USCGC Eagle (WIX-327)

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For other ships of the same name, see USCGC Eagle.
USCGC Eagle (WIX-327)
USCGC Eagle under sail
USCGC Eagle under sail
Career (Germany)
Name: Segelschulschiff Horst Wessel
Namesake: Horst Wessel
Builder: Blohm & Voss
Yard number: 508
Laid down: 15 February 1936
Launched: 13 June 1936
Commissioned: 20 September 1936
Fate: Transferred to the United States
Career (U.S.)
Name: USCGC Eagle
Commissioned: 15 May 1946
Homeport: United States Coast Guard Academy
New London, Connecticut, U.S.
Identification: Call sign: NRCB
IMO number: 6109973
MMSI number: 303990000
Status: in active service, as of 2014
General characteristics
Class & type: Gorch Fock-class Barque
Displacement: Full load: 1,784 long tons (1,813 t)
Length: Overall: 295 ft (90 m)
Waterline: 234 ft (71 m)
Beam: 39 ft (12 m)
Draft: Full load: 17.5 ft (5.3 m)
Installed power: 2 × 320 kW (430 hp) Caterpillar 3406
Propulsion: 1 × 1,000 hp (750 kW) Caterpillar D399
diesel engine
Sail plan: Foremast: 147.3 ft (44.9 m)
Mainmast: 147.3 ft (44.9 m)
Mizzenmast: 132.0 ft (40.2 m)
Sail area: 22,280 sq ft (2,070 m2)
Speed: Sail: 17 kn (31 km/h; 20 mph)
Diesel: 10 kn (19 km/h; 12 mph)
Range: Sail: Unlimited
Diesel: 5,450 nmi (10,093 km; 6,272 mi)
at 7.5 kn (13.9 km/h; 8.6 mph)
Complement: 19 officers, 56 crew,
175 cadets and instructors
Notes: Current Skipper is Capt. Wes Pulver, USCG

The USCGC Eagle (WIX-327) (formerly the SSS Horst Wessel) is a 295-foot (90 m) barque used as a training cutter for future officers of the United States Coast Guard. She is the only active commissioned steel hulled sailing vessel in American military service. She is the seventh U.S. Navy or Coast Guard ship to bear the name in a line dating back to 1792. Each summer, Eagle conducts cruises with cadets from the United States Coast Guard Academy and candidates from the Officer Candidate School for periods ranging from a week to two months. These cruises fulfill multiple roles; the primary mission is training the cadets and officer candidates, but the ship also performs a public relations role. Often, Eagle makes calls at foreign ports as a goodwill ambassador.

Built as the German training vessel Horst Wessel in 1936, it served to train German sailors in sail techniques until decommissioned at the start of the war. Given anti-aircraft armament it was re-commissioned in 1942. At the end of the war Horst Wessel was taken by the US as war reparations.

Origin as Segelschulschiff Horst Wessel[edit]

The Eagle began its existence as the Horst Wessel, a ship of the Gorch Fock class. Constructed and designed by John Stanley, the Horst Wessel was an improvement on the original design. She was larger in dimension and her spars were all steel, unlike Gorch Fock '​s wooden yards. SSS Horst Wessel began life as Schiff ("ship") 508 at Blohm & Voss in Hamburg, Germany in 1936.[1] Her keel was laid on 15 February; she was launched on 13 June, completed on 16 September, and commissioned on 17 September. She was the second ship in the class to be built after the class namesake, Gorch Fock. Rudolf Hess gave the speech[2] at her launch in the presence of Adolf Hitler. The name was given in tribute to SA leader Horst Wessel, who had been accorded martyr status by the Nazi party. He also wrote the song (that would be known as 'Horst-Wessel-Lied') used in the Nazi national anthem.

