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.

Welcome aboard the Coast Guard Barque Eagle, the military's only square-rigged sailing ship. It is used to train officer candidates and Coast Guard Academy cadets in the skills of seamanship and leadership — the same mission she had when owned by Nazi Germany, before the ship was taken as a war prize. Some 70 years later, a crew of Coast Guard officer candidates and sailors from the heavy frigate Constitution on Aug. 20 boarded the cutter for two weeks of training that will conclude in Baltimore, where the ship will enter the second of a four-stage service life extension project, or SLEP.

The summer months are busy for Eagle's crew of 56. They host two phases of cadet training and have three one-week cruises to introduce the newest cadets to life at sea. At either end of the summer are Officer candidate cruises are at either end of the summer.

"One of the largest components of the ship is the leadership factor," said Capt. Matt Meilstrup. He took command of Eagle on June 12, but she is a familiar old friend. He first rode her as a cadet; he graduated from the U.S.nited Stated Coast Guard Academy in 1992.

"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.

"By the end of this trip, we will know the name and function of every single line and sail," said Boatswain's Mate 1stFirst Class (SW) Joao Moreira, who brought five junior sailors from Constitution for some quality at-sea training. Their heavy frigate has been at sea twice since Chester A. Arthur became the nation's 21st president: In 1997 to celebrate her 200th birthday, and in 2012 to honor the 200th anniversary of the victory that earned Constitution her nickname "Old Ironsides."

"Learning the charts, celestial navigation, and sailing evolutions, this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience," the eight-year sailor said. His favorite part: climbing to the top of the 147-foot mast, which he does not recommend for those who are afraid of heights.

The ship will enter Coast Gard Yard, Baltimore, on August 31 to continue the four-phase SLEP that promises several more decades of life. This will include habitability work, some hull plate replacement and extensive work to ensure the rig is safe. The first phase, which lasted more than seven months, included saw in-depth inspections of the hull, rudder, mechanical systems and mast; and renewal of ballast and ventilation.

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

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