Sea stories: Full speed ahead

In the need for adventure on the high seas? We have your answer. All week long, Coast Guard Cutter Eagle is taking over our social media accounts by sharing crewmember sea stories. Check out the first sea story below or see the action on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

Focused. Officer Candidate Kiley Relf is mentored by Fireman Aziz Ali, throttleman, and Seaman Andrew Enzer, helmsman, as she assumes control of the throttle aboard Coast Guard Barque Eagle. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer Judy Silverstein.

Focused. Officer Candidate Kiley Relf is mentored by Fireman Aziz Ali, throttleman, and Seaman Andrew Enzer, helmsman, as she assumes control of the throttle aboard Coast Guard Barque Eagle. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer Judy Silverstein.

Written by Chief Petty Officer Judy L. Silverstein.

Somewhere off the coast of New Jersey: As Coast Guard Barque Eagle sailed into 17-knot winds and 6-to-8-foot seas, officer candidates entered metaphorically uncharted waters.

That’s especially true for two United States Coast Guard officer candidates with no previous maritime experience.

“Being at sea is like nothing I’ve ever done before,” says Kiley Relf, 22.

Officer Candidate Tia Grandville, 23, concurs.

Awaiting Commands: Officer Candidate Tia Grandville awaits the next command while helping man the line on the leeward side of Coast Guard Barque Eagle. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class LaNola Stone.

Awaiting Commands: Officer Candidate Tia Grandville awaits the next command while helping man the line on the leeward side of Coast Guard Barque Eagle. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class LaNola Stone.

“I’ve never been underway,” Grandville says.

Though landlubbers till now, the two officer candidates share a passion for serving in the Coast Guard and though hard work, are savoring their first underway experience.

“At OCS, I’ve enjoyed the piloting classes, the simulator and navigation training, team building and leadership exercises,” Grandville says. “On Eagle, I’ve been working with the main mast, hauling the halyards, and taking visual bearings…but the hands-on experience has definitely been interesting.”

Relf and Grandville joined the Coast Guard through the College Student Pre-commissioning Initiative program. Both women are the first in their families to join the Coast Guard; both grew up in cities; and for the next two weeks, both have traded concrete for water in an underway training mission. Keenly aware of the ship’s rich history, humbled by the hard work required to sail Eagle, they are also struck by the camaraderie aboard.

“This experience shows the Coast Guard is definitely a family,” says Grandville, a new mother with a 6-month-old son at home in Georgia. Once a high school cheerleader, she aspires to become a judge advocate in the Coast Guard.

Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Grandville lives by this sentiment; it fuels her drive and keeps her focused while aboard Eagle.

A northwest Chicago native on land, Relf is a self-described sports enthusiast who enjoys community volunteer work, travel and shopping. At sea, she is dedicated and focused. Manning the helm at dusk, she is all smiles.

“It’s a surreal experience to think I am doing this,” she says. “I can’t believe they gave me full control of the ship.”

Intensity: Officer Candidate Tia Grandville responds to the haul around command while manning a line on the waist of U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Barque Eagle. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class LaNola Stone.

Intensity: Officer Candidate Tia Grandville responds to the haul around command while manning a line on the waist of U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Barque Eagle. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class LaNola Stone.

Reciting a list of new skills she’s learned in the preliminary portion of her work aboard Eagle, she highlights manning the throttle, trimming the sails and learning about celestial navigation. As she assumed control of the throttle, she seemed to be right at home.

“Engine ahead one-third, aye, aye,” calls Relf, setting the throttle speed.

Handling the throttle involves changing the direction of the ship’s propeller, forward or reverse. It’s similar to controlling the gas pedal in a car. It requires an ability to maintain the correct RPMs to match the ordered speed, good listening skills and quick reaction times. That’s no easy feat in blustery conditions.

Positioned along the windward side of Eagle, Grandville says she found handling the lines and trimming the sails alongside 59 other officer candidates and eight international officers to be the ideal hands-on experience at sea. While she finds the Eagle experience a compelling way to sharpen seamanship skills, she also sees leadership development in action.

“I’ve overcome all kinds of obstacles as a minority and a new mother, and I’m always up for learning new skills.”

Armed with 11 weeks of OCS training behind them, Relf and Grandville are equally energized by a challenge. However, the duo admits they had some fears to conquer prior to getting underway.

“I was a bit afraid when people told me that sometimes, Eagle heels to one side when it’s rough and I’d have to learn how to walk at an angle,” Relf says.

While that gave her pause, something else stopped her in her tracks.

“My heart dropped when I looked at the rigging and saw what lay ahead in the ‘up and over’ drill.”

Direction: Officer Candidate Kiley Relf mans the helm aboard U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Barque Eagle. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class LaNola Stone.

Direction: Officer Candidate Kiley Relf mans the helm aboard U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Barque Eagle. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class LaNola Stone.

“Before climbing, I put my fears aside,” says Relf, a graduate of Hampton University in Virginia where she majored in interdisciplinary studies and elementary education.

Initially, she thought teaching was her passion. However, the notion of serving others in the military was even more compelling. Her urban childhood stands in stark contrast to life aboard a historic square-rigger. Like Grandville, she relishes her assignments.

A native of West Des Moines, Iowa, Grandville, had never been on the ocean before boarding Eagle. While she had tackled a small indoor rock climbing wall, executing the ‘up and over’ drill, where trainees learn to climb 60 feet above the decks, presented a new and exciting challenge. Yet as the sea state intensified, she focused ever harder on the robust training schedule. Armed with a degree in sociology and pre-law from Spelman College in Atlanta, Ga., Grandville says the discipline she’d successfully applied to law studies has bolstered her resolve to perform well while underway.

Both candidates feel the experience aboard ship has strengthened their commitment to succeed as Coast Guard officers. They cite the dedication, collective ability to share information and welcoming attitude of Eagle’s crew.

“It’s a great environment for learning, overcoming obstacles and everyone is so helpful ¬- from the enlisted to the officers,” Relf says. “And the food is great!”

In the days ahead, the two will sharpen their seamanship skills further. Whether manning the helm, lines or throttle, for Relf and Grandville, it’s full speed ahead.

Follow Barque Eagle’s journeys on their Facebook page, or the Coast Guard’s Twitter and Instagram accounts.

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