Sailing a Tall Ship

USCG Barque Eagle I have got to get this little anecdote out of my head before it ruins another day at the office. Do you want to know what I learned about the olden days through sailing? Sailing a big, tall ship absolutely sucks in a major way: it requires manpower.

I sailed the Coast Guard Barque Eagle from San Diego (Tijuana, MX) down through the locks of the Panama Canal in 1999 and I couldn’t help but to understand the whole time that I was there that it could have been one million times worse if the year was 1899. Don’t get me wrong, the trip sucked a great deal in 1999 –but the level of suck probably didn’t approach that of one hundred years prior. The Coast Guard Barque Eagle is like tall ship, light: it has a small horsepower engine below decks that it uses to get out of real trouble or when the wind dies down.

The manpower deficiency is not much of a problem for the Coast Guard Barque Eagle these days, but in the olden days it literally required one hundred or so extra hands to hoist and douse sails in order to move around the world. I don’t know if you have even hoisted or doused a sail on a tall ship or not, but let us just say that it is no easy task. All of the work involved teams of dedicated professionals willing to do life-threatening, arduous tasks. Shuffling up towering masts at all hours of the night and day is no way to live a life, but it wasn’t hard for me to imagine that it was indeed life for some people.

We wouldn’t be where we are today if not for some salty sailors willing to put in that kind of work on a normal basis and it seems rather smug for me to sit in my cubicle today and relate the horrors of my manual labor experience, but I still just did it. One of the last conditions that had to be met for my commission was the penance of being a deckhand onboard the historic Eagle and, while it was educational, I loathed it all with every fiber of my being. I didn’t come from a family where physical work was kept from me, but I resented doing such things to earn a living.

I didn’t need the lesson that the Eagle was trying to teach. I already had a value in mind for the man power that makes things go, but I personally didn’t want to be added to that fray. After all, I was a sailor before I got in the Coast Guard and I had rather hoped to stay at my current station that a Captain’s license could afford me in the private sector instead of regressing. This was not to be and as I was reduced to the lowest commoner aboard the Eagle I lost some of the wonderment that I had for the tall ships, because tall ship captains required beautiful (read: elaborate) systems.

The quote “my main man had two strikes, slipped / got arrested and flipped / he screamed ‘Thug Life!’ and emptied the clip / got tired of running from the po-lice” from the Tupac and Notorius B.I.G. posthumous collaboration Runnin’ comes to mind.

I know it makes no sense to you, but it is doing wonders for me right now.


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