Sea stories: Pure salt

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

'Red' Shannon stands on the forecastle of Eagle, March 26, 2014. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class LaNola Stone.

‘Red’ Shannon stands on the forecastle of Eagle, March 26, 2014. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class LaNola Stone.

Written by Chief Petty Officer Judy L. Silverstein.

He long ago completed his service to the Coast Guard but cannot abandon his ship. That’s why ‘Red’ Shannon returns to the Coast Guard Barque Eagle twice yearly, providing expertise and mentorship to officer candidates and the ship’s permanent crew.

Though soft-spoken, Shannon has an unmistakable south shore accent. He also has a characteristic light touch, yet it’s clear he is passionate about the ship’s training program and learning under sail.

“Cadets and officer candidates learn teamwork,” he said. “Some of the leadership skills they learn here and at the Academy will keep them in good stead throughout their careers.”

'Red' Shannon, a former Sailmaster aboard Eagle, and current Sailmaster, Chief Warrant Officer Jimmy Greenlee, discuss square-rigger sailing in the Eagle Ward Room, March 26, 2014. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class LaNola Stone.

‘Red’ Shannon, a former Sailmaster aboard Eagle, and current Sailmaster, Chief Warrant Officer Jimmy Greenlee, discuss square-rigger sailing in the Eagle Ward Room, March 26, 2014. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class LaNola Stone.

Shannon devoted 33 years of service to the Coast Guard, logging a record 12 years aboard Eagle. It’s a ship he knows from stem to stern. He first reported in 1954, as a quartermaster first class. His last tour – from 1981 to 1987 was served aboard Eagle as a chief warrant officer and the ship’s sail master. Following Eagle, he earned his master’s license and spent an additional 23 years at sea as the captain of square-riggers and other ships. These experiences, along with his extensive historical knowledge of both sailing and the Coast Guard, make him an ideal instructor for the trainees and crew. He’s still teaching advanced ship handling at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy.

‘Red’ Shannon has walked the decks of Eagle during many of her most famous voyages. He was aboard as the first female cadets reported in and helped sail the ship to New York Harbor to take part in OPSAIL and America’s Bicentennial celebration. He was on the bridge in 1984 when the ship was a day out of Bermuda and was struck by a squall with gusts of 75 knots and took a 35-degree roll. He helped orchestrate major structural changes during the service-life extension project from 1975 to 1983, when the saltwater showers and hammocks were removed and required watertight compartmentalization installed.

Since those times, Shannon notes, “the operational training has improved, as well as the morale and welfare of all hands…and the food is a whole lot better,” he says with a smile.

While he says Eagle is a complex ship, he notes she is safer and more stable than in 1936, the year she was commissioned. Shannon credits physical improvements, updates to a rigorous training program and the dedication of the Coast Guard men and women who have served aboard for the past 68 years.

“I feel that anyone can participate in sailing Eagle,” Shannon says. “The roster of senior officers and senior enlisted is very carefully planned to bring back those with experience and passion,” he says.

One of those aboard for a second tour is the ship’s current sailmaster, Chief Warrant Officer Jimmy Greenlee. The two met in 2006 when Greenlee reported aboard for his first tour, serving as the Chief of the Operations Department.

“He’s a fine young man, and he’s done well in the Coast Guard,” says Shannon, proudly.

The two can be seen topside, standing on opposite sides of the bridge, their heads cocked as they look aloft. They are scanning the position of the sails, watching the movement of the lines, listening to the motion of the ship and ensuring the wind is being caught in the most efficient manner. Concurrently, they keep a leeward eye on the crew and trainees, ensuring the decks are safely managed. Keenly aware that he is in the presence of both an expert and a legend, Greenlee is grateful for the maritime mentoring he continues to receive.

“I constantly learn new things in this position, he says. “The wealth of knowledge that ‘Red’ brings onboard has helped me become a successful sailor. On a ship like this, I am constantly refining and learning; different winds, different water temperatures, different sail configurations and how they all interact,” says Greenlee. “I am very lucky to have Red on my side.”

Both men are quick to say that they are still in training themselves, emphasizing that just as in the ‘Age of Sail’, they spend an entire lifetime striving to become able-bodied seamen. However, the two have learned so much about each other and sail together as often as colleagues, that their bond has transcended verbal communications. While handling sails, Greenlee ventures a glance toward ‘Red’ as the evolutions proceed.

“When ‘Red’ strokes his chin, then I know that things are moving along smoothly,” says Greenlee. “But when he wipes his brow, I know something is amiss.”

However, he also notes that Shannon has a soft touch.

On the fantail of Barque Eagle at sunset, 'Red' Shannon guides Officer Candidate Paul DeSalles on sextant use, March 26, 2014. Shannon is a legendary sailor and former Sailmaster for Eagle (1981-1987). U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class LaNola Stone.

On the fantail of Barque Eagle at sunset, ‘Red’ Shannon guides Officer Candidate Paul DeSalles on sextant use, March 26, 2014. Shannon is a legendary sailor and former Sailmaster for Eagle (1981-1987). U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class LaNola Stone.

“He doesn’t push an answer or direction on to crew members with a heavy hand; instead he encourages others to ask the questions and to use their own reasoning,” says Greenlee.

In the same way, Greenlee has learned to emulate ‘Red’s’ gentle style and guide others to success.

“Training and mentoring is a two-fold process,” he says. “Most of our crew is well- educated. Affording our younger members a chance to reach their full potential is important as leaders. There is something to learn from everyone aboard,” he says.

Shannon has a similar philosophy.

“I know that every crew member onboard is an expert. I don’t try to be a teacher or instructor, I simply try to facilitate action and help the crew and trainees learn to be sailors, followers, and leaders,” says Shannon.

On this night, Shannon and Greenlee stared up at the sails as the wind blows from the stern. After stroking his chin, Shannon offers that it might be worth considering a slight trim in the sails, but that things were looking pretty good.

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