Sunday, July 27, 2008

Festival of Sail - USCGC Eagle

A fantastic Festival of Sail week-long celebration with tall ships in San Francisco Bay ended today. The ships paraded gloriously under the Golden Gate Bridge to berth in the bay for visitors to tour. They also sailed around the bay providing unique sailing opportunities and party venues.

The grandest ship of them all was the USCGC Eagle, the only active commissioned sailing vessel in the US military service that was making it's first visit to San Fran in over ten years.

We toured the ship and met retired National Guard Reserve Colonel, George Barantseff, now a volunteer Russian linguist with the International Affairs - Interpreter Corps of the US Coast Guard Auxiliary.

But before that as we embarked we were invited to 'Shake Hands with a Coastie'. This is for charity where each handshake means a new book for a child in need in conjunction with the organization First Book.

Next we passed a board with the answer to the 'most asked question'! What are the shaggy grey rolls around the rigging?

'Baggywrinkle,' is the reply. It is there to stop the sails chafing and is made, a cadet was overheard explaining, of rope yarn.

Then we wound around the deck and came across George, a gracious host to the hundreds of visitors pouring onto the Eagle. He was standing mid-ship in front of three huge wooden steering wheels.

'She goes 17 knots under full sail. Really fast!' he was saying, as we joined others who had clustered round to ask questions. The wheels were attracting a lot of attention. Why were there three, people wanted to know?

'Because you need six people at the helm if the weather's really bad. There's that much pressure,' said George. He pointed out that the ship is made of steel and therefore very heavy. One anchor alone weighs 2,200 lbs, he said.

In bad weather, however, clinging onto those wheels for dear life are not the hands of experienced sailors but the unseasoned hands of novices, for the Eagle is a training ship for cadets and future officers of the US Coast Guard Academy.

Why are they the ones left holding the wheels?

'They're the ones who need to learn!' said George.

The specifications of the ship show that there is plenty of opportunity to learn. She is 295 ft long and weighs 1,800 tons with over 22,000 sq ft of sail and more than five miles of rigging.

Many cadets are commissioned into the coast guard service for degree studies as well as seamanship and leadership training. Degrees often include engineering or environmental sciences. After all, said George, who gets called out when there is an oil spill! Some go through the sciences. 'I know of one officer,' he added, ' who went through pre-med.'

'They are a wonderful source of future leadership in our country,' he said proudly.

He is equally proud of the Eagle, a ship that was built by Germany for Hitler's navy in 1936 but acquired, and renamed, by America in 1945 as part of war reparations.

'She is magnificent!' he said. 'A sacred relic of the sailing past. It's our hand across the ages linking history.'

*I discovered that George, too, has a fascinating story. Using his linguistic and radio communication skills, he has saved lives, engaged in diplomatic missions and protected coastal waters in stormy seas.

See blog on George coming soon....