Eagle arrived here Thursday to join dozens of ships from around the world to mark the bicentennial of the War of 1812.
The war was one of the last major conflicts fought during the Age of Sail, but 200 years after it was declared, the Coast Guard uses the three-masted square-rigger to train future officers.
The very anachronism of sailing a square-rigger using sextants and celestial navigation at a time when armed drones and Global Positioning Systems dominate is part of Eagle’s appeal. Like most colleges, the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn., has no shortage of tech-savvy students.
“They know how to text,” said Cmdr. Michael Turdo, Eagle’s executive officer. “Out here, we’ve moved them away from technology. We want to make sure when they look at radar, they’re not just reading a box.”
Eagle arrived for the Baltimore’s Star-Spangled Sailabration, which runs through Monday. The celebration is part of OpSail 2012, which is marking the bicentennial with a parade of tall ships to six American cities. Baltimore is the fourth stop, following New Orleans, New York and Norfolk, with Boston and New London to follow.
This year’s OpSail is the first since the millennium celebration in 2000 and comes in the wake of four others, including the Statue of Liberty centennial in 1986 and the bicentennial of the American Revolution in 1976.
Under the supervision of Eagle’s cadre of six officers and 50 enlisted sailors, the 130 cadets aboard plotted the course, set the sails and steered the ship during much of its journey to Baltimore. As the 295-foot ship gingerly eased into its berth Thursday morning, cadets turned the pins of the wood-and-brass three-wheeled helm, responding to intricate rudder commands barked from officers on the bridge.
Capt. Eric Jones, commander of the ship, remained tranquil behind his aviator glasses as Eagle’s bowsprit glided to within a few feet to that of the Gloria, the Colombian navy’s tall ship.
Not that the captain had forgotten the consequences of any errors. “Am I aware that I’m handling a 76-year-old national treasure?” asked Jones, standing by the pilothouse as the ship nestled safely by the pier. “Absolutely.”
Eagle is equipped with GPS, radar and most other modern conveniences, but the cadets learn how to operate without them. It is no simple matter to sail the barque, with its 22,000 square feet of sail and five miles of rigging, controlled by more than 200 lines.
“I wish I could go back in time and tell them not to build square-riggers,” said Cadet 3rd Class Dylan Finneran.
But the intricacies of sailing a square-rigger are not the reason the Coast Guard sends all of its third-class cadets — rising sophomores — as well as most of its officer candidates for a cruise on Eagle.