Segelschulschiff Horst Wessel

SSS Horst Wessel served as the flagship of the Kriegsmarine sail training fleet, which consisted of Gorch Fock, Albert Leo Schlageter and Horst Wessel. She was commanded by Captain August Thiele and was homeported in Kiel. In the three years before World War II, she undertook numerous training cruises in European waters, but also visited the Caribbean. She was decommissioned in 1939, with the onset of the war, but served as a docked training ship until her recommissioning in late 1942. Equipped with two 20mm antiaircraft guns on the bridge wings, two on the foredeck, and two 20 mm Flakvierling quad mounts on the waist, Horst Wessel is said to have downed three Soviet aircraft and one "friendly" German aircraft in combat.[citation needed] The crew had realized the German aircraft they had shot down was "friendly" while it was spiraling into the sea, and set about rescuing the pilot. When he set foot on the ship, he was furious and demanded an explanation. Upon review of the logs and radio personnel, it was determined that the pilot had been using the wrong codes for the battle group, showing the now embarrassed pilot that it was actually his fault.[citation needed]

At the end of World War II, the four vessels then extant were distributed to various nations as war reparations. Horst Wessel was taken by the United States. She was first sent to Wilhelmshaven then to Bremerhaven, and was commissioned into the United States Coast Guard as the Coast Guard Cutter Eagle on 15 May 1946.[3] In June 1946 a U.S. Coast Guard crew, assisted by the German captain and crew still aboard, sailed her from Bremerhaven, through a hurricane, to Orangeburg, New York. The German volunteer crew was disembarked at Camp Shanks and the Eagle proceeded to her new home port of New London, Connecticut.

"America's Tall Ship"[edit]

USCGC Eagle leading a parade of ships, New York, 4 July 2000.
Line art of the USCGC Eagle.

The Eagle has a standing crew of six officers and 56 enlisted; on training missions, she carries on the average a complement of 12 officers, 68 crew, and up to 150 cadets.[4] Each year, she takes one long training cruise to the Caribbean, the Pacific Coast, or Europe, and two shorter cruises along the U.S. East Coast.

During her many years of service, Eagle has traveled to ports throughout the United States and overseas. Among her various cruises, Eagle has participated in various Tall Ship races and events including the various incarnations of Operation Sail, most notably the American Bicentennial OpSail '76.

In September 1987, she undertook a yearlong cruise to Australia from her home at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. During this cruise Academy instructors were embarked to conduct the cadets' courses while underway. In 2005, as part of the Trafalgar 200 International Fleet Review in the Solent off southern England, Eagle was one of a number of tall ships from several nations to be reviewed by Queen Elizabeth II, along with the U.S. Navy warship USS Saipan (LHA-2). Later that summer, Eagle returned to Bremerhaven for the first time since World War II, to an enthusiastic welcome.

In March 1998 Eagle trained her first and only enlisted members of the Coast Guard otherwise known as November-152 boot camp company. The members flew from Cape May, NJ to Roosevelt Roads Naval Station in Puerto Rico. After just three days of training Eagle headed out to Fort-de-France, Martinique; La Guaira, Venezuela; Cartagena, Colombia; then finally returned home to New London for boot camp graduation.

In 2010 she participated in Velas Sudamerica 2010, an historical Latin American tour by eleven tall ships to celebrate the bicentennial of the first national governments of Argentina and Chile.[5]


Eagle's current auxiliary diesel

The design and construction of Eagle embodies[citation needed] centuries of development in the shipbuilder's art. The Eagle is slightly larger than her sister ship Gorch Fock. Overall Eagle displaces 1,824 tons. The hull is riveted Krupp steel four-tenths of an inch thick (10mm). There are two full-length steel decks with a platform deck below. The raised forecastle and quarterdeck are made of quarter inch steel overlaid with three inches (76 mm) of teak, as are the weather decks. Her auxiliary diesel engine, at 1,000 horsepower (750 kW), is also somewhat more powerful than that of the Gorch Fock. There are two 320 kW (430 hp) Caterpillar generators that can be run single or paralleled. Eagle has a range of 5,450 nautical miles (10,000 km) at her cruise speed of 7.5 knots (14 km/h) under diesel power. She carries a reverse osmosis system that replenishes the ship's fresh water supply at sea. In the summer of 1974, during the kick-off race for OpSail '76 (from Newport, Rhode Island to Boston, Massachusetts), the participating ships encountered heavy weather and a number of participants other than Eagle dropped out. Off Cape Cod, the ship maintained a speed of 19 knots (35 km/h) on a broad reach under sail alone for a number of hours.[6]

