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Tuesday, August 9, 2011

USCG Bark Eagle

See here the Eagle, ex-Horst Wessel, brought to us at the end of WWII from the Germans as reparations--it seems bad ideas never die. Still, the Eagle has rendered honourable service for years now to cadets and officers of the Coast Guard as a training ship.
Kerry Nolan photo

I caught this interesting comment from my shipmate Will's blog (a very fine and well-developed one, you can see for yourself here at Tugster). A passerby asked him why the Coast Guard would go through the trouble of maintaining this ancient technology in the face of today's challenges. Will quoted his friend's father, who served aboard, thusly:

 "The academy seeks not to train technologists but leaders.   Leadership training is what happens on cutter barque Eagle.”

What a breath of fresh air, that notion. Technology and process don't make good sailors, good leadership training does. A sense that you are part of a (pick your metaphor: collective, organism, team, endeavour) creates a sense of comradeship and accountability. Leadership is encouraged, and emerges--yes, there's that 'emergent organisation' notion, but it's true, not just a fad in business books. 

To be sure, there are faster, safer, more efficient ways to haul cadets and trainees across the main. However, few are as difficult to sail as a traditionally-rigged vessel, and it's that difficulty that forces people to rise up to the occasion and learn how to work, and how to lead.  
Eagle underway off Bay Ridge. photo
You can take this to the bank even if you aren't aboard a boat that needs more than 30 crew to run--the lessons here are as applicable to a daysailer. A couple of weekends ago, one of my own students asked me, "Hey, is it all right if I get the helm to pinch a little bit? That way trimming the jib won't be so hard." BINGO! I normally teach that "give me a pinch" technique to obviate taking multiple wraps on the winch and using the winch handle, and to encourage good headwork among the crew.  Here was a very smart woman who figured it out on her own! We had spent a good amount of time talking about problem solving and teamwork. Practicing it throughout the weekend meant that when the time came for troubleshooting, she was ready. The highest-tech we have aboard our boat is the outboard, so once again, technology plays very little role in building leaders. It's my hope that one day the Coast Guard will be able to operate more than one square-rigger, and that this model of training will spread to the Navy as a whole--not just to the few who go to Annapolis.

Thanks to shipmates Kerry Nolan (who actually went down to see Eagle at  Pier 7 in Brooklyn) and Will Van Dorp who is a ship magnet.