ABOARD THE BARQUE EAGLE NEAR PORTSMOUTH, Va. – Unless you have climbed 100 feet of rigging or felt the sea spray on your face as you turned a heavy helm, don't talk to this crew about how tough it was in the "old Navy."
A steady wind rifled through the pages of paper charts as well-worn dividers carefully plotted course. Navigation orders echoed across an open deck as a team of six young sailors turned three wooden wheels in response.
"To make a ship like this operate, the maneuvers demand a team effort. Everything from the bridge to the engineers to everyone pulling on the lines, there are different levels of responsibility, so we put them through a leadership laboratory and they have to make the ship operate. And when you get that light bulb moment, when the subject matter just clicks and they understand it, that is very rewarding for us."
The ship is a unique mixture of old and new. Much of the original woodwork sits next to the same pumps and firefighting gear cadets will see in the fleet. Though the latest in navigation technology is available, the crew prides itself on celestial navigation — what Meilstrup describes as "an art that has been lost in many circles."
And, of course, there is more than five miles of rigging and 22,000 square feet of sail controlled by more than 200 lines.
The Eagle is the largest tall ship flying the stars and stripes and the only active square-rigger in U.S. government service. Constructed in 1936 by the Blohm and Voss Shipyard in Hamburg, Germany, she was originally commissioned as the Horst Wessel by the German Navy. The ship was taken as a war reparation following World War II.
Length - 295 feet, 231 feet at waterline
Beam, greatest - 39.1 feet
Freeboard - 9.1 feet
Draft, fully loaded - 16 feet
Displacement - 1824 tons
Ballast (lead) - 380 tons
Fuel oil - 23,402 gallons
Anchors - 3,500 lbs. port, 4,400 lbs. starboard
Rigging – More than 5 miles, standing and running
Height of mainmast - 147.3 feet
Height of foremast - 147.3 feet
Height of mizzenmast - 132.0 feet
Fore and main yard - 78.8 feet
Speed under power - 10 knots
Speed under full sail - 17 knots
Sail area - 22,300 square feet
Engine - 1,000 horsepower diesel Caterpillar D399 engine
Generators - two-320 kilowatt Caterpillar 3406 generators
Training complement - 6 officers, 54 crew, 20 temporary active duty crew, 140 cadets average.
Maximum capacity - 239 people
* Source: U.S. Coast Guard