Eagle 75: Fore and aft

Coast Guard Cutter Eagle is still holding fast in London, England, awaiting repairs to the ship’s gyroscope. So, as the crew anticipates a departure sometime this week, we bring you behind the scenes for an inside look at a few of barque Eagle’s distinctive features. Leave a comment and let us know what you think or let us know if there’s anything you’d like to know about the ship.

CGC Eagle from the bowsprit

A view from the bowsprit of Eagle sailing during it’s 75th anniversary cruise. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Written by Petty Officer 1st Class NyxoLyno Cangemi, public affairs specialist aboard Eagle.

Built in 1936 at the Blohm and Voss shipyards in Hamburg, Germany, the 295-foot barque Eagle is the premiere training ship for all U.S. Coast Guard officers. While the Coast Guard Cutter Eagle is known by many, there are several features of the ship many may not know. Today, we break down five unique qualities of this historic ship.


Baggywrinkle is wrapped around metal cables aboard the ship in order to protect the sails from chafing, which causes tears in the sails. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class NyxoLyno Cangemi

1. Baggywrinkle

Of all the questions the crew receives about the Eagle, one easily ranks amongst the most common. “What is that furry, seaweed like stuff on the ship?”

That “furry, seaweed stuff,” is known as baggywrinkle. Why, you may ask, is baggywrinkle important?

Well, there are several places in the rigging where the ship’s sails come into contact with steel cables, which can cause holes and tears in the sails.  Baggywrinkle, made from line (or in common terms, rope) that isn’t fit to be used anymore, protects the sails. It is made by unraveling, cutting to length and weaving the old line together. The result is a furry-looking substance that is wrapped around the metal cables, creating a protective barrier for the sails.

Captain's Coffin

The Captain’s Coffin is often the place where cadets gather to do celestial navigation due to it’s location in the aft part of the ship where very little light protrudes. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class NyxoLyno Cangemi

2. Captain’s Coffin

On the stern, or rear part of the ship, is a wooden box resembling a coffin. This box, known as the Captain’s Coffin, houses and protects the clutch and gear mechanism used to steer the ship.

In front of the Captain’s Coffin is the emergency steering station, where the ship’s wheel stands directly above the rudder. Control of the ship’s rudder can be transferred from the main bridge to the steering station using a mechanical clutch mechanism.

3. Setting the sails requires 190 lines

In all, there are 23 sails aboard the Eagle – 10 of which are square. Setting these sails involves the use of 190 lines, totaling more than five miles in length.

These lines have a myriad of names depending on what the particular line is used for, such as clewlines, sheets, buntlines, leechlines, downhauls and halyards.  When used together, these lines secure a total of 21,350 square feet of sails.

4. The ship is made of steel, the deck is made of teak

Cadets Gather on the Teak

Captain Eric Jones, Commanding Officer of the Eagle, speaks to a group of cadets as they stand on the teak deck of the ship. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class NyxoLyno Cangemi

At first glance, one may assume the Eagle is a wooden ship, when in fact, it’s actually made of German steel. The Eagle was built in 1936 using the transverse framing system – a similar construction system used in America during that time.

The weather decks (or areas exposed to the elements) were also constructed of steel and laid with a three-inch layer of teak wood. The teak wood was used because it’s relatively easy to maintain, doesn’t require any sanding and provides a natural, non-skid surface to walk and work on.

In the past, the teak deck was cleaned using a Holystone, which is a soft and brittle type of sandstone. An anonymous Navy sailor coined the name Holystone because the job required getting on one’s knees and resulted in a white finish to the wood.

The process was later abandoned in order to better preserve the wood, but the teak decks remain aboard the Eagle.

Cadets Heaving on Lines

Third class cadets heave on some lines while working on deck. The entire ship must work as a team when under sail and that includes being in sync with each other as they work with the lines. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class NyxoLyno Cangemi

5. Sailing nomenclature

Aside from the usual jargon associated with shipboard living (such as port, starboard, fore and aft) sailing too has its own unique terminology.

Bagpipe, deadman, goosewing, cheek blocks, monkey rails and topmen are all sailing terms. The fourth edition of Eagle Seamanship, A Manual for Square-Rigger Sailing, lists 239 terms alone in its glossary.

Here, we’ll focus on some terms used when setting the sails – a common evolution performed by every cadet at one point or another aboard the Eagle.

Unfurl – to cast loose a sail

Set – to maneuver a sail into a position where it catches the wind

Staysail/Headsail – triangle-shaped sails

Douse – to take in a staysail or headsail

Clew – the lower corners of a square sail

Foot – the lower edge of a sail

Gasket – a rope or strap used to keep a sail closed when the sail isn’t in use

Pinrail – a strong wooden rail with holes in it that hold belaying pins, which are used to secure lines

Stay tuned to Compass or the Eagle’s Facebook page to follow the ship’s adventures.

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