“I’ll clear one question up for y’all before you ask it because I know you’re going to eventually,” said the thin and soft-spoken cadet, “that fuzzy stuff up on the rigging is called baggy wrinkle; we make it from old dock lines and it’s used as chafe protection for our sails.” From the aft deck of the USCGC Eagle eight young necks, including my own, craned up to get a better look at what our guide was pointing to.
I imagine hundreds of people will be told the same thing in the same spot and look upwards in the same way this weekend, but their experience will be different. They will not look up to see two headsails and four staysails trimmed for a westerly breeze. They will not look over the rail to see water streaming past the massive white hull. They will not be cooled by evaporation of salt spray from the bow wake of the 45 foot response boat that shuttled us across to the Eagle.
At Courageous young people not only learn to sail, but also gain a truly special new perspective on their home city. From the tiller of a 19 foot keelboat the harbor seems massive to a young person, made more so by the few inches that separate them from the water. On the deck of the 295 foot Eagle, one feels small again, not from ferries and pilings but from the three massive masts supporting all 22,280 square feet of her sail area.
I have never heard the word “explore” used more on a sailboat than I did from the three campers and four instructors in training that accompanied me on the Eagle yesterday. We wove through the clusters of sharply dressed big wigs and dignitaries who dotted the fore and aft decks. While the other guests stayed close to the rails for pictures of the harbor, the kids poked around on the lower main deck leaving no open door or hatch uninvestigated. Their interest was understandable, they see the skyline from the water every day, how often do you get to see a Laundromat behind a waterproof steel door?!
Despite being the youngest people aboard the IITs and students were given a great deal of respect and attention from the crew. One of the students asked our guide if the coast guard ever raced and he immediately brought another cadet over to us who introduced himself as a member of the coast guard’s offshore racing team. He asked the students and IIT’s about their sailing experience, about racing and what it was like to learn to sail in Boston. He put in one last plug for offshore racing before being pulled away for his duties preparing the dock lines.
As we approached the navy yard excitement grew and we found an open spot on the starboard rail. “Is that really step two down there?” one student asked, “I didn’t know we looked that small!” Fingers were pointed and waving hands exchanged between us and our fellow campers and coworkers below.
Soon we were tied to pier 4 and looking down at the roof of the boathouse. Though the docking was fascinating, the taunting aromas that wafted from the galley skylight below us and from the courageous barbecue made our departure from the ship a fast one. We thanked the cadets and the captain and made our way down the steep gangway thus ending a truly wonderful and unique experience.
I will never forget the day I sailed the Eagle to my home pier and I doubt the campers and IIT’s will either. Hurricane Harry said a child’s life is improved with 50 yards offshore; I bet 50 feet above the water helps too.
By Ian Hay, Courageous Assistant Site Director