parade rest atop the yards. The ship's call letters were then raised—NOVEMBER, ROMEO, CHARLIE, BRAVO—spelled out in bright flags of the International Code. "Never refuse cold beer," someone said.
And then: "All hands to mooring stations."
On a dock of the Halifax Ocean Terminal, pale, pudgy youths of the Royal Canadian Sea Cadets, sweating in their heavy middies, grabbed the lines tossed them from the deck and made Eagle fast to the bollards. Behind them were swarms of land people in summer clothes; the pinks, yellows, greens looked odd and exotic to one who had been nine days at sea. Dogs, children, bicycles, high-heeled sandals, confusion. One experienced the faintest twinge of panic at the prospect of leaving the orderly world of Eagle for the unruly one ashore.
As the brow, a type of gangplank, was set in place for disembarking, John O'Brien, a young lieutenant who teaches physics at the academy but who resembles a third class cadet, looked at the Coast Guard emblem painted on its side. The Latin words at the base of the shield read SCIENTIAE CEDIT MARE. The sea yields to knowledge.
"That should really be NIHIL CEDIT MARE," he said. "The sea yields to nothing—as we found out about a week ago."
For the record, Dar Mlodziezy finished first in Class AI, Eagle was second, Simon Bolivar third.