Helm station on the USCGC Eagle

Eagle has over 6 miles (9.7 km) of running rigging and approximately 22,280 square feet (2,070 m2) of sail area. To protect sails from chafing, the ship uses baggywrinkle extensively.

Eagle's propeller shaft can be de-clutched from the engine so the propeller can freewheel, thus lessening drag while under sail. In 1976 the Coast Guard added their "racing stripe" to her otherwise unadorned white hull.

The ship has undergone numerous refits since she was acquired in 1946. On 1 July 1972, the ship was returning to her berth at the Coast Guard Academy in New London at the midpoint of her annual summer cadet training cruises when she was involved in a serious accident. Despite extensive precautions, as the ship passed below the Gold Star Memorial Bridge and a twin bridge being built parallel to it, her foremast and mainmast caught the safety netting slung below the new bridge. Both masts were snapped off above the crosstrees (about seven-eighths of the way up each mast), the upper parts left hanging dangerously from the remaining upright parts of the masts. As a result, the ship had to undergo emergency repairs.[7]

USCGC Eagle coming into St. John’s Harbor

In 1982, the ship underwent an extensive refit in the Coast Guard Yard at Curtis Bay (near Baltimore, Maryland). During this yard availability her original 1936 Burmeister & Wain diesel engine (along with its generators and evaporators) were replaced by modern equipment. This made the engine room more spacious and less noisy and hot. The new engine could be controlled directly from the quarterdeck and responded instantly, rather than after a 30-or-more-second delay common with the original engine. Additional watertight compartmentalization was also added (previously, there had been only seven). This compartmentalization included closing in cadet berthing areas, eliminating separate upper-class (fixed three-tier bunks) and lower-class (hammock) berthing and making the ship better able to accommodate male and female cadets. An enclosed pilothouse was built around the exhaust funnel on the quarterdeck. Electronic equipment (e.g., radar, navigation, and radio equipment) was updated as well. The helm station remains unsheltered and unchanged. The main helm station, also known as the triple helm, is connected via mechanical shaft linkage to the steering gear (manual worm type) located in the "captain's coffin" on the fantail along with the emergency, or "trick" wheel. Three turns of the main helm station equals one degree of rudder turn. That is why six persons are used to steer during heavy weather and while operating in restricted waterways. The emergency, or "trick" wheel is a single wheel that turns at a rate of one revolution to one degree of rudder turn. It is a bit harder to use.

In popular culture[edit]

Eagle has a significant presence in the Nantucket series of books by S. M. Stirling, in which she is visiting the island of Nantucket when a mysterious "Event" transports the entire island, including Eagle and her crew, back to the year 1250 BC. Sent across the Atlantic Ocean to barter for the grain and stock the time-lost Nantucketers need to survive through their first winter, her arrival off the south coast of Bronze Age England leads the natives to name her crew (and, by extension, the rest of the Island's population) as 'The Eagle People'. Although the Eagle described in the books is based on the real-world ship, the named crew members are all fictional.

See also[edit]


Further reading[edit]

  • Jones, Eric C.; Nolan, Christopher D. (15 April 2011). Eagle Seamanship: A Manual for Square-Rigger Sailing (4th ed.). Naval Institute Press. ISBN 1-59114-631-3.  An operating manual for the ship, from rigging to maneuvering, by the ship's Captain and Navigator.

External links[edit]