Return to the Eagle: A homecoming 40 years in the making

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Coast Guard Cutter Eagle crosses the North Atlantic during cadet training, July 25, 1961. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer Leonard Webb.

Written by Petty Officer 1st Class Pam Boehland

“That wet smell of hemp, it just hits you,” said Ray Christian, a graduate of the Coast Guard Academy class of 1976. It has been more than 40 years since Christian has worked the lines and climbed the rigging aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Eagle, but he was struck by that smell when he set sail again this summer.

“It is the smell of the lines,” Christian said.

In 1973, Christian was a third class cadet or raising sophomore at the Coast Guard Academy. He sailed from Boston to Puerto Rico, hitting various east coast cities on the return to homeport.

Thanks to an opportunity from the Coast Guard Academy Alumni Association, Christian and his classmate Jim Mongold set sail aboard the Eagle once again, sailing from London to Madeira, Portugal during this summer’s training cruise.

Ray Christian and Jim Mongold set sail aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Eagle for the first time in more than 40 years during a summer training cruise. The men were graduates of the Coast Guard Academy in 1976. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Pam Boehland.

Jim Mongold speaks with third class cadet Michael Rosenberg while sailing aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Eagle, Sunday, June 19, 2016. Mongold was a graduate of the Coast Guard Academy in 1976. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Pam Boehland.

Mongold remarked about how similar the Eagle looks with its teak decks and sails, but noticed a lot has changed.

There was no Coast Guard racing strip on the Eagle back then, and the crews were male only. They had saltwater showers with water that came right out of the ocean.

“It was a bit chilly too,” said Christian.

Additionally, most of the ship did not have air conditioning. And even though the first class cadets and crew slept in racks, the third class cadets slept in hammocks, three high, on the mess decks. The tables and benches would fold up and the cadets would string their hammocks across to the hooks on the opposite walls.

“We had a really thin mattress in there,” said Mongold.

“I don’t remember any mattress,” Christian said, jumping in as the pair shared a laugh.

“It was really like a large pillowcase, about an inch thick,” Mongol explained a little further.

The reveille pipe would rouse them awake, order them to thrice up their bedding by rolling up their hammocks and change their sleeping quarters into an eating space.

Ray Christian and Jim Mongold set sail aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Eagle for the first time in more than 40 years during a summer training cruise. The men were graduates of the Coast Guard Academy in 1976. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Pam Boehland.

Christian works the lines with first class cadet Savannah Lyle during sail stations aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Eagle, Sunday, June 19, 2016. Christian, a 1976 graduate of the Coast Guard Academy, is sailing aboard Eagle as part of an alumni opportunity offered to reunion to class reunion coordinators for the 30th 40th and 50th. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Pam Boehland.

However, despite the physical changes to the ship, the training is very similar.

Mongold and Christian both remember receiving damage control, navigation, and seamanship training. However, now cadets have the opportunity to leave Eagle with qualification letters that they can take with them into the fleet after they graduate.

Additionally, the overall Eagle experience has not changed.

“The questions, the concerns, the wonderment, it is all pretty much the same,” said Mongold.

Christian remembers the anxiety he felt as a young cadet. He worried that he would not be able to measure up and cut it as an Eagle sailor, concerns shared by cadets today.

“Coming into this, I had a lot of mixed feelings, a lot of excitement and a lot of nervousness,” said Third Class Cadet Colin Fenster. “But so far I have loved it. We are only three days in and I can’t wait to see what the training has in store.”

Mongold said he has spoken with many cadets who have lamented the fact that they wished this experience came easier. They tell him that they are struggling to remember and retain all the information they are being taught. But he tells the cadets, that in his experience as a career officer, that the best shipmates are those willing to work hard for that knowledge and preserve over challenging situations.

“To those folks, I say cherish it because that is exactly how it is supposed to feel,” said Mongold. “To take an unknown and figure it out, and they are doing it.”

Christian considers his time aboard the Eagle as a cadet the hardest summer’s work he had ever done.

“My hands were blistered, and I didn’t get much sleep,” said Christian. “But we grow through adversity, and we think fondly of some of the hardest times we have been through. That is defiantly true of this case.”